Updated: Jan 19
3. Shaping the organization
Organization creates the framework for both efficient and effective performance. And what's more, organization can either promote or hinder communication and collaboration. In the latter case, science speaks of "organizational dysfunctions" - weak points that can occur in an organization and are difficult to eliminate. For this reason alone, it is important to identify typical patterns of weaknesses and dysfunctions at an early stage.
The Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), as the world's leading institution of industrial research, has published a kind of shortlist of organizational dysfunctions. We give you an overview of these patterns. We first look inside the organization, scientifically speaking at the inherent aspects. The focus is on identifying, avoiding and tackling the dysfunctions.
1. Prevent organizational splinter groups
The term "splinter groups" is in general use for political and social phenomena. In the organizational context and scientifically, it is referred to as "de-aligned organizational nodes." The term marks the drifting apart of different groups to the point of splintering and disintegration. Splinter groups arise from a fundamental lack of mutual understanding. People do not understand each other and eventually stop coordinating or communicating at all. When such a communication breakdown occurs, cooperation is made difficult or impossible. The damage is substantial and ranges from slowed down processes due to lack of coordination to an extended collaboration breakdown, the failure of constructive cooperation. In order to avert the danger of an organization breakdown, urgent measures must be taken.
The phenomenon of splinter groups often has its roots in classic silo thinking. Although there is a superficial agreement on overarching and uniform goals, each area is cooking its own soup. In other words, problems are viewed only from the perspective of their own area, and solutions are implemented only if they serve their own interests. The result is shifting coalitions between temporarily like-minded teams, which fuel rather than overcome the obstructive competitive thinking between the various areas.
Put simply, the solution is a management task. The key is to establish integration, participation, and cohesion as genuine values in the long term. This will not work without convincing attitudes and exemplary behavior on the part of managers. The good news is that this can also be achieved across geographical distances. Through daily practice, discipline, and the use of digital tools to support collaboration and leadership.
2. Tackle structural overload
In research, people speak of "overloaded nodes" when teams or team members are unable to meet the demands placed on them for good collaboration. They become disconnected in the literal sense of the word, i.e., decoupled from communication and collaboration. Symptoms of this development are, in addition to the notorious lack of time for pending tasks, above all inefficient decision-making processes ("loafing") and a multitude of halfhearted ("lazy") compromises. Overload can paralyze the commitment of entire teams and lead to permanent stress and burnout in individuals.
If you look for the root causes of overload, you'll find growing pains at best. The organization is growing faster than equipment and empowerment of teams can keep up. Other causes include a per se ineffective communication system and a lack of factors that foster true collaboration. We showed how to overcome these in the second part of our blog series. Other causes include decision-making and leadership weaknesses that teams must compensate for - leading to over-involvement and ultimately overload.
Those who do not want to resort to the drastic means of a fundamental reorganization and redesign of the work system must ensure that the congruence principle takes hold. Roles in the organization must be adjusted so that tasks, competencies, and responsibilities are in harmony with each other. The second and most important prerequisite for a return to performance is the introduction of an efficient communication system (structure, timing, transparency), as also described in the second blog post.
3. Avoid isolation
The term "isolated networks" is used when significant parts of an organization are sealed off from the world and from the rest of the network. Impenetrable departmental or group boundaries and geographical separation block access to external information and expertise. As a consequence, this leads to faulty decisions, innovation deficits and growing disintegration. This dysfunction is favored by a forced detachment of groups from the organization, for example through special tasks. Here, there is often a tendency to value individual results based on high technical expertise more highly than the overall goal (e.g., customer benefit). This is reinforced by the so-called echo chamber effect, in which individual groups begin to circle around themselves in terms of communication and increasingly develop into a closed system of their own. This effect is familiar from social media, where it contributes to the difficulty of finding social consensus on many issues. This is a fatal development for companies. The solution starts with transparency. All managers, teams and employees must have insight into the higher-level tasks of the organization at all times. Digital tools are once again necessary for this. These become sufficient when they are linked to a leadership that consistently relies on broad communication and permanent collaboration. This, too, must be a daily practice. And it must be supported by a professional communication strategy. In this way, again analogous to social media, multipliers and influencers can be deployed who act on behalf of the organization in a higher capacity, so to say. And make sure that it is attractive to be provided with relevant information. If this information is also well presented and easily accessible, this will help even more.
So much for the three inherent dysfunctions that occur when organizations are designed. However, organizations not only need to be designed, but more importantly, they need to be operated successfully. We enter the realm of leadership - in the next blog post.
Best Andreas Romberg