Organizational Optimization: Unlocking Team Potential

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    (Before reading this topic, be sure to read the definitions and various steps in the staffing process to notice where this topic fits in the overall process.)


    Reorganizing Will Be Easier if You Have Been Doing …

    You will have a pretty good handle on the need for change and what changes must be done if you’ve been
    1. Conducting strategic planning to regularly review the purpose of your organization, its overall goals, and who should be doing what to meet those goals
    2. Using sound principles of employee performance management to regularly review what employees should be doing to produce results, how they’re doing toward their results, and what must be done to help them do a better job of achieving results

    Typical Problems That Suggest the Need for Reorganizing

    There are a wide variety of reasons for reorganizing an organization, particularly in today’s rapidly changing marketplace. However, there are several reasons for reorganization that seem to keep coming up in small businesses, whether for-profit or nonprofit. These reasons include
    1. An employee keeps complaining (and you agree) that he or she is overloaded with work.
    2. Employees complain that their activities overlap.
    3. An employee indicates (and you agree) that he or she does not have enough work to do during a work day.
    4. Employees complain that they’re reporting to more than one boss, or supervisor.
    5. An employee complains that their work includes very different tasks. For example, they may have a highly complex and demanding project (e.g., leading strategic planning) and a large routine, recurring task (sorting a great deal of the organization’s daily mail).
    6. Management notices a large amount of employee turnover, that is, employees don’t stay long enough with the organization.
    7. A department, or major function in the organization, has recurring problems.

    NOTE: It is not always problems that provoke the need for reorganizing. For example, if the organization has been conducting strategic planning and producing new goals, these goals may require the organization to reorganize. For example, if the business wants to expand market share in a certain region, then the organization may need a new office in that region, more salespeople, etc.

    First Guideline for Reorganizing – Revisit Overall Purpose of Business

    Recurring problems often seem to have little to do with the business’s overall purpose and goals. However, any attempts at reorganizing may be just fine-tuning, or tweaking, if not done with the long term in mind. In fact, the recurring problems may be a symptom of the organization’s not having clearly thought out what its overall purpose and goals are. Without visiting the overall purpose and goals, redesign is usually a highly reactive and very short-term fix. Carefully consider conducting a strategic planning process to guide you through reviewing your organization’s purpose. See Strategic Planning

    How Is Organization-Wide Change Best Carried Out?

    Successful change must involve top management, including the board and chief executive. Usually, there’s a champion who initially instigates the change by being visionary, persuasive, and consistent. A change agent role is usually responsible to translate the vision into a realistic plan and carry out the plan. Change is usually best carried out as a team-wide effort. Communication about the change should be frequent and with all organization members. To sustain change, the structures of the organization itself should be modified, including strategic plans, policies, and procedures. This change in the structures of the organization typically involves an unfreezing, change, and re-freezing process.

    The best approach to address resistance is through increased and sustained communications and education. For example, the leader should meet with all managers and staff to explain the reasons for the change, how it generally will be carried out, and where others can go for additional information. A plan should be developed and communicated. Plans do change. That’s fine, but communicate that the plan has changed and why. Forums should be held for organization members to express their ideas for the plan. They should be able to express their concerns and frustrations as well. For additional information, see the topic Guidelines, Methods, and Resources for Organizational Change Agents.

    Specific Suggestions

    In addition to the above general guidelines, there are a few basic guidelines to keep in mind.
    1. Consider using a consultant. Ensure the consultant is highly experienced in organization-wide change. Ask to see references and check the references.
    2. Widely communicate the potential need for change. Communicate what you’re doing about it. Communicate what was done and how it worked out.
    3. Get as much feedback as practical from employees, including what they think are the problems and what should be done to resolve them. If possible, work with a team of employees to manage the change.
    4. Don’t get wrapped up in doing change for the sake of change. Know why you’re making the change. What goal(s) do you hope to accomplish?
    6. Plan the change. How do you plan to reach the goals, what will you need to reach the goals, how long might it take and how will you know when you’ve reached your goals or not? Focus on the coordination of the departments/programs in your organization, not on each part by itself. Have someone in charge of the plan.
    7. End up having every employee ultimately report to one person, if possible, and they should know who that person is. Job descriptions are often complained about, but they are useful in specifying who reports to whom.
    8. Delegate decisions to employees as much as possible. This includes granting them the authority and responsibility to get the job done. As much as possible, let them decide how to do the project.
    9. The process won’t be an “aha!” It will take longer than you think.
    10. Keep perspective. Keep focused on meeting the needs of your customers or clients.
    11. Take care of yourself first. Organization-wide change can be highly stressful.
    12. Don’t seek to control change, but rather expect it, understand it, and manage it.
    13. Include closure in the plan. Acknowledge and celebrate your accomplishments.
    14. Read some resources about organizational change, including new forms and structures.

    Reorganizing Staff / Employees

    (If you have already done some basic business planning and drafted a basic business plan, then you probably already have the answers to all or many of the following questions.)

    Lewis, Lewis, and Souflee, in Management of Human Service Organizations (Books/Cole, 1991, p. 80) list several key questions in developing an organizational design. These questions apply, whether for-profit or nonprofit organizations. (Items in brackets “[!]” were added by Carter McNamara.)

    1. What are the primary goals and objectives that the organization should be designed to meet? (The topic of strategic planning can help you determine what these goals are.)

    2. What continuing activities need to be performed in order to implement the strategies that have been selected as part of the planning process? (The topic of strategic planning can help you determine the answer to this question, too.)

    3. How can the necessary activities be divided so that individuals or groups can be assigned responsibility for performing them [that is, organized into separate roles and jobs!]? [Activities should be grouped into related and similar activities as much as possible so that individuals are working on tasks that are related and similar.!]?

    4. Once activities have been grouped into specific jobs, what kind of authority and responsibility should be assigned? (You might take a look at Basic Terms in Management.)

    5. How and by whom should decisions be made? [Attempt to always and ultimately have one person who is singularly responsible for decisions!]. (You might take a look at the topic Making Decisions.)

    6. How specialized should roles be? (The following links can help you answer this question.)

    7. Who should control the work being performed? (See the topic Management Control. )

    8. How can communication and coordination among members of the organization be facilitated? (See the topic Management Control.)

    9. How can job and role descriptions be developed to take into account both functions and accountabilities?

    10. How can coordination and communication with the external social environment be facilitated? (See the topic Management Control. )


    11. Strive to have every employee ultimately report to one person, if possible, and they should know who that person is. Job descriptions are often complained about, but they are useful in specifying who reports to whom.

    12. Carefully consider the span of control, that is, how many people are reporting to whom. Can each manager really supervise that many people in an effective fashion?

    13. When done designing the group, always build structure into the new design through the use of organizational charts, job descriptions, policies, and procedures that document the design and who is doing what in it.

    Additional Perspectives on Organizational Design

    Organizational Design — Guidelines

    Return to Staffing for the next step in the staffing process.

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    Also, scan the Recommended Books listed below. They have been selected for their relevance and highly practical nature.