“I’ve become absolutely convinced that the seminal difference between successful companies and mediocre or unsuccessful ones has little, if anything, to do with what they know or how smart they are. It has everything to do with how healthy they are.” — Patrick Lencioni, The Advantage – Why Organizational Health Trumps Everything Else in Business
In the previous Foggy Leadership post, I discussed how to meet expectations as a leader and know your people. To effectively accomplish these things, you’ll also need a consistent and defined organizational structure. A defined organizational structure assists you with:
- Developing healthy leadership behaviors
- Building trust
- Allowing that trust to result in healthy relationships
- Creating impactful teams where conversations lead to solutions and innovations
This type of environment should be the goal of every team and organization, considering it leads them to success. It’s important to periodically review your own defined organizational structure.
As Bert Spector, associate professor at Northeastern University, wrote in his textbook, Implementing Organizational Change — Theory Into Practice, “Structures impact behaviors by defining the context for work.”
By defining leader expectations in regard to organizational structure, your organization will operate more effectively and efficiently.
Delegating the Work
Historically, creating a defined structure has been a challenge for leaders, due to influences such as a lack of resources. However, if your organization focuses on leading its biggest resource — its people — many of the other, outside obstacles will vanish.
For a leader to be effective, they must:
- Not have too many direct reports
- Have a clarified role
- Work within a structure that is standardized or set up the same way throughout the entire organization
The shapes and sizes of organizational structures have been in constant flux for hundreds of years. The Bible even covers the topic in the Old Testament, in Exodus 18. Moses tries to judge all of the people, but Jethro recognizes that this approach is putting too much of a strain on him. Jethro speaks some organizational truth when he says, “What you are doing is not good. You and the people with you will certainly wear yourselves out, for the thing is too heavy for you. You are not able to do it alone.” (ESV)
Jethro then goes on to say that Moses needs to find men who fear God, have or are able to develop leadership skills, and are trustworthy. He tells Moses to take those men and place them over the people as chiefs of thousands, hundreds, fifties, and tens.
Leaders cannot do all the work. As a leader, you need to be able to delegate to your people. As the amount of work grows larger, you’ll need more and more people. Thus, an organizational structure is built.
The Right Number of Reports
Organizational structures today are unique, because they involve many different types of employee relationships. This can be an area of confusion for managers. Two of the most common relationships are commonly called solid-line reports and dotted line reports.
- Solid-line reports: Sometimes called direct reports, a solid-line report is a team member who works directly for a leader.
- Dotted-line reports (DLRs): This type of report is a team member who works directly for someone else but has a unique skill set or profession that means a leader has some control over them.
There’s been a lot of discussion over the years as to what number of direct reports is best, but many studies have pointed to the right number being around five, with a maximum of seven.
Perhaps this seems low to you. Consider that most leaders don’t know what is expected of them in terms of leading people effectively, which can cause them to believe they’ll be able to adequately lead more. By leading two or three times the recommended number of people, they become less effective and end up doing their organization and team members an injustice.
Communication must come from the top
The executive leadership teams of many organizations do not communicate what they expect of their leaders. When this happens, those leaders must rely on their own understanding and experience, even if their understanding is incorrect or ultimately unhealthy. As younger managers look to more experienced managers for verbal or visual guidance, they can begin to potentially learn unhealthy leadership behaviors.
This is why it’s important for executive leaders to communicate their expectations and display them in everyday actions. Please note that I covered the expectations for direct reports in an earlier Foggy Leadership post, which you can read here. These expectations should be reviewed periodically.
Incorporate the DLR
Complexity has the potential to grow when DLRs are utilized within an organization’s structure. Many organizations’ structures are also built piece by piece, which can lead to non-standard methods of reporting. When this happens, it can cause confusion, unhealthy leadership behaviors, and, even more harmful, a loss of trust.
DLRs can be much simpler to lead, due to the plain fact that doing so does not require as much time. However, leaders need to stay up to date on expectations and the current status of activities from a distance, so effective and intentional communication is key.
It’s recommended leaders meet with each DLR one to two times a month. Proper support for DLRs includes:
- Following up on their personal life challenges
- Receiving status updates on current work that relates to the leaders’ area
- Conduct check-ins on priority task assignments
- Most importantly, giving and receiving feedback
These meetings should also include conversations that address requests being asked of DLRs from their direct line leaders.
Leaders ought to submit an abbreviated annual performance evaluation for each DLR so the report can be utilized as a supplement to their overall annual performance evaluation score.
Remaining on the same path
There also needs to be periodic communication between you and the DLR’s direct line leader. This is especially important during performance evaluation time but is also needed throughout the year to ensure both leaders understand the DLR’s expectations. Both leaders should confirm that those expectations are realistic, are properly prioritized to fulfill the goals of each department, and contribute to the overall mission of the organization.
There’s nothing worse for a team member than feeling as if they’re being pulled in two different directions, with two leaders maneuvering to get the most work from them. It drives many bad relational characteristics, including mistrust, misalignment, and frustration. Ultimately, it leads to increased turnover. Preventing a situation like this can only be done through periodic communication.
While DLRs are much easier to lead, to prevent assumptions, leaders must be more effective and intentional when communicating with them.
Importance of the Clarity of Role
Team members need to have clarity of their roles, meaning a knowledge of what’s expected of them in their jobs. In The Performance Factor: Unlocking the Secrets of Teamwork, Pat Macmillan writes that, “The key role for leaders is to facilitate discussions about roles, particularly the issue around clarity.”
These discussions need to happen frequently because change is always present and clarity is continually challenged. MacMillan states that these discussions should cover five qualities valuable in role design:
- Compatible: Meaning the role fits the person’s individual strengths and skills
- Complementary: Meaning the direct or DLR’s role does not interfere with someone else’s role
- Consensual: Meaning everyone agrees with the role
When roles are clear and fully understood, not only is trust deepened, but teams within your organization understand how everything works together. With this high-level view, they can be innovative and agile in making adjustments that contribute to the efficiency and effectiveness of your organization.
The Standardized Organizational Structure
Clarity of roles alleviates confusion and frustration, but if the organizational structure is not consistent or standardized throughout the whole organization, confusion will still occur.
In their book, Contemporary Management, Gareth Jones and Jennifer George write that an “organizational structure is the formal system of task and job reporting relationships that determines how employees use resources to achieve organizational goals.”
Organizational structure designs differ from organization to organization. According to Jones and George, this should occur, because organizations have different environments, strategies, human resources, and technology.
They may possess a functional structure, a divisional structure, or a combination of the two, called a matrix structure. But, whatever your structure, it must be standardized throughout your organization. This means that, in every situation, direct and dotted-line relations are structured the same way.
This clarity leads to deeper levels of trust, as well as increased effectiveness and efficiency. It allows for a clear understanding of how communications and actions should occur during normal operating times and, more importantly, during an emergency or crisis.
What Comes Next?
A defined and standardized organizational structure that gives leaders the right number of direct reports and includes clarity of roles is critical to ensuring success.
After developing a healthy understanding of how to do this, your organization should next begin ensuring leaders are trained to support the structure. Areas of learning should be covered within a professional learning and development strategic plan to set goals and, according to Peter Drucker in his book, The Five Most Important Questions You Will Ever Ask About Your Organization, assist with “developing a model of how achieving the goals would advance the strategic purpose of the organization.”
What should a professional learning and development plan look like? Find out in my next post!
For a roadmap to investing in your leaders and creating a sensational team, download our free guide.
Paul is part of a dynamic team of passionate change agents who are dedicated to partnering with organizational executives to create cultures that inspire, engage and ignite the best in people. Our work is dedicated to harnessing the power of culture to equip leaders, build amazing teams and align operation practices to delighting the customer and drive breakthrough results.