My favorite re-org tool

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I do a fair number of reorganizations, usually in the IT or technology organization space, and many of my other projects involve some level of organizational design. The stories I hear about why the organization is designed the way it is, which are often told apologetically, are usually amusing and rarely surprising (anymore). And of course some of the real stories take a couple of weeks to come to the surface. You’ve probably heard a few of them in your halls: “The marketing business unit refuses to work with anyone but Mike so we have one decentralized application development group that he runs. They don’t really report into IT which is fine since the CMO and the CIO don’t speak anyway.” And “Well, what really happened is that Jen threatened to quit so we promoted her to VP and gave her the rest of Chad’s organization.” Or “Yeah, about Dmitri. He doesn’t have a team because no one will work for him, or any clients because no one will work with him, but he knows so much about the technology we went ahead and made him CTO.” Most organizations don’t have all these situations, but almost all have one or two that just make you go “hmmm”.

The leadership often knows how ridiculous these situations are but not what to do about it. Or sometimes they know exactly what the right answer is but do not have the political power or will to make the transition. That’s where my favorite re-org tool comes in …

It goes something like this: First, divert attention. Trying to engage in conversation related to the stories above, while sometimes entertaining, is not the fastest way to the appropriate outcome. Next, infuse some good, old-fashioned logic, a medicine most do not want to swallow. Finally, sit back, facilitate a little and watch the magic happen. Consulting witchcraft? Not really, it is actually quite simple intellectually, just takes a little thought and a bit of perseverance to pull off. The secret sauce is to transition thinking from organizational structure to a process model (or value streams, or delivery model, or many other names, but something that explains what the organization does on one page). I’ve seen some organizations go “ah-hah” as soon as they create the model. The rest is a breeze. Some fight through the assessment, but once they agree to the current state issues related to that delivery model, they have to be intellectually honest about what to do about it. And some hold on till the bitter end, fighting issue after issue through the new organization design. But this same model helps facilitate that issue resolution process. The key is to get organizations out of their silo’d thinking and story-telling. Over and over again, I’ve seen the process model approach turn organizations 180 degrees from political to productive.

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