Stop reorganizing and start developing your organizing skills

Focus on skillful organizing

The pursuit of the perfect organization through constant reorganizations is costly and often ineffective. Instead, the focus should be on skillful organizing, which involves collaboration to tackle tasks and solve problems with the right people and capabilities. The organization itself provides a framework, but it is up to individuals to act within it. The key is to ask how collaboration can be fostered and supported, rather than constantly chasing after the perfect organization. We recommend using the model for Collective Intelligence as a starting point for this kind of work.

“Here we go again” – a familiar response to something that seems as written in stone as lingonberries with your meatballs (I prefer veg) or the Swedish “industrisemester” in July; I am of course referring to reorganizations.

The pursuit of a perfect organization, or at least one that’s better than the current one, is a never-ending quest that plagues companies, government agencies, and institutions worse than candy hunting kids on Halloween. But what should we do instead?

Initiating and going through with a reorg is expensive. In many cases consultants are involved and push up the figures substantially. Regardless of whether consultants are hired or not, multiple key persons will spend countless hours in different meetings and workshops to draw boxes, prepare for displeased colleagues, set communication activities, and so on. It gets even worse when the reorg is finally launched and all deviations and reactions that couldn’t be anticipated need to be dealt with. We can also add the time that colleagues are unable to contact those in meetings and the resulting delays. After a little while, it will probably show that the reorg didn’t result in the desired outcomes, and preparations for a new reorg starts again. If you have been unlucky, you may have welcomed one or more new managers who have initiated, to the best of their belief, a much-needed audit and restructuring of the organization.

Sure, an organization must exist in some way. It is somewhat inevitable when many people are to work under the same roof, and you must negotiate salaries with someone. What stands out is our extreme pursuit of the perfect organization. Instead, the focus should shift from organization to the act of organizing. Regardless of what the organization looks like with managers, teams and dotted lines, organizing is necessary both within, between, and outside the defined boxes and lines. As soon as a problem arises or an opportunity is identified, and more than one person needs to be involved, the need for organizing arises. It can occur in everything from planned meetings to when the alarm bell rings. How many then think about what the organization looks like? Most likely, thoughts are more set on how you can best contribute, how others will contribute and where there are gaps that need to be addressed.

I recently listened to the podcast “Stop Decorating the Fish” where Kristen Cox draws an interesting parallel between our roads and our ability to use them. Here in Sweden, the Swedish Transport Administration (Trafikverket) plans for, builds and maintains our system of roads. They also set traffic rules and put up traffic lights and road signs for us to follow. It is up to those of us who choose to drive on our roads to act within the system rules that Trafikverket sets up. When things go wrong, it is in most cases not Trafikverket’s, or the system’s, fault but rather the action of one individual. It is the same in our organizations. We need those system rules to relate to, such as what the organization intends to achieve, which behaviors are desirable and which communication channels must exist. What matters is how we, as members of the organization, choose to act within the system.

When it comes to our way of behaving, many factors come into play. As a starting point, it can help to think about what organizing is for. The easiest thing to state, I think, is that there is no need for organizing if there is no task to tackle or a problem to solve together with others. With this reasoning, it makes sense to bring collaboration into the picture. Not that organizing can be fully replaced by collaboration but if we zoom out and look at our organizations, we see collaboration taking place everywhere, all the time. We organize ourselves with those who have the competencies and skills needed to complete what we have taken on. When we look at our organizations with these glasses on and want to be successful, it becomes obvious that we need to find answers to questions such as “What makes us want to seek out collaboration with others?”, “What capabilities do we need to master to be good at collaborating?” and “What supporting structures do we need to foster collaboration?”. Those are not easy questions to answer, so it is perhaps unsurprising that many choose to remain in their cycles of reorganizations.

"Time to leave the hamster wheel of reorganizations and build a Collectively Intelligent organization?"