Time and again we are bewildered by strong and capable managers beleaguered in their attempts to achieve organization results.  These managers may have painstakingly built

The Blame Game

an A-Team of rock-solid performers and advanced dazzling plans with effective implementation, yet the fruits of their labor continue to evade a prosperous outcome.  When “good people do the right things” without achievement, vexation sets in and the “Blame Game” activates.  A Leader’s proficiency, causes, communication, and energies all come into question as frustration builds and the organization lingers in a downward spiral towards disaster.  When the A-Team is efficiently stalking the right plan without results, rather than find fault, a Leader should look towards the Structure of the Organization.

Structural problems can be some of the most testing to solve.  An organization’s structure is often deep set in years of subterranean unquestioned paradigms.  Structural tribulations can become such a monolithic impediment that even in the face of its delinquency most Leaders cannot start to fathom the idea of changing it.  An overhaul of the Organizational Structure is a colossal undertaking not for the faint of heart.  But as long as it remains scathed and broken all other attempts to improve performance are only temporary Band-Aids doomed for long term failure.

Structural problems usually raise their ugly heads in the form of Organizational Dysfunction.  Prevalent organizational dysfunctions, such as caustic internal competition, bottle-necked workflows, and fractionalized self-interests become mainstream currents throughout the organization.  Managers build their power base by successfully fighting for the benefits and domination of their own groups, willingly forsaking the well-being of the entire organization.  If this is the case with one manager, a bad apple exists.  But if virtually every manager within an organization seems to be at “locked horns” with each other, the Organization Structure requires a stark assessment.  A Street Smart Leader knows you cannot run the right plays from the wrong formation.

Un-Accountability - The Blame Game

The most widespread creator of organizational dysfunction remains the antiquated “departmental” structure.  I immediately become suspicious of a company structure when I hear employees using the expression “department” over and over again throughout the daily discourse.  Sales department, operations department, order entry department, service department, accounting department, marketing department, and all the rest of them are the code words for a stifled and frustrated organization.  Departments imply groups of people which are separated by function from each other for their particular purpose.  This separation generates a sightlessness which prevents each department from realizing the comprehensive advanced organizational functionalities which are essential such as growth, customer retention, and profitability.  Departments establish a configuration where those within the department strive for the department’s achievement as the paramount objective.  “I’m okay as long as my department is doing its job”, is the mantra.  Communication, vital information, and knowledge are repressed from other groups to be used as competitive weapons in the games of political capital and personal power.  Although we have been aware of the unhealthy consequences of departmental structures for decades, they continue to persist in organizations everywhere.

The principal problem with departments is what has been called the “Silo Effect”.  This term comes from the imagery of looking at a row of grain silos stacked next to one another.  Information, cooperation, and workflow must rise up through the top of one silo over to the top of the next one and then down inside of it.  In simple terms, a group of employees requiring the assistance of another department must first go to their Department Manager who then negotiates with his counterpart Manager before engagement becomes operational.  The Silo Effect creates a myopic environment in which employees only concentrate and comprehend the tasks within their immediate jurisdiction.  Their inability to see the whole picture causes them to believe that their isolated tasks exist in a vacuum unrelated to a larger, more vital goal.  Typically those working in departments are encouraged to focus on the objectives of the department’s success.

The Silo Effect - Departmental Structure

Since a Department Manager is responsible for constructing a successful department, they become very protective of their group permeating the conception that the other departments are the enemy.  Enhanced gamesmanship and political choreography stimulates a Department Manager to maneuver his group to gain a stronger “image” than the other departments.  These mounting Fiefdoms subvert the goal of real performance and diminish the reality of the “external” competitor.  Since the Department Manager is in control of every activity which enters and leaves the department a culture of unaccountability prospers within the department’s employees.  They begin to rely on their manager to tell them what to do and when to do it.

The problem inflates when Upper Management places department-based incentives in front of the Department Manager as a reward system.  Now the Department Manager is financially rewarded for making sure their group comes out on top regardless of the overall organizational effectiveness and success.  This scenario routinely causes such a high degree of political infighting that Upper Management ceases to focus on vision and strategy and relegates itself to the role of managerial referee.

Department structures are hierarchical and their basic structure.  Work flows in a vertical up-and-down methodology which is controlled by the Department Managers.  Ask to see most company’s Org Chart and you see the basic philosophy of this hierarchical structure which has been so embedded in our minds.  Leaders they must recognize that this archaic organism destroys the progressive mind share which is necessary for success in today’s highly competitive and advanced environments.  Leaders who are serious about creating a cohesive structure where A-Team Players can thrive must realize the negativity spawned from the departmental philosophy and strikeout to eliminate the very idea of “department” from every aspect in the business.  “Department” is a dirty word.  Do not even allow the use of it within your organization.

As a Leader you must tear down the divisive walls which block the cross functionality of your organization.  Good Leaders build structures which allow cooperation and information to flow without the need for management intervention.  Strong structures focus on the “delivery systems” of your goods and services to your customers while providing the company with a profitable outcome.  They generate a cohesive platform where different functions must come together to create a unified solution which results in an incomparable success.  Leaders are not the gatekeepers of work product rather they are the facilitators of workflow.  Today’s Leaders can find innovative success in denouncing the power coveted department roles of the past and embracing a larger, more momentous responsibility of establishing results across the limitations of traditional functional boundaries.

Cross functional work teams have been used over the last several decades to create a holistic approach to attain project success.  Members from different functional disciplines have been pulled from their daily responsibilities to participate on teams with multiple skill sets to improve a particular area of performance.  Originating within the Japanese models of Continuous Process Improvement, these methodologies have continued to evolve in today’s Six Sigma programs.  In many of these programs the managers send a member of their department to the process improvement meeting to be led by a Facilitator while they sit back continuing to manage from their power base.

Most Leaders compartmentalize this improvement process and fail to explore the opportunities it presents as a permanent Organizational Structure.  Cross Functional Structures take the traditional hierarchical model and transform its vertical silos into horizontal systems of self-managed workflow.  It removes managers from their role as the “Ruler” and challenges them with the responsibility of “Facilitator”.

A Cross Functional Organizational Structure begins with the focus of customer needs.  Various disciplines which support the needs of the customer are then teamed together as Strategic Business Units.  Each member of the business unit is accountable to work together with the other members of the team to plan, shape, and complete the team’s work for their customers.  The blame game terminates as each member of the cross functional team equally shares the responsibility for the accomplishment of goals.  As a Leader you have replaced the infighting of departments with a customer centric business unit which must work together if it is to be successful.  The Teams become protective of their customers and their results.

Accountable Organization - Cross Functional Structure

The ability to employ a Cross Functional Structure throughout your organization will also greatly flatten your management ranks.  Understanding customer’s needs, setting goals, and then expecting teams to deliver on those goals builds an Accountable Organization which is non-reliant on parental style management structures.  And as an added benefit you will find Cross Functional Structures are scalable.  In good times and bad you only need to add and subtract teams.  Teams also become “used to” each other creating “soft” efficiencies and “automated” communication which increase productivity.  Finally, C-Players, who often find hiding places within departments, are quickly exposed through peer pressure once they are on a team.  This places an upward pressure for managers either to get people “up to speed’ or replace them.  Believe it or not, your business units actually make firing decisions for you.  Cross Functional Structures produce lower structural costs, higher accountability, and stronger players.  A win – win – win!

As Facilitators, your manager’s focus shifts from empire building to team building.  Their focus is on improvement and progress.  They are able to manage daily work on an “exception” basis, getting involved when a Team asks for help.  And they are able to spend valuable time supporting and growing the A-Players within their discipline.  Cross Functional Structures allow managers to become Leaders.

It may seem a daunting task to consider the revamping of the Organizational Structure you have lived with for years.  But as a Leader in today’s economy you are challenged with creating a Customer Value Proposition which lowers cost while improving deliverables and quality.  It is a waste of time and a neglect of a Leader’s responsibilities to be the referee of the Blame Game.  If you believe you have built an A-Team of people and results are lacking while frustration and politics are increasing, it is time to examine your structure.  An effective Leader will understand the needs of his customers and the goals which must be accomplished for his company’s prosperity.  A Street Smart Leader will shape the organizational structure around these needs and goals to form an Accountable Organization.  He knows that A-Team players are success driven and have no need of protection, politics, or babysitting … they just need someone to help knock down the walls so they can do their job.

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