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  • Sean Ryan

Leader as Organizational Architect, Part 2

Updated: Dec 7, 2021

Leader as Organizational Architect, Part 2


In our last post on aligning an organization’s systems, structures, processes and culture, we discussed some of the ways misalignment creates friction that drags down performance. But when an organization makes the necessary changes to reach align the organizational architecture, something amazing can happen.

We call it “organizational gravity” – the often unseen forces that pull performance toward the strategy.

The more well-aligned the systems, structures, processes and culture are, the stronger the gravitational pull toward the purpose and strategy. As one leader told us, “Then everything just flows, like the tides.”

It’s the responsibility of leaders to create organizational gravity. But leaders often don’t see themselves as architects of their organization’s systems, structures, processes and culture. It’s hard to manage a force you don’t recognize. So when they fall out of alignment, leaders see only the symptoms, not the underlying problem.

What’s it Take to get a Cup of Coffee? Re-structure the Organization

We worked with a resort that had a vast array of properties, including a restaurant attached to its golf shop. The restaurant opened at 8 a.m. Early bird golfers would arrive at 6:30 and find they couldn’t get a cup of coffee before starting their round. Why? Because the resort was organized by function. The food and beverage people were responsible for the coffee in the restaurant, and they had no interest in opening the restaurant before 8. That would just stretch their personnel, drive up their costs and make their internal reports look worse.

The resort suffered multiple problems because of this structure. In another example, the golf shop’s carpets were dirty many mornings, because another functional group, housekeeping, kept a schedule that brought them to the shop in the afternoon.

The team members in the golf shop realized the negative impact this was having on their customers, who grumbled that they couldn’t get a simple cup of coffee for an early tee time or were put off by a messy golf shop if they happened to stop by in the morning. But no one felt they could fix the problems – until they realigned the structure.

They blew up the organization. Jobs were no longer organized by function. Instead, they created dozens of small business units throughout the resort, including a golf shop “business unit.” Once the workers in the golf shop became responsible for the shop’s performance as a mini-business, they made sure golfers could get coffee at early hours and the carpets were clean throughout the day.

Once they re-organized, the transformation was quick and thorough. All it took was the leap of faith to allow the shattering of the resort’s organizational structure with the purpose of recreating it in a more logical way.

Want Teamwork? Change How you Hire and Who Gets Promoted

Another organization we worked with wanted to make a significant shift away from purely individual contribution, to a more team-oriented approach. They found themselves struggling to make the shift. Ultimately though they changed their compensation system to reflect the new strategic priorities. They also changed their recruitment and selection processes to find people who were more team-oriented (without sacrificing the critical technical/functional capabilities they needed to be successful). Finally, they also aligned their talent management and succession planning systems to promote leaders more aligned with the company’s strategy. As those systems and processes came into alignment, the “unseen” forces began to pull the organization in the direction they wanted to go.

Most academics and change consultants suggest that making a broad-based change in an organization takes five to seven years. It doesn’t have to be that way. We’ve found time and again that when we align the organization’s systems, structures, processes and culture, the time frame for change can be cut dramatically.

Efforts to align the architecture are not always easy. They certainly are not as easy as making idle proclamations like, “People just need to take ownership” or “Everyone just needs to work together.” While both might be true statements, merely saying them doesn’t change the “nature” of the organization. So, behavior is unlikely to change just because someone says them.

Aligning the organizational architecture is harder, but ultimately far more effective at changing behavior. And, as John Kruk, the former baseball player once said, “It’s not rocket surgery.” Aligning the architecture does take a little effort and then some patience as those “unseen forces” begin to exert their influence. Then, like the leader said, everything begins “to flow like the tides.”

Intrigued by what you’re reading? Download our white paper on converting strategy into execution and learn more about us by visiting our website. WhiteWater International Consulting, Inc. helps organizations understand the challenges they face and helps enterprises achieve and sustain outstanding performance through unleashing the passion and capabilities of its people. Because an organization is only as good at the people who power it.


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