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?


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.

Benefits of Process Interventions


Group Process: Wait…don’t groan

That’s right, another lecture about working well in groups. Why so many? It’s simple, groups done well turn to teams, and teams can get more done, and better, than a group of individuals. There are three factors of working in teams that affect the quality of performance: what the team does (task), how the team does it (process), and productivity (Herold, 1978). All three legs of the stool must be solid in order to perform at a high level that creates a strong business culture, opportunities for the business, and career success. Process interventions ensure that the team is able to realize these benefits through quality task and process alignment.

Recipe for quality teams

Empowerment: Involve team members in planning and strategizing how to get the job done. Understanding that learning must precede change, called the Universal Change Principle, is the first step in dissolving resistance to change (Lick, 2000).

Synergy: The magic that turns a group of individuals into a team is called synergy. Teams with synergy have a culture and pattern of interaction all their own. According to Lick (2000), “Members of a synergistic…[team] inspire and energize each other, and the openness and diversity of perspectives create new ideas, knowledge, and problem-solving potential” (pg. 46).

Trust: Is essential for team success. There is a fear of failure that compels teams toward success (Glassman, 1975). Trust in your teammates builds confidence in the completion of tasks, the team process, and the outcome. In other words, trust affects the quality of all three legs of the stool.

Interaction: Promoting both formal and informal opportunities for interaction encourages the development of trust and synergy and team members express their empowerment through advocating for their ideas. This ingredient, effective interaction, is often where groups struggle during when navigating more socially complex tasks (Herold, 1978). It’s a common entry point for process consultations by O.D. professionals. When teams interact and communicate well they grow and evolve to higher performance.

Derailing effective teamwork

These symptoms indicate a need for process interventions as they can derail team cohesion.

Jockeying for position: When groups lack trust and a common vision, members jockey for formal status (Glassman, 1975) preventing the formation of an effective team. Rotating leadership responsibility or restructuring the team’s reporting process might be in order.

Finding a common scapegoat: Has your group every complained about that “one person” that, if gone, would make everything better? This type of behavior indicates the group has identified a common scapegoat, or one person to blame for all the inefficiency in the group process (Glassman, 1975). Rarely is one person responsible for the group’s ills. Instead, the group’s inability to form a team can be linked to issues of empowerment, trust, and interaction.

Often different expectations between consultant and client can lead to ineffective processes. Plan your team’s workflow to include empowerment, trust, and interaction to create synergy that will make your team a source, not for groans, but for cheers.


Glassman, A. (1975). Team consultation: a revealing analysis. Academy of Management Proceedings , 116-118.

Herold, D. (1978). Improving the performance effectiveness of groups through a task-contingent slection of intervention strategies. Academy of Management Review , 3 (2), 315-325.

Lick, D. (2000). Whole faculty study groups: facilitating mentoring for school-wide change. Theory Into Practice , 39 (1), 43-49.