Post-Conventional Organisational Structures- the key to dealing with Austerity?

December 6, 2017

During the month of December, myself and my Beech Centre colleagues will be focusing on the OD theme of “Structure”, specifically Conventional and Post-Conventional organisational structures. Doing so over the last few days has made me consider whether our businesses are structured in ways conducive to enabling them to be successful in the current UK landscape.

In the last 10-15 years, the climate in which all businesses in this country have to function has changed dramatically, especially but not exclusively for those organisations which exist within the public and third sectors. Everyone is having to do much more with less- there are regular reports of nurses and doctors, council workers and police staff doing more hours with fewer colleagues to help them and less money in their budgets to complete this increased workload.

In my role at The Beech Centre, I regularly come across stories of strapped-for-cash organisations forced to make difficult decisions and drastic changes in order to keep afloat and achieve challenging targets. This is a horrible, catch-22 situation- in an ideal world, no CEO’s, directors and organisational leaders want to have to let anyone go or change “the way things are around here” but especially in the current climate this is simply unavoidable to some extent; if they don’t act, there will be no organisation left and in the public sector the consequences of this can be life-threatening to service users.

Even if not forced to cut their workforces, these public sector organisations have to save money wherever they can and justify every spend they make. This requirement to validate spending however usually results in extensive processes having to be adhered to which at times arguably cost the organisation more in time and money than they actually save.

As Cummings and Worley (1993) explain, good OD is reliant on an organisation’s structures and processes supporting their strategy to enable an organisation to be effective. All public sector organisations’ strategies today are predicated on doing more with less, so how can we ensure that an organisation’s structures support this?

Well, as I have detailed above, there seems to be a trend in this century in the public sector of a process overload especially but certainly not exclusively when it comes to financial management and I would be interested to understand if you feel that structure is to blame for this or more importantly could be key to solving the issue.

Whilst the landscape has changed dramatically, the way we structure our organisations typically hasn’t. Our public sector is still very much populated with conventionally structured organisations; hierarchical, pyramid shaped systems where a select few executives make all the decisions and manage the workforce from the top down. There are long management chains which run vertically through an organisation with those accountable sitting at the top of the tree and those responsible existing underneath. This makes the process-mad trend we are seeing logical; decisions and oftentimes blame end up being passed up and down the line simultaneously. This hierarchical approach may have served us well enough for years before this age of austerity kicked in but now it’s here and by the looks of it here to stay for some time, I wonder if it’s time to take a new approach.

Radical changes have been made to the climate organisations have to exist within in recent years, so perhaps radical changes to the way these organisations exist within this climate is only to be expected as a result.

So what does this all mean? Well, I’m interested to hear your thoughts.

I think the answer is that it means different things to each organisation depending on the unique challenges it is faced with and presents, however the themes of organisational behaviour and outcomes which all are trying to achieve are the same- autonomy and empowerment of staff to deliver the performance required of them with less on a smaller budget. I personally believe that an organisational restructure to a more unconventional approach allows organisations to be able to design a bespoke structure which enables their organisation to deliver its strategy without being overwhelmed by its processes.

This may look like a more flat structure than we conventionally see- less tiers in the organisation, with more managers and leaders each responsible and accountable for delivering the performance of smaller areas of the organisation but all working towards the same shared goal. This will in turn mean that the lengthy processes we are used to seeing are replaced with more efficient and appropriate systems, allowing the workforce to work more autonomously, effectively and quickly and feel more empowered and engaged as a result.

Do you think structure can be a key component of an organisation being able to do more with less? Do you feel a more radical, modern approach enables organisations to deal with the austerity crisis or do you think that this is a huge risk to an organisation to restructure at a time of such uncertainty? Have you any examples of unconventional structures in your organisation or organisations you know which really enable them to respond to the challenges the current climate presents?

If so I would love to hear about it, either in the comments below or via email- elen.benfield@thebeechcentre.co.uk.

Elen Benfield

Communications Manager

The Beech Centre for People, Performance and Organisational Development

 

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