Reorganising is a common solution to problems, but often causes trouble

Reorganising is a common solution to problems, but often causes trouble

MANAGEMENT SPEAK: I want a member from each of the teams to work on resolving this conflict.

TRANSLATION: How do I benefit by getting in the middle of this?

- This week's contributor decided to eschew the fame that comes with attributionIf I tell you a secret, do you promise to keep it to yourself?

OK, here it is: in most companies, the IT organisation isn't held in high esteem.

If it's true in your company, make a list of five likely reasons. Done? Here's my list of common reasons, which you can use for comparison:

Projects take too long, cost too much, and fail too oftenAnalysts are arrogant, condescending, and speak in gibberishSystems are slow and unstableThe help desk doesn't helpTwo words: money pitIn your company it isn't like this, of course, but I bet you know other IT organisations that have these problems, because they're as common as dirt and as hard to get rid of.

Now make another list, this time of how you plan to fix these problems. Take your time. I'll wait.

Done? Compare it to my list of common solutions:

Reorganise IT.

Employees stop thinking about systems architecture, database design, and project deadlines during a reorganisation. They start thinking about winners and losers. Employees feel loyalties to particular managers and antipathy toward others, so they worry about who's going to come out on top. It's a distraction, and no amount of leadership will change that.

Winners and losers

And risk-taking? Who's going to stick out their neck during a management shuffle? If you succeed, the manager who notices won't be in a position to reward you, and if you fail, your new manager will peg you for a loser. The first law of reorganisations is to keep your head down.

But the single most pernicious consequence of a reorganisation is the attention it gives to the organisational chart. To understand why that's bad, just look at the drawing through an employee's eyes. The org chart describes what your responsibilities aren't.

Org charts show boundaries. Anything outside your box isn't your responsibility. And if you think that's a good thing because it helps everyone understand what they're supposed to be doing, think again.

Do you honestly think you've accounted for all the work that has to get done? If so, you're wrong. In any organisation there's a bunch of miscellaneous stuff nobody keeps track of. Everyone just does what needs doing without thinking much about it. Until you reorganise and everyone realises that stuff isn't his or her job.

Even if, by some miracle, you've designed your boxes so every single thing that has to get done has an owner, you're still not safe, because lots of work crosses organisational boundaries. Your new boxes are barriers that create friction - a loss of energy when trying to get work done. The trust that used to lubricate interbox cooperation has been eliminated along with the old boxes.

Sometimes you really do have to reorganise, but reorganisations always do damage. As with chemotherapy, the benefits sometimes outweigh the side effects.

Sometimes, but not often.

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