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Using Facilitation to Restructure the Organization

Written by Frank Van Gool

For some managers, the thought of involving staff in the restructuring of their own organization is ludicrous.  Given the chance, everyone will want to raise the salary and classification of their own jobs and set themselves up to work with their favourite peers! This isn’t entirely a false assumption.  When an individual is in conflict between what is best for the organization and what is best for him or herself personally, he/she will almost always land on the personal benefit over the organizational as the preferred choice.  Have you ever seen someone responsible for reorganizing themselves out of a job?  I have; but it put them in a position to receive the early retirement bonus which is exactly what they wanted.  It’s human nature and we can’t necessarily fault someone for doing what comes naturally.  But it’s not the best thing for the organization.  So, our traditional approach is one where a senior decision maker(s) considers the options, draws the new lines and boxes and informs staff of their new reporting relationships when they arrive for work on Monday morning.  Not necessarily a model of stellar employee engagement and, in a knowledge-based organization, a certain loss in staff productivity.

People don’t resist change. They resist being changed.  Peter M. Senge

Inherent in that idiom is that we all want the opportunity to have influence over our futures.  We are not naïve enough to think that we can control all aspects, however, give us the chance to share our views on what’s working well, opportunities for improvement and ideas for the future and great things might just happen.  Process facilitation can be used to engage staff because it allows both staff and management to participate in a disciplined process that respects the roles of decision maker, contributor and implementer.  It allows for a transparent process that ensures everyone has the opportunity to have “influence” on the outcome and provides the decision maker with the necessary information to make the best decision.

Involve staff at the front end (Part I) by having them participate in confidential interviews so that each person can share his/her potentially sensitive views without fear of repercussion.  A neutral third party is ideal to carry out this data gathering phase.  Part II is Validation.  Have all staff (or representative working group) participate in a meeting where they share the summarized results of the interviews in a constructive, professionally facilitated workshop.  This ensures that there is confidence in the data.  The decision maker/manager also shares his/her expectations, constraints and objectives in the exercise.  Part III will involve additional workshops to establish design criteria, brainstorm options and assess pros and cons of each option.  These are active, lively sessions that are focused on organizational needs and performance.  The degree of staff engagement in the process can vary.  It can be limited to the interviews at Part I or sustained right up to the point of establishing recommendations.

If the goal of restructuring the organization is to best align positions toward organizational success and to optimize the productivity of employees in those positions, then it makes sense to use the best information and sustain productivity throughout.  Using professional facilitation to engage employees in the organizational design process will deliver on both of these promises by providing a disciplined methodology, adhering to principles of change management and ensuring a constructive approach for all involved.