Leadership challenge: the restructure addiction

executive leadership organisational change Mar 24, 2019

“Change is the changeless state”, is a phrase commonly attributed to Buddha. And it certainly seems to have become a truth, a mantra, an operating system even, for most modern organisations, to the point that they are suffering from the restructure addiction leadership challenge.

Wave after wave of restructuring crashes incessantly on the shore of individuals and teams, making it difficult to hold form, to remain stable. I can’t help but wonder, as I see new leaders enter organisations and embark upon the almost obligatory restructure, and then exit two to three years later, only to be followed by another set of leaders who embark upon their own set of restructures, whether leaders have an addiction of sorts. Why is it, that the default strategy seems to be to restructure, to incessantly cast the organisation in a new mould?


What happened to implementation?

It begs the obvious question of implementation. That is, what is the purpose of a restructure if it is not given time for the new structure to be implemented? The purpose of restructure is surely, to allow synergies to emerge and consolidate between organisational systems and agents, thereby resulting in efficiencies and/or innovations. One of the things that characterises a large complex system is the amount of time it takes for systemic changes to flow through the system – ripples if you like, which in turn create their own ripples, their own sub-systemic emergences. Such emergences need time to be apprehended, reflected upon and shaped in and with strategy. And this takes time. Or to be more accurate, this takes leaders who take time to pause and reflect.

Ironically, one could argue that constant waves of restructure become the norm and that in fact, to effect change, one must do something different – ie. stop restructuring. Imagine that for a moment: that one pathway for innovation is in fact to pause, and hold and not allow oneself to be subject to fear. In fact, Fraser and Strickland (2006) found that organisations that restructured improved more slowly than organisations that did not.


How do organisations improve?

Which of course begs the question of what is improvement. Restructure I am sure, is mostly born from the desire to improve, although I think it is also sometimes born from the desire to be familiar: “this is how we did it in my previous organisation” or “this is how I think it or prefer it to be”. What if the structure that fosters improvement is not the structure that one is familiar or comfortable with. The restructure addiction leadership challenge is a very real one.

So, the next time you consider a restructure, take a moment to reflect on whether there are any reactive tendencies driving your thinking. Is this restructure addiction? Consider whether this restructure you are contemplating is good enough to last more than 12 months, whether it is strategic enough to move your people powerfully forward into the future, or whether it is attempting to solve short-term pain points.

At Performance Potential, we support leaders within organisations to critically reflect and examine organisational structures and strategies so that a performance ecology and culture is created that is both powerful and sustainable. Through our leadership development programs, leaders are provoked and supported to deepen their leadership philosophy. Our executive coaching services enable executives, senior leaders and managers to set powerful goals that transform personal and organisational potential.