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Re: structure Make sure organizational roles are clear

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Why is it that when conflict erupts in the workplace, some managers immediately think about training or counselling? They organize a team-building session, send individuals to communication skills training or offer coaching on how to manage interpersonal conflicts.

Not that I'm against training, but my experience is that if organizational supports and reinforcements are not in place, then any positive results from training will only last approximately three months before old engrained habits resurface.

Therefore, when training results fail to survive any length of time, we need to examine other challenges in the system that might be causing problems. More than likely, organizational structure and role confusion could be the culprits.

An organization structure is similar to the bones in our body; it's the framework for how communication takes place and how decisions are made. Organization structures utilize a principle called "hierarchy of command" that serves to outline the different levels of authority, responsibility and workflow. This means that the higher you are placed in the career ladder, the more power and authority you will possess. People viewing the organization structure chart can quickly identify the various responsibilities, understand whom they report to, where they fit in the overall organization and who has control over certain resources.

Over the last decade or so, the concept of organization structure has changed dramatically. At one time, organizations resembled a "tall ladder" style which created a bureaucratic type of organization where decisions need to be vetted at so many levels and employees are not empowered to make decisions. Today, organizations tend to be flat, with large groups of employees reporting to one person and teams are involved in decision making to a great extent.

Yet no matter what, employees can still get confused about their job role and if this is not resolved, interpersonal challenges will arise. The reason this occurs is that people need to know what is expected of them and they need to know what their scope of control is versus their ability to only influence others. They also need to know who they should take direction from and who has priority over what. Finally, employees want to know how their own work impacts on the whole organization.

If an employee's role is not clear, then individuals are left to make assumptions about their responsibilities. This could result in duplication of work by two different people and/or lead to work not being done because no one is sure they have responsibility for a task. Employees will soon drift into what's called job creep, which means that an employee is soon doing what they like to do rather than completing the true work to be done. Overall, interpersonal conflicts will arise, important work tasks can be neglected and conflicts will occur over role, responsibility and authority.

There are certainly different types of organization structures and no one size fits all. Some organizations structure by customer or by product, while some find that a geographic organization structure works best for them. The overall goal with any organization structure is to create synergy and reduce conflict among different parts of the business systems.

However, changing an organization structure requires significant analysis and planning because any change that you undertake not only affects the functional aspects such as job roles, responsibilities, functions, and reporting structures, but it also significantly affects morale and organization culture. Therefore, I strongly advise against a wholesale organization redesign without some serious thought.

At the same time, many organizational leaders are not aware of how to initiate and plan for this type of change, other than meeting and discussing areas of challenge with their senior managers. However, there is an effective and simple tool available to assist with this challenge.

For instance, a job analysis questionnaire is a comprehensive document that delves deeply into every aspect of a job in an organization. More specifically, the following questionnaire elements help to analyze the jobs and reporting relationships and will help leaders to make effective organizational decisions.

Reporting structure -- Employees are asked to indicate whom they report to and if more than one manager, to identify who has responsibility for what. This notation will quickly identify areas of challenge related to reporting relationships. During the interview phase, employees can elaborate on the various challenges they might experience.

Education and experience qualifications -- Education and experience requirements change over time and so to identify what is required for a job role is helpful. If you are changing to more of a team decision-making model, then higher levels of education and experience will benefit this change. This questionnaire element will assist to identify readiness to take on more responsibility.

Time spent on task -- Understanding each of the job tasks and the time spent on each is enlightening. Managers will quickly identify if their employees are working on priority tasks, whether there are too many task assignments in a job, and what level of skills is required for these tasks.

Nature and scope of problem solving -- The questionnaire will identify the type and complexity of problems that employees can solve and how they go about solving them. Problems that simply require a review of policy or a guidebook are lower level problems and do not require as much training or experience.

Nature and scope of decision making -- Learning and understanding the nature and scope of independent decision making will assist managers to determine if increased responsibility can be added to each job.

Communication -- Understanding the communication channels that employees engage in are also of importance to the issue of organizational structure. The challenge here is to ensure that an organization structure facilitates having the right information communicated to the right people at the right time.

Scope of supervision -- Organization structure also directly affects supervision and authority. The questionnaire allows the manager to examine the scope of supervision and to raise issues and challenges that need to be considered.

Once these job analysis questionnaires are completed, selected groups of employees should be interviewed to acquire specific examples of the organizational challenges they face. Once all of the data have been gathered, managers can then sit down to discuss organizational structure scenarios, determine the impact of various proposed models and then create a structure that will meet the corporate goals.

Barbara J. Bowes, FCHP, CMC is president of Legacy Bowes Group. She can be reached at

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition April 7, 2012 H1

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