Here's how to avoid chaos in your company

Leaders must foster coherent structure and clear responsibilities

I’ve read with some interest, amazement and amusement about “new” organizational structures in the past few years. And I believe that if everyone followed all the rules, we’d still have a feudal society.

There are some interesting experiments regarding how democratic a work environment should be, but one thing I know for sure: If the ideas that frame the business, the practices of how work is done, and the roles and responsibilities aren’t clear — whether pronouncements from up on high or developed by a self-directed team — the s— will hit the fan.

Evidence abounds on my “hitting the fan” statement. For example, regardless of your political persuasion, most would agree that there’s a mess in the White House right now because the rules aren’t explicit, and often no one is clearly assigned responsibility and accountability.

Some might say this is because things are changing rapidly for good reason; many others would say lack of coherent structure and clear responsibilities (irrespective of content) is the problem.

In the organizations I’ve worked with, I frequently see chaos when four things aren’t attended to: a common vision, an attractive culture, clearly identified responsibilities and strong leadership. And by strong, I absolutely don’t mean controlling, narcissistic, top-down, Type-A CEOs.

A common vision (and agreed-upon strategy and tactics to get there) by itself is an extremely powerful thing. People can opt into achieving that vision if it’s clear, and others can choose to find a different path. When I say “vision” in this context, I’m using it in a global sense, as in “Where are we going?” whether at a company, department, region or work group level.

I’ve written frequently about culture, which I define simply as the result of the behaviors that are rewarded and allowed. Those behaviors will create an environment that attracts high performers or slugs. As CEO, it’s your choice as to which you want. Culture doesn’t just happen; it’s the result of what you pay attention to. If it’s not what you want, it’s because you allowed it to happen.

Ambiguity in the marketplace is one thing, but lack of clarity within a company is leadership’s responsibility. Questions such as “How do I add value?,” “How much money can I spend?” and “Where are the limits of my authority?” are important to answer, whether the response comes from a manager or a group.

When the reply to “Who owns this?” cannot be given, there’s a problem. When the answer to “Who will call me out when I screw up?” or “Who will give me favorable feedback when I do a great job?” cannot be answered, that’s a problem.

Effective teams can absolutely be self-regulating; I’ve just never seen it happen in a broad scale without identified leadership. Someone sets the tone, kick-starts the culture, makes the uncomfortable decisions and facilitates dialogue about how to improve and what changes must occur. Good leaders do that. Poor leaders don’t; they just get in the way.

Competent and strong leadership — I’m including management in that concept for this purpose — is necessary because decisions are required; responses to problems and opportunities must be adopted; coordination of functions has to occur; and discussions about vision, strategy and tactics must be facilitated.

Some would argue that that doesn’t require any structure or positions. I’m not in that camp, but I appreciate their experiments and am cheering for them. Regardless, chaos must not rule.

Categories: Management & Leadership, Web Exclusives