Organizing can be a daunting task. We all know people who are so organized that if one thing is out of place they are unable to function. You know the types, the left shoulder of every shirt in their closet is closest to the door, any papers related to money are placed in green folders, or that on any given Saturday night at 8:15 they will be doing laundry. These habits help people become organized. Organization is an important management and leadership task. Leaders take habits like these and use them to create organization in the groups they lead.
There is a reason softball teams, boy scouts, companies, religious groups and similar blocks of people grouped together for a common cause are called organizations; they have some level of, well, organization. All have common traits or organization. Sometimes the organization occurred accidentally, sometimes by virtue of the way the work to be accomplished, or because there was a law requiring a specific process. Responsible leaders ensure current the current organization of the organization best meets of required functionality to accomplish the group’s mission. There are three basic areas leaders organize, teams, structure, and processes.
Before we dig into those areas, let us start with a common understanding of the art of organizing. Organize means to arrange parts in a systematic fashion to create functionality to accomplish a desired outcome. You may notice I do not cite a dictionary resource for my definition. That is because I read lots of definitions preparing for this article and found none that really described organize for leaders.
Hasbro makes a game called Mousetrap. It comes with lots of parts. When assembled correctly, players can catch the mouse token of other players and eliminate them from the game. Assemble the parts incorrectly and the mouse trap fails to work. The game is like the organizing function of leadership. Like the game, organizations have many moving parts. If you organize them well, you will catch the mouse.
Teams are the most important part of the organizational mouse trap. In his book, Good To Great, Jim Collins talks about getting the right people on the bus and then putting them in the right seats. Early in my leadership studies I read or was told that it is better to hire people with the right attitudes, values, and potential than the right skill and experience. The training indicated that if you hired someone whose values aligned with the organizations, had some demonstrated potential to master the required task either through work, volunteering, or learning experience, and had a can-do attitude, that person would be more successful in the long run and make the organization more successful than a person with knowledge and experience.
After a few times of going through hiring processes I found this to be true the hard way. As a young leader, I supported candidates that had skill and experience. Not all have values aligned with my organization and they did not last long. One time I recommended a young person right out of school who lack experience but seem to have the right attitude, values, and desire to learn. That person worked out very well. We were able to mold the person into the kind of employee the more senior people in our organization wanted working with clients. After that, I always recommended the person who had desired values, attitude, and demonstrated potential.
Another important aspect of organizing teams is determining how to structure them. The most important aspect is span of control. Every team has a captain who provides the vision, establishes priorities of works, and sets standards. Depending on the complexity of the task, the captain may only be able to adequately supervise two or three people or a dozen people. Complex, and highly skilled tasks require a smaller span of control. Tasks that are simpler and require less skill allow the captain the ability to supervise more people. In the work place, the captain might be called a supervisor or manager.
Likewise, the person overseeing the team captains has a limited span of control. During the 1980s there was a trend to flatten organizational pyramids. Not all attempts worked. Much of this has to do with the span of control and the complexity of the work to be done.
Geography is another limitation. If parts of the organization are spread over a large area, the senior leaders may find it necessary to create geographic regions to improve planning, resourcing, controlling, and leading. Leaders who have the ability to stand in one spot and observe everyone they lead have an advantage over those who may have to go from one place to another to observe. As that distance grows, so does the time required to provide adequate supervision and leadership.
I use both supervision and leadership when discussing spans of control. Both activities are important management skills but they are different. Supervision is a process of observing the work of a subordinate and providing reinforcing and corrective feedback to performance. Leadership is the process of influencing others by providing purpose, direction, and motivation to accomplish something even in the leader’s absence. All supervisors are managers and leaders. Not all leaders are supervisors or managers. The differences between the three will be examined closer in the leadership post.
Processes are the repeated actions required to achieve a predictable, repeated result. Ideally they should be simple and easy to understand. Of course that means simple to understand for the intended audience. For example, the process to start up the particle accelerator at CERN would be completely impossible for most people. However, to the people who work at CERN, the process is simple. Many of you have had fun purchasing something with the phrase on the box, “Some Assembly Required.” Some of you tossed the directions. Others called tech support because you could not figure out why tab A did not fit into slot B! That is why it is important to provide simple, easy to understand directions in processes.
Processes need to be thought out and though through so each step makes sense. I heard a yoga teacher trainer suggest that teaching a new yoga teacher required teaching them to think about telling someone how to walk. Because wannbe yoga teachers have been doing yoga for so long they no longer think about how to do yoga any more than most people think about how they walk.
As you work through your processes, periodically stop and test. Have people who are not familiar with the work follow the directions provided in your video, slide deck, or written instructions. If they produce an acceptable product it probably means you created a good process.
At various times in life, I found many tasks I needed to repeat for work that were sometimes only needed to be done occasionally like creating an annual budget, or completing annual tax forms. I found that by creating checklists for myself to follow on these types of tasks, I was able to complete such tasks faster and more accurately. When it came time to teach someone else how to do that task I had the beginning of a process to share with them. With a little work, I could take my checklist and create instructions about how to do each task. As a result, rarely have I been indispensable which means I was always able to accept a new role. My successor was set up for success. I could spend minimal time with them which allowed me to focus on learning.
Organizing is an art. Leaders figure out how to take all the parts required for a job and arrange them into a functioning system that achieves repeatable, predicable results that achieve the mission. Organizations rarely think about the organization of their organization. As leaders it is important that the teams, structure, and processes we supervise are arraigned to create a system of functionality. Ensure you have the right people on the team. The right person will learn the skills they need to do the job if their values are aligned with the team’s. See that the structure allows supervisors the ability to provide purpose, direction, and motivation to followers by developing reasonable spans of control. Create processes that are easy to understand by the intended users. Seek ways to improve your organization. Groups of people who share a common vision of the future and are part of well organized teams, that are well leadership, and execute appropriate processes will eventually succeed. Be the leader your team deserves by organizing well.
References and Additional Reading
CERN (2021) Seeking answers to questions about the universe. https://home.cern/about/what-we-do/our-research Retrieved 1/18/21
Collins, J. (2001) Good to great. Harper Collins. New York, NY www.jimcollins.com
Hilgert, R. Leonard, E. & Haimann, T. (1995) Supervision: Concepts and practices of management.(6th ed.) South-Western College Publishing. Cincinnati, OH (Particularly Part 3, Organizing)
Kinicki, A. & Williams, B. (2008). Management: A practical introduction. (3rd ed.) McGraw-Hill Irwin. New York, NY. www.mhhe.com
Raghunath. (2020) Men’s 30 day yoga challenge. DoYouYoga. https://www.doyou.com/creators/raghunath/programs/ (not able to find the particular video he made the comment)
(c) 2021. Christopher St. Cyr