The proportion of reengineering failures to successes is high. The Citibank, Kodak, and Beth Israel efforts succeeded by following several basic principles of successful structural change:
• The change architects developed a new conception of the organization’s goals and strategies.
• They carefully studied the existing structure and process so that they fully understood how things worked. Many efforts at structural change fail because they start from an inadequate picture of current roles, relationships, and processes.
• They designed the new structure in response to changes in goals, technology, and environment.
• Finally, they experimented as they moved along, retaining things that worked and discarding those that did not.
At a given moment, an organization’s structure represents its best effort to align internal workings with outside concerns. Simultaneously, managers work to juggle and resolve enduring organizational dilemmas: Are we too loose, or too tight? Are employees underworked, or overwhelmed? Are we too rigid, or do we lack standards? Do people spend too much or too little time harmonizing with one another? Structure represents a resolution of contending claims from various groups.
Mintzberg differentiates five major components in organizational structure: strategic apex, middle management, operating core, technostructure, and support staff. These components configure in unique designs: machine bureaucracy, professional bureaucracy, simple structure, divisionalized form, and adhocracy. Helgesen adds a less hierarchical model, the web of inclusion.
Changes eventually require some form of structural adaptation. Restructuring or reengineering is a logical but high-risk response. In the short term, it invariably produces confusion, resistance, and even a decline in success. In the long run, success depends on how well the new model aligns with environment, task, and technology. It also hinges on the route for putting the new structure in place. Effective restructuring requires both a fine-grained, microscopic assessment of typical problems and an overall, topographical sense of structural options.
Bolman, Lee G., Terrence E. Deal. Reframing Organizations: Artistry, Choice, and Leadership, 4th Edition, 4th Edition. John Wiley & Sons P&T, 11/2007. <vbk:9781118178102#outline(4)>.
chapter FIVE Organizing Groups and Teams
In Seattle, a seventeen-year-old girl is mortally injured in an automobile accident. She is pronounced brain-dead, and her parents give permission to harvest her organs. Her kidney tissue type is entered into a national database. In Nashville, a potential recipient is identified: a forty-two-year-old mother of three who will die without a new kidney.
Dr. Peter Minnich, the Nashville surgeon who will perform the transplant, contacts his counterpart in Seattle to check the condition of the kidney. Weighing several factors, he decides to accept the organ. A Seattle surgical team procures the kidney, checks for a tissue match, and transports the iced kidney to the airport for its flight to Nashville. Simultaneously, the Nashville transplant team hospitalizes the recipient. They also notify the hospital and give an estimate of how long the operation will take. The lab is alerted to perform the final cross-match once the kidney arrives, a procedure that takes three hours.
On arrival, the kidney is taken to the lab. Ninety minutes before the results of the cross-match are complete, nurses begin to prepare the operating room. The lab calls in a positive result, so the transplant can go forward. Members of the transplant team scrub in and go about their respective duties. The surgeon cleans up the kidney. The first assistant trims the fat and helps the surgeon pack the organ in fresh ice slush. A scrub nurse and a circulating nurse prepare the instrument table. The anesthesiologist and nurse assistant prepare the patient for surgery. During the transplant procedure, the circulating nurse brings instruments and sutures. The scrub nurse watches the surgery and anticipates which instruments the surgeon will need. The surgeon focuses on the procedure. The first assistant retracts tissue. The anesthesiologist monitors the patient’s vital signs and supervises the nurse assistant.
Success in this life-saving procedure depends as much on the performance of the team as on the technical skills of the surgeon. Multiple roles are clearly defined, but team members also have the flexibility to cross role boundaries to do what needs to be done. The surgeon is in charge, but there is substantial lateral coordination. A good scrub nurse, for example, anticipates which instruments to hand off, with the discretion, as Dr. Minnich puts it, to “give me what I want, not what I’m asking for.” He adds, “The more often team members work together the greater the chance for a successful outcome. Building a cohesive team is critical. The surgeon has to be a team leader as well as a good technician.” The resulting teamwork has allowed Minnich to compile a perfect success record.
The impact of structure on a team’s performance is not restricted to the operating suite. During World War II, a U.S. Army commando team compiled a distinctive record. It accomplished every mission it was assigned, including extremely high-risk operations behind the lines. Deaths and injuries were among the lowest of any U.S. military unit. A research team was charged with finding out what made the unit so successful. Were the enlisted men and officers especially talented? Was their training longer or more intensive than normal? Or was the group just plain lucky?
Researchers pinpointed the reason for the group’s success: the ability to reconfigure its structure to fit the situation. Planning for missions, the group functioned democratically. Anyone could volunteer ideas and make suggestions. Decisions were reached by consensus, and the engagement strategy was approved by the group as a whole. The unit’s planning structure resembled that of a research and development team or a creative design group. Amorphous roles, lateral coordination, and a flat hierarchy encouraged participation, creativity, and productive conflict. Battle plans reflected the group’s best ideas.
Executing the plan was another story. The group’s structure transformed from a loose, creative confederation to a well-defined, tightly controlled chain of command. Each individual had a specific assignment. Tasks had to be done with split-second precision. The commanding officer had sole responsibility for making operational decisions or revising the plan. Everyone else obeyed orders without question, though they were allowed to offer suggestions if time permitted. In battle, the group relied on the traditional military structure: clear-cut responsibilities and decisions made at the top and executed by the rank and file.
The group’s ability to tailor its structure captured the best of two worlds. Participation encouraged creativity, ownership, and understanding of the battle plan. Authority, accountability, and clarity enabled the group to function with speed and efficiency during the operation.
Today, we see increasing reliance on self-organizing units or teams. A deadly example is Al Quaeda. Committed to uniting all Muslims under a new caliphate, Al Quaeda believes that only force can achieve this mission. Al Quaeda began in Afghanistan in the 1980s as a more centralized, top-down organization under the leadership of Osama bin Laden. Expelled from its safe haven and seriously damaged by the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan, it adapted to circumstances and became more decentralized and loosely structured. Communication between top leadership and local units moves through a clandestine labyrinth of secret couriers and codes. The logistics of a selected strike are worked out in concert with intermediaries who link strategy with operations. The strike is then carried out by the mujahideen, or brigade members. Until activated for a specified mission, members of these sleeper cells blend with the general populace. Cells within the same region operate autonomously. They can be, without knowing it, on parallel tracks for the same mission. This hydra-like team structure looms as a deadly threat that is difficult to combat with traditional command-and-control strategies. Teamwork cuts across organizational and national boundaries and can work either for or against us.
Much of the work in large organizations of every sort is now done in groups or teams. When these units work well, they elevate the performance of ordinary individuals to extraordinary heights. When teams malfunction, as too often happens, they erode the potential contributions of even the most talented members. What determines how well groups perform? As illustrated by the surgical team, the commando team, and Al Quaeda, the performance of a small group depends heavily on structure. A key ingredient of a top-notch team is an appropriate blueprint of roles and relationships set in motion to attain common goals.
In this chapter, we explore the structural features of small groups or teams and show how restructuring can improve group performance. We begin by describing various design options for teams, accenting the relationship between design and tasks. Next, using sports as an example, we discuss different patterns of team differentiation, coordination, and interdependence. Then we describe the characteristics of high-performing teams. Finally, we discuss the pros and cons of self-managing teams—a hot item in the early twenty-first century.