Restructuring and Reorganization – Part 1

One of the inevitable tasks of those in leadership is that of facilitating or moderating a process by which an organization makes the necessary changes so that governance is more effective.  This is a major topic for consideration and will be the focus of a sequence of blog postings. 

There are a number of reasons why a reorganization may be called for.  I am in the midst of a number of conversations – with denominational leaders and with pastors – where colleagues are wrestling with this very question; and I am also in the middle of such a process within my own institution:  how to facilitate and assure that a process is implemented that will lead to a new organizational arrangement.   These reasons include (1) that the system that was put in place simply did not work . . . it was the wrong approach or structure of governance for this church or organization.   And we need to step back and re-think and re-work this process so that we have the right system in place.   Or, (2) the circumstances have changed and now with these changes in the demographic that the organization serves or the environment or simply that the organization is growing an what worked then, does not work now.  It may have worked with a small leadership team with a smaller organization; but we need a different arrangement because we have a larger organization to manage. 

Whatever the reasons for the needed change, leaders need to know how to facilitate change towards an outcome that positions the organization to effectively fulfill its mission.  And this begins with asking the right questions.  Here is a start on those questions. 

(1) if we are going to fix it, we need to ask . . .what is broken?  What is not working well?  In what ways are we, as an organization, not being able to do or being limited in doing what we need to do?  Who needs to have the primary capacity and authority to make crucial strategic decisions for the organization – and where should these be housed?  Where are they currently housed and why does this arrangement not work?   

In some cases, you will determine that some entity has an out-sized influence in the process of strategic decision-making and that perhaps that entity should perhaps be consulted, but not have the actual final say in the decision that is being made.   Remember a simple principle:  authority and accountability go together.   We cannot hold a person or an entity accountable if they do not have the authority to do what needs to be done.  And, further, beware of having someone or an entity [a governance body or committee] with significant authority who/which in the end is not actually accountable for the outcome or whether the mission of the organization is happening. 

(2) second, ask the specific question around the key indicators that change is needed.   This question assumes you are able to identify what are those key and essential strategic decisions that are essential for the effectiveness of the institution.  And typically they are three:

  • Programmatic decisions . . .what will we do and where will we focus our organizational energy?  
  • Personnel decisions . .  who is hired or who is let go, so that the mission happens in a way that is financially sustainable?
  • Financial decisions . . . the budget that lies below all of this, and makes possible both the programmatic and personnel choices.

If the system is not working it is because these decisions are housed with those who have an out-sized influence on these actions items – meaning they have influence but do not need to live with the consequences or they have influence or authority but do not have the final responsibility or accountability to make sure that the organization delivers on its mission.  Thus, we begin by asking:  where are these decisions housed? 

(3) and then, thirdly, we ask the politically difficult but necessary question.  Who will “lose” in this process – or, perhaps better put, who will be uncomfortable with or resistant to the change?  Who will feel that they are losing voice or power or influence?  Who will feel threatened by this process?  It is inevitably the case that a reorganization process is a political process – meaning that we need to be politically astute in attending to the diverse constituencies who are invested in this organization and if there is pushback, those in leadership need to know how to manage this so that resistance does not become sabotage.  And, as I will note, it means that you are very careful about who has veto power on change or the new arrangement that is being put in place.

Institutional Intelligence is the capacity to work effectively within organizations.