In business if change is the new normal and the pace of change continues to increase, then the challenge to keep up, let alone flourish, places a heavy burden on leadership teams. A typical response to these difficulties appears to be a reorg (it even has a handy diminutive) or indeed a programme of reorgs (available too as a plural).

Reorgs are always billed as a means to simplify and rejuvenate, to unblock processes and unlock value, but few are entirely successful. They can encounter employee resistance, be insufficiently resourced and fall prey to unplanned consequences, often leading to clumsy implementation, wholesale distraction and a drop rather than surge in productivity. This, of course, tees up the need for further upheaval.

Given the grizzly tales which sometimes accompany reorgs, it is important to plan them meticulously and run them systematically. In the November issue of Harvard Business Review, we find a helpful guide (‘Getting reorgs right’) for doing just that by Stephen Heidari-Robinson and Suzanne Heywood.

The authors, informed by extensive personal experience, propose a five-step process:

  1. Develop a profit and loss statement. Start by defining the benefits, the costs (including the human impact), and the time to deliver. Common sense but uncommon in practice
  2. Understand current weaknesses and strengths. What is healthy, what needs fixing, at different levels, across the whole business? Again, this step can often be skimmed over
  3. Consider multiple options. There can be more than one answer, ranging from changing only the elements that don’t work to an entirely new organisational model. Identify them early
  4. Get the plumbing and wiring right. This is the hard bit. What needs to change and in what order? Don’t be “left driving a fast car with no steering wheel”
  5. Launch, learn and course correct. Any reorg won’t work perfectly from the beginning. Be open to amending initiatives which worked on paper but come up short in reality

A critical success factor, also, in a process requiring buy-in from employees who can be uncertain and fearful, is “communicating the reorg”. In order to ensure an atmosphere of fairness and transparency, communications must be planned for all steps of the reorg, focusing on topics which are important to the intended audiences, including personal interaction and offering two-way dialogue. The glue which holds such a dynamic and complex construct in place is formed of trust and relationship-nurturing behaviour.

For a more radical take on reorgs, I can recommend Frederic Laloux’s 2014 work, ‘Reinventing Organizations’, described as ‘a guide to creating organisations inspired by the next stage of human consciousness’. Laloux proposes: “Every time that we, as a species, have changed the way we think about the world, we have come up with more powerful types of organisations.”

He identifies four organisational models in developed societies, on a progressive though largely non-judgmental scale from Impulsive-Red, through Conformist-Amber and Achievement-Orange, to Pluralistic-Green. Red organisations are defined by Mafia style displays of executive power and these days exist on the fringes of legal activity. The Amber model is a formal, rigid hierarchical structure symbolised by the armed forces while Orange captures a more meritocratic, innovative multi-national corporation. In Green organisations the focus is on empowerment and a values-driven culture, with an inspirational purpose at the heart of what they do.

Laloux believes, however, that a new organisational model is emerging, corresponding to Maslow’s ‘self-actualising’ level, which he calls Evolutionary-Teal. Companies transitioning to Teal accept “that there is a momentum in evolution towards ever more complex and refined ways of dealing with the world.” It would be hard to disagree with this in principle.

In the book the case studies of “pioneer” Teal organisations reveal three breakthroughs:

  1. Self-management. In short, “a system based on peer relationships, without the need for either hierarchy or consensus”
  2. The creation of a work place where a professional mask is unnecessary , where “we can bring all of who we are to work”
  3. Evolutionary purpose. Organisations which develop “a life and sense of direction of their own”. What does the company want to become, what purpose does it want to serve?

The Teal model questions some familiar, conventional structures and processes but also illuminates ground-breaking practices for how, in our business lives, we can get the best from each other.

Laloux’s opus is worth a look because it contains, in my view, some touchstones for effective reorganisations and for business more generally – the energy of trust, the nourishment of collaboration, the inspiration of shared purpose, the power of fully-functioning, adult-to-adult relationships, the liberation of our true selves and potential.