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Jeff Liker

Jeff Liker: Changing the structure doesn’t change the work – don’t reorganize, teach teamwork

By Jeff Liker, - Last updated: Saturday, June 23, 2012 - Save & Share - Leave a comment

I often think that questions like this suggest a misunderstanding of the problem.  Simply stating the problem is we have silos and we want to turn the organization sideways to focus on business processes is not a  good problem statement.   Presumably there is a process that cuts across silos and the silos need to work together to solve specific problems to achieve specific objectives. The reason they currently do not work together to solve those problems is because of the history of the company, what they were taught, how they are evaluated, and how they have been led.  Organizations often exist for decades and the focus for the sake of a sense of control is to measure each silo according to silo criteria–purchasing must reduce cost per unit, manufacturing must reduce manufacturing cost and inventory, etc.  To win means meeting your silo metrics and people get good at it.  Once the routines for succeeding are well embedded it is very difficult to change the organization by saying “we are now changing the rules of the game.”  For one thing, people are skeptical whether the game has really changed.  Second, they do not have the skills or knowledge to change the way they work, know what to work on together, and change their behavior.
Many companies think that with a magic wand, and organization structure change such as appoint value stream managers, and the right new metrics, the organization will suddenly change.  Structurally on paper it may look different and there may be new job titles, but the routines are very inbred and people will behave as they always have.   Changing the structure requires changing people’s behavior and ultimately way of thinking about their roles and responsibilities.  Changing behavior requires that people have a specific idea of what process needs to be fixed, the leadership to transform it, the time to meet as teams, the skills to work together as teams, and the management clout to make the changes in the process and to follow up and coach people to a new way of behaving.   Simple cross-functional projects with a good coach is one starting point–behave your way to a new way of thinking.  But the projects must be well led, facilitated, and lead to further action with repeated reinforcement.  Senior leaders often do not have the skills or patience for the process required for truly changing the way people think and act.

The biggest risk is that the organizational chart changes and then there is no organized process to step-by-step begin to change the way people think and act.  One of the first things likely to happen is that people will get very confused. There is a place for functional silos–to develop deep knowledge and skill in a specific area.  I have seen companies blow up the functional structure and go to value stream managers and nobody is thinking about developing deep skills or doing a good job in each function.  It weakens the organization instead of strengthening it.  Better might be to teach people how to work together to solve specific cross-functional problems with the organization still intact as a functional-based organization and at the same time begin to ease up on the metrics counter to working together across silos.  A more gradual step-by-step approach, being aware of the most important problems, can then lead to a lot of learning so if there is a need for a wholesale organization structure change it can be done intelligently with a clear purpose.

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