Seven Symptoms of an Ineffective Org Design

Kelly Bolin

Every workplace has some degree of conflict, bottlenecking, and unclarity – this is a reality of working together with other humans. But what happens when these human challenges severely impede work?

Organizational design, or org design, is the way an organization structures its work to align people and process with business goals and realities. It has the power to motivate or demotivate, to enable or hamper, to bring about competitive advantage or to slow down innovation.

How do you know if your org design is hurting you? Below are seven commonly experienced symptoms of organizations with ineffective design. Listen to your teams for these complaints:

  1. Lack of role clarity. Individual employees or entire departments are unclear of their role within a project and/or day-to-day activities. Tasks may be completed multiple times in different ways due to overlapping roles, or tasks may fall through the cracks due to lack of clear ownership. This is chaotic and frustrating for all.
  2. Creating workarounds. Workarounds are unofficial means of accomplishing tasks outside of the existing structure. In employees’ earnest effort to meet objectives within a poorly designed work system, they create their own system. A common example of this is seen in hospitals, with organizational disconnectedness being a major driver in hospital staff spending “at least 10% of their time working around operational failures” according to a 2014 study published in The Permanente Journal.
  3. Difficulty in coordination. Cross-functional work gets stuck, causing deadlines to be missed or tasks to go unfinished. Teams may feel unsure about their accountability to the larger organization, breeding a lack of alignment in strategy and implementation of project deliverables.
  4. Team unresponsiveness. Some parts of the organization are unable to keep up with current market changes due to lack of knowledge or collaboration. This was especially detrimental to Sony, who lost out on the iPod market due to its siloed organization.
  5. Ongoing conflict. Friction is ongoing or worsening within or across teams. Conflict frequently arises through a lack of role clarity, allowing groups to argue over accountability (or lack of accountability) and creating environments of dissent and distrust. Conflict also manifests as teams feeling negative competition against each other, constantly defending their work, and not sharing information outside the team.
  6. Resource under- or over-utilization. This refers to both shared resources and individual skills. People may be assigned to departments or projects that are misaligned with their expertise. Or, certain teams or select individuals are being exploited and overworked.
  7. Poor process flow. Work is taking longer than expected to get accomplished. People are often acting as bottlenecks – clogging up the workflow system due to resistance to change, lack of coordination, and lack of role clarity.

These symptoms indicate a greater illness within the organization may be present, and new strategies are required to fix it. Org redesign should never be the default measure to solve internal problems, and in our consulting experience we have certainly seen org redesign applied improperly. But, if your organization is perpetually experiencing the above issues, a redesign could be just what the doctor ordered to realign your people’s energy and focus with organizational goals.