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3 common problems in poorly-designed organizations


May 17, 2021

The authors of “Networked, Scaled, and Agile” have conducted hundreds of organization assessments over 20 years.

What have they learned? Common frustrations within a company can be traced directly to poor organization design.

Here’s their insightful analysis of three recurring irritants.

  1. Decisions are made at too high a level: Senior leaders often complain that their direct reports are too passive. But meanwhile, those direct reports often claim that they’re disempowered. The disconnect is exacerbated when senior leaders like to make operational decisions, as is often the case in fast-growing companies where complexity has grown faster than leadership capability. The senior person might lament that decisions land in their lap, but they continue to make them.
  2. There’s duplication of work and effort: Nothing is more frustrating than when the same decisions get made multiple times over. The root cause of this issue is often companies’ tendency to add layers to solve career progression issues, not to make work more efficient. “Assistant” and “senior” levels are added in to promote people, pay them more, or give them supervisory experience. These outmoded human resource systems create unnecessary hierarchies.
  3. Organizational units are not designed to connect: A final frustration that can be traced to poor design is when an organizational unit is optimized without consideration of how people’s roles will connect with those of their peers, horizontally. Each leader designs their group in a vacuum, creating a mix of roles focused on product and service development, interface management, shared services and delivery operations. In isolation, these designs often make sense. But then when leaders try to connect marketers, engineers and data scientists across units, formally or informally, they find that role descriptions and expectations are not aligned and don’t snap together the way good building blocks do.

So what’s the antidote to these annoyances?

In a well-designed organization, each leadership layer makes a unique set of decisions that do not overlap with the work of the layer below. Each layer is inclusive of the work below but doesn’t duplicate it.

If organizations can avoid these three design flaws, they’ll be well on their way to becoming truly networked, scaled, and agile.


Amy Kates

Senior Managing Director – Talent & Organization, Operating Model & Organizational Design