Stop Looking for Organizational Silver Bullets

We’ve seen companies try the following “silver bullets”:


What you think will happen: An experienced executive will roll up their sleeves and fix the problem, leaving the rest of the team free to focus on their departments.

What actually happens: The other executives fight over territory, reinforcing existing silos. Meanwhile, the new executive rebuilds what they had at their old organization, rather than figuring out what’s right for their current company.


What you think will happen: Moving people into different groups and reassigning leaders will make it clear what everyone’s working on, who’s responsible for what tasks, and how teams should keep each other informed.

What actually happens: Your team spends time establishing new relationships and understanding their new managers’ way of doing things, instead of doing their work. Worse, you hear grumbling about how the reorg is just another clueless attempt by management to make it look like they’re doing something useful.


What you think will happen: A strategy presentation that details the next five or 10 years will help everyone understand what you’re trying to achieve and how they should prioritize their work. Better yet, they’ll be able to make decisions without you having to micromanage them.

What actually happens: You spend time solving problems that may or may not actually happen in the next five to ten years while neglecting the issues that need to be solved immediately. Preparing the presentation, you get bogged down in discussions about image and font choices. And when you do present the new strategy, the rest of the team gets nervous and wonders why you’re changing course.


What you think will happen: A new app or tool (like a project management app or chat platform) will get everyone on the same page, saving time and avoiding duplication of efforts.

What actually happens: Some people adopt it, some don’t, so the team has to keep using both systems. Eventually, people get tired of this, so they revert to their old habits. Or worse, in your effort to solve every problem with one tool, you select one that’s so complex, it requires its own support staff.

Before you leap to any one of these solutions, make sure you’re addressing the right problem:

  1. Determine what’s urgent, and what’s important. Use the Eisenhower Box to identify what problems demand your immediate attention, and deprioritize the rest. (You may also find it bracing to estimate how much time you spend on tasks that are not urgent or important, and adjust accordingly.)

2. Take a Gemba Walk. Follow Toyota’s practice of walking the factory floor: go talk to the people who are most affected by the problem. Get their input on the objectives and what an acceptable solution looks like.

3. Try out a Minimum Viable Solution. Adapt Spotify’s “Minimum Viable Product” to the workplace. What’s the simplest, easiest fix for this issue? Get feedback and iterate.

We’re not saying that you should never reorganize your team structure or engage in long-term strategic planning. In the right context, they can be perfectly valid options, but don’t expect one initiative to solve all your problems.

Last but not least: real change (at least, the positive kind) typically doesn’t happen overnight, nor will people adjust to the “new normal” right away. So be patient.


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