Gain Impact by Assessing Organizational Structure, in Three Steps

Starting with Organization Structure

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Your organization’s structure is one key part of building your capacity for impact.

The right organizational structure at both the board and staff team levels will dictate our success.  This article focuses on the staff team.

As we lead leaders, we often forget to start with structure.  Jim Collins writes about making sure you have the “right people on the bus“.  Here are three tips to help you assess whether you have the right “seats” on your metaphorical bus.  Once you know your needed composition or structure (seats), then you can move on to the right people to fill them.

1. Map It:  Whether for the first time or again with fresh eyes, draw out your current organizational chart.  This time, draw a line down the middle with operations on one side and program services on the other.  Make a mental note of where your structure is off balance and what this may mean about capacity gaps.  For so many of us, the operational side is almost empty because we stay overly concerned about overhead costs. Ask yourself, where in this structure are operations not going smoothly and why might that be?  Consider where in the structure do the activities sit that you find occupying more of your time as a leader than they should. Are there things about the current structure that don’t fit your organization’s culture?  Is there a position that is underutilized?

2. Rechart:  While we certainly don’t want to completely restructure organizations on a regular basis, a bit of flexible movement and redesign can make everyone far more productive and more clear on their roles.  More than anything, it ensures that you as a leader understand the core competencies needed across the organization and that you design a structure of people and systems accordingly.

Note the organization chart above is “upside down” from how we are accustomed to seeing it, but allows the mission and services to be front and center.  This design also allows you as a leader to draw a picture of each service area, your numeric impact, and how much it costs you to have that impact. The gray line on the right-hand side is where the operations side begins for this organization. 

Look at your answers to the questions in step one.  What were your “ahas”?  Redraw your organizational chart to what you believe will allow you to have the most significant impact, and to implement your strategic goals.  Even if you don’t operationalize this new chart right away, it becomes a great talking tool with the board of directors to discuss things like: why administrative support is needed; why data collection and analysis is difficult; why you as senior leader spend too much time in daily programming and the impact that has on fundraising and community collaboration; why a position or two needs to be brought to a higher paygrade and title for deeper impact and to ensure that you spend less time performing the job duties of that position yourself.

Bain and Company has done extensive research on how organizations can restructure to better align with their long-range goals and end up with greater impact. One article referencing their research above explains why.  The heart of the why is that strategies must evolve if we are to be responsive to community needs, evolving technology, and research around what works. As strategies evolve, the structure of our organizations must as well.

3. Plan: Determine which of these changes are reasonable in the next year.  Create a checklist of the positions you want to change, with the ones that have budget implications on one side of the page and the monetary neutral on the other side.  Determine which ones are reasonable in the next year and begin designing job descriptions based on core competencies.  Once you know the competencies needed, determine who in the organization already has many of these and if they might be trained into the role, or if they have the most value right where they are currently.  Core competency determination will be key in your planning, and later in recruitment and training.  You can read more about core competencies in this article.

Remember as you plan that we all have implicit biases and blinders as we make decisions such as this.  Don’t make them in a vacuum.  Engage a coach, board member, or trusted advisor who can challenge you, or other leaders on your team.

Starting with Organization Structure