Putting people in boxes leads to square heads
The organisation chart is probably one of the greatest aids to internal strife ever invented by management scientists. The problem with boxing people into a department is that this creates extreme territorial behaviour from the members. You do not need to be a big company to form a department. Once you put a manager title on an organisation chart with people ‘under’ that manager then, hey presto, you have just formed another independent state with a war zone surrounding it.
The fighting, the bickering, the sulking and the backstabbing ensure the business environment is more akin to a school playground. “This is our responsibility not yours” usually leads to one party taking their bat away and the other opting to play another ball game altogether! Groups form naturally around the manager, whether you’ve got ten staff or ten thousand. Before long, especially if you give them budgets, you’ll find that these departments are playing totally different games from each other. It will also be a game that the other departments couldn’t play even if they wanted to. It’s like the girls being able to do dance machine, hopscotch and skipping games while the boys watch in awe and amazement for a minute, before deciding either to shout abuse, or go off and kick a football, or beat each other up.
Of course, we prefer not to use the word department, as it does sound very similar to compartment! These groups around a manager are more usually called teams. This sounds better and it means that we can do the kind of teambuilding things that sports teams often do well. We can build, huddle, brainstorm and bond until we glow all over in pretend lovey, dovey, touchey, feeley-ness.
It works. We now have a highly competitive team. This is why you’ll see the marketing team competing against the operations/production team, which leads to the customer not being allowed to buy what they would have really liked. The finance team beats up the sales team, which usually leads to miserable margins and a visit from the fraud squad.
Whilst this is going on, the ‘people, people’ in the business – the HR team – will prove to be the unsuspected stars of yoga, meditation and guerrilla warfare. They can be relied on to be openly nice to everyone and at the same time secretive, subversive and good knife throwers too! They can be trusted to inform all the company decision makers, ‘in confidence’, about the dodgy nature of their peers in other departments. So, ‘quelle surprise!’, when the day comes to appoint someone to a position of increased seniority, the only ‘safe pair of hands’ remaining in the company just happens to be in HR!
Hanging on to good HR people is a bit of a lottery in itself. They always seem to get headhunted for more money and better prospects – one of the perks of all the confidential contacts they have. In retrospect, I don’t think it is always a good idea to create an HR department. In a smaller company, I would, however, pay good HR professionals to take on more broader business leadership roles for the organisation. Departmental warfare is of our own creation, from the way we draw the organisation chart. We create the opposing sides, the war zone and the managerial characters – the pickpocket, the terrorist, the bulldozer and the entertainer. However, that’s another story and one we wrote a long time ago now. It’s funny, all the characters are still present, if not politically correct.
So, keep building team spirit flexibly both wide and deep. Keep cross training and build transferable skills. Allow responsibility sharing and provide task, rather than functional budgets. Communicate brilliantly and recognise everyone’s achievements publicly. Above all, watch those boxes and titles on that desperately dangerous organisation chart. We can help you with innovative ways to communicate and tear down the barriers, the barbed wire and remove the snipers.