Solid to Liquid: Organizational Redesign

It’s not easy to move from a mechanistic business structure to the more fluid structures that are needed to compete in today’s global economy. What are the barriers and the techniques needed to get changes made?

Why do people resist?

  • Concerns over losing their jobs during restructuring
  • When you restructure, you may get a new boss or new responsibilities
  • Often the changes are not made transparently resulting and confusion and distrust
  • Contemporary structures lean toward flatter, more team based structures threaten employees’ hard earned authority
  • Incentive programs and individual performance evaluations would need to be redesigned to incorporate group goals

Don’t expect restructuring to be successful without the buy-in of your people. Structure exists only so far as it is recognized and reinforced by the people in it.

How to redesign the organization

  1. Streamline – flatten the organization and spread out decision making. One area can then be responsible for more than one strategy to increase efficiency.
  2. Start over – take a look at what is important to your customers and where your company is going in the future. From there, design a company that fits the direction from a blank slate. Of course, this will be the more costly solution, but your company will transform the organization rather than make only incremental changes. Take time planning this one as it would be smart HR planning to figure out where you can retrain employees for your new direction.
  3. Stray across boundaries—strategic alliances don’t have to be between two different companies. What about two different business units or functions? The same principle applies to bringing in strengths and innovation from another “partner.”
  4. Self –Managed Teams—become a collection of entrepreneurs by using self-management teams. All the functions of management are done within the team. Coordinating the teams becomes the role of a few executives, reducing the weight at the top.

Each of these techniques has different goals and intentions. Which is right for your organization?


Setting Goals Leads to Success

Have you ever said to yourself, “I need a new ______.” Let’s say in this case it’s a new computer that you need. “I need a new computer.” Three months later and you might still be making do with the one you have. Now, consider this statement, “I need a new laptop, that I can afford with at least 3-4 hours of battery life and a webcam before school starts in the fall.” Which statement will lead to you achieving the goal? If you said the second one, then you understand the benefits of Goal Setting Theory.

Persistence, Passion, Productivity

Setting and communicating a clear goal that is specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, and timely (remember SMART goals?) increases persistence, passion, and productivity. These characteristics are crucial for turning an idea into reality.


When specific goals are set, people will prioritize those actions and behaviors that allow them to succeed. In other words, “what gets measured gets done.” Employees will work longer toward goals that will get them clear rewards. Timely deadlines lead to a faster pace than loose deadlines. SMART goals make people strive for success. To increase persistence, try the following:

  1. Have employees make their goals public.
  2. Set SMART goals to show trust in the ability of your employees.
  3. Make the vision of the project, effort, and/or company clear to employees so they know how their goals impact the success of the organization.
  4. Provide feedback to employees throughout the process as it allows them to adjust their efforts and keep working toward their goals.


Where goals are absent, establishing SMART goals as a goal intervention can energize people. The American Pulpwood Association was trying to find ways to motivate independent logger. These loggers, although paid on piece rate, had considerable room to increase their productivity, measured by the number of cords per employee. The results were impressive. Crews who were given high, yet realistic goals and a tally to measure their progress bragged to other workers and their families about their effectiveness. Productivity for these crews far outpaced the crews that were instructed to “do their best.” Now that’s passion.

Keep in mind these loggers were unskilled and uneducated. The question arose whether applying Goal Setting Theory would work in more complex jobs where knowledge was the muscle needed to get things done. What’s the answer? Yes, it does, but with a few conditions.


There are some conditions for effective goal interventions that increase productivity.

  1. The person must have the ability and knowledge to reach the goal. If not, the leader’s job is to make sure he/she gets the needed training and resources.
  2. When people are learning a new job, industry, or skill, output goals should be replaced with learning goals. An example of this condition is to set a goal like, “discover five new ways to reach a new market with a current product.” This would be more effective than setting a goal of increasing market share for current products by 10%. The lesson here is that when learning is occurring, a learning goal prioritizes attention on problem-solving.
  3. If a stretch goal is quite a way in the distance, set sub-goals for quick successes to keep people committed. Especially in times of change, sub-goals allow people to gauge their efforts against what is required of them to attain their goals.

What’s the “bottom line?” Ensure your people have what they need to succeed, and if there are obstacles in the way of their success, work together to find a way around them.

Adapted from the article:

Latham, G. (2004). The motivational benefits of goal-setting. Academy of Management Executive , 18 (4), 126-129.

Building Virtual Teams

Virtual  Teams and Global Teams: What’s the Difference?

Virtual teams or geographically dispersed teams (GDT) share commonalities with their global cousins, but there are also some significant differences that can affect the success of the team.

Similarities between the teams:
When setting up virtual teams, there are some things both domestic and global teams need to be successful.
Pick the right people: go for diversity in specializations, but remember that virtual team members will have multiple reporting lines. Virtual team members must be open to new experiences.

  • Choose the right technology: it’s critical to recognize that work is done by people, not technology. Virtual teams are managed by people and mediated by technology, not the other way around.
  • Start the team off right: define the team’s purpose and vision, set specific processes for common understanding, and begin by building relationships before jumping into tasks. The team will need clear goals for work and productivity. Although a facilitator could be used to further these objectives, it’s important to train the team for self-facilitation for success in the long-run (Briggs, 2009).
  • Gain commitment: make sure all team members understand their roles and responsibilities. It’s important that when virtual teams work together, there is a sense of presence. Maybe using photos for the people who are online, or some video and/or audio communication. Another important factor is to ensure to align reward systems (Briggs, 2009) to the new method of work. Consider a combination of team and individual rewards for goals met.
  • Develop a rhythm of communication: the expectations of when and where to communicate provide some predictability in an otherwise unpredictable project. Communication also the primary way to build trust in virtual teams, an often difficult objective.

Developing trust is difficult when you don’t know your team mates, haven’t met them, and don’t actually see them work. Managing global teams adds another layer of complexity.

How global teams differ:
Symons and Stenzel (2007) in their article “Virtually Borderless: an examination of culture in virtual teaming” for the Journal of General Management identifies incremental challenges that global teams face.

  • Technology: considering global teams must rely on technology to mediate tasks, it’s important to be aware of the differences in technological connectivity and infrastructure in other countries. Note also that highly relationship oriented cultures (vs. task oriented like the U.S.) might first resist the use of technology to work across borders. This difference does reinforce the need to pick the right person. Even in relationship oriented cultures there may still be people that would jump at the opportunity.
  • How leadership is expressed: this factor varies among cultures as well. Cross cultural conflicts are inevitable on global teams, making the leaders, or facilitator’s ability to value diversity and show cultural competence a must on global teams. Although some leadership behaviors, like “dynamism, decisiveness, and honesty” (Stenzel, 2007, pg. 4) are common to most cultures, some attributes, like “ambition, formality, risk-taking and self-effacement are valued in some cultures but not others (Stenzel, 2007, pg. 4). The role in leadership for building trust is pivotal, so not adapting to these difference could cause team failure.
  • Intercultural Competence: when working on global teams it’s important to note that national and functional cultures are stronger than organizational cultures, however, corporate culture can predispose team members to work better cross-culturally, and therefore, place a big part in the success of global teams. It’s critical that all team members understand the dimensions of cultural difference so they are armed with strategies and self-awareness techniques to resolve intercultural conflicts.

As a final thought on what it takes to be successful in global teams, I’d like to leave you with this list from Mary Jane Westerlund (2008), a global team leader. Global team members need nine essential qualities (pg. 35):
1. Adaptation skills
2. Attitude of modesty and respect
3. Understanding of the concept of culture
4. Knowledge of the host country or other cultures
5. Relationship building
6. Self-knowledge and awareness
7. Intercultural communication
8. Organizational skills
9. Personal and professional commitment
These qualities enable team development in any realm, but definitely in global teams and team development plays a critical role in the success of virtual teams both domestically and globally.

Briggs, R. N. (2009). Principles for effective virtual teamwork. Communications of the ACM , 52 (4), 113-117.

Stenzel, C. a. (2007). Virtually borderless: an examination of culture in virtual teaming. Journal of General  Management , 32 (3), 1-17.
Westerlund, M. (2008). Superperformance in a remote global team. Process Improvement , 47 (5), 32-37.

Employee Engagement: Making Business Better

Have you ever heard the phrase, “If you love w you do you’ll never work another day in your life.” Well then, you’ve heard of employee engagement. Why does it matter to you? Article after article cites employee engagement as a key element in business success. As a potential candidate in the job market knowing what engagement is, how it affects results, and how to encourage it, will set you apart.

Engagement Defined

Employee engagement goes well beyond job satisfaction. Engaged employees are passionate about their work and show a commitment to go beyond role expectations to succeed (Pickard, 2009). Engagement goes beyond simply being happy in your job; it is a complex combination of organizational culture, leadership, management, communication, and company reputation. There are multiple levels of employee engagement including: engaged employees who feel a connection to the organization, unengaged employees who are “checked out,” and actively disengaged employees who are more than unhappy but acting out their unhappiness in unproductive ways (Lockwood, 2007). An employee who is truly engaged has the opportunity to work to his/her full potential.

Business Results

According to research done by the Society of Human Resource Management (SHRM), employees who are engaged do 20% better in their jobs and are 87% less likely to leave the organization (Lockwood, 2007). How have companies realized the benefits of these statistics? Below are some examples.

MolsonCoors: Engaged employees were less likely to have lost time safety incidents saving the company $1,721,760 in safety costs in 2002 (Lockwood, 2007).

Caterpillar: The construction-equipment maker documented $8.8 million in annual savings from decreased turnover, absenteeism, and overtime. Output from an Asian plant increased 70% in four months showing a $2 million profit increase and 34% increase rise in customer satisfaction (Lockwood, 2007).

Sainsbury: Breakthrough performance in sales, service, inventory availability, and attendance are just some results seen by England’s grocery chain. Their top 10 performing stores in engagement efforts outperformed those with the lowest engagement scores (Pickard, 2009).

From these examples alone it can be concluded that engagement has an impact on the revenue and expense side of the business.

Getting Engagement

Engagement is a simple concept to understand, but much more complex to deliver within an organization. Organizations with engaged employees have strong values, decentralized decision-making, clear communication, a culture of transparency, and strong relationships between leaders, management, and employees. In fact, the behaviors of managers that encourage engagement have commonalities. Following is a chart from the article “Employee Branding” by Jane Pickard (2009).

Behaviors of engaging managers

  • Communicates and makes clear what’s expected
  • Listens, values, and involves the team
  • Supportive, backs you and the team
  • Target focused
  • Clear strategic vision
  • Shows active interest in others
  • Good leadership skills
  • Respected

Behaviors of disengaging managers

  • Lacks empathy, interest in people
  • Fails to listen and communicate
  • Self-centered
  • Doesn’t motivate or inspire
  • Blames others, doesn’t take responsibility
  • Agressive
  • Lacks awareness
  • Doesn’t deliver

Teams who are engaged show clear sub-cultures of high performance and happiness. How engaged are you?

Works Cited

Lockwood, N. (2007). Leveraging employee engagement for competitive advantage: HR’s strategic role. SHRM Research , 1-11.

Pickard, J. (2009, November 5). Employee branding. People Management , 18-22.