Is Your Structure Holding You Back?

By missioncontrol | 0 comments

Does your current organizational design enable collaboration? Will it allow you to evolve? Are your employees thriving?

A thoughtful organizational design makes everything easier, but how do you know if you have what you need in place?

Consider your structure today – do you have a structure that really lines up with your current priorities? Or is it a legacy of the past? Many organizations evolve dramatically over time, yet have program divisions that reflect where they started, not where they are today.

This mismatch in structure can impact culture in subtle but critical ways. We worked with one organization that had two big program divisions – these divisions had their origins in different funding streams, but this line up of funding and program work no longer applied. Indeed, our client wanted to serve their client holistically, coordinating service-delivery across the organization, rather than having each program deal with their clients in isolation. However, these divisions made collaboration difficult.

During interviews the depth of these silos became apparent. People blamed each other – someone from Program A would tell us “you just can’t trust someone who works in Program B”, or “people in Program B don’t care about clients the way we do”, and vice versa. The Board and the ED blamed the individuals for being insufficiently collaborative.

We hear this a lot, leaders blaming the way people are behaving on the individuals (saying ‘they’re not mature’, ‘they’re not collaborative’, and so on), when in fact the structure has a lot to answer for too. Indeed, over the years, we’ve gotten to the point where we can almost predict how people will talk about each other based on how well the organization’s objective lines up (or doesn’t) with their structure.

Why is this? People are inherently tribal in nature. Can you recall a time when you bonded with a group of people in a team activity (like a work-based team building exercise, or during color wars at a summer camp as a kid, or simply being part of a sports team)? Do you remember how great it felt to build up strong feelings of comradeship? It feels great. But remember how you felt towards any competitors? The feeling of antagonism or competition towards others goes hand-in-hand with feeling like we belong to a team, program or division.


We have observed in countless organizations that structure and titles alone can drive this behavior, regardless of how mature or collegial people are. If you’re trying to build a collaborative culture – you must look and see whether your current organizational structure is making it easy or tough.

In the case of our client, we removed the silos, and restructured the organization around the clients. Collaboration went up, even without doing much more than shifting formal titles and divisions. Of course collaboration can be supported in other ways, but getting the right structure in place is often the quickest and easiest way to get things started.

Of course there’s more to think about than silos. The ideal structure has clear roles and reporting lines. It lines up cleanly behind strategy, and ensures you have the right balance of skills and functions to support you well into the future. It’s not easy, but it makes a big difference!

If this is something you need help on – feel free to reach out at enquiries@lianadowney.com. We have a range of ways (at different price points) to help you build a thriving organization.

The right structure feels like a breath of fresh air!

Liana Downey is an experienced management consultant, who has consistently delivered results for clients on critical topics around the world. Liana is an expert advisor to the Australian Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet. Prior to establishing Liana Downey & Associates, she led McKinsey & Company’s Australian government and social-sector practices, and holds an MBA (Public Management) from Stanford University.

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