I’ve often heard Louis Sullivan’s dictum “Form Follows Function”. At the recent GO Society conference in Toronto, I had the pleasure of interviewing several people for case studies of using requisite organizational structure principles in successful business turn-arounds. All of them said the same thing.
“We got the strategy right first.”
Structure follows strategy, it seems, if I may riff off Mr. Sullivan’s line.
Before you go restructuring your organization, you should probably know what it is that you are trying to achieve and how you would like to get there. These are issues of strategy, issues of who you are and why you are in business. Trying to create a requisite structure without a strategy to inform it is like creating a bridge before you know what it will span. The strategy for your company informs the type of structure, the type of personalities included, that you will need to achieve your goals.
It even informs how many levels your company needs.
One of the insights from the participants was that you can out perform your competition in the marketplace simply by moving your organization up a level. It sounds easy, but Julian Fairfield warns of how hard it really is.
But that’s a comment mostly for those who run organizations. You can even achieve this within an organization, if you run a P&L that gets mostly left alone.
So strategy informs structure. Except when it doesn’t.
Because sometimes, you already have a structure. You already have a group of people whom you cannot dismiss. You must use those you have. Commander Abrashoff of the USS Penfeld had this experience and still created the highest performing ship in Naval history. It is, perhaps, the message of good to great: figure out what you can be the best in the world at and do that alone.
This is allowing your existing situation to determine your strategic direction.
So it’s a balance, which should disturb every Level 3 manager out there who’s reading. A tricky balance. Strategy informs any changes that you are going to make to your structure. But your existing structure (or, more properly stated, your existing people and culture) also informs what strategic direction you are able to go in without massive additions.
Belgian royal conservatory’s dome, interior with sun. © E. Forrest Christian