How to Create the Right Team Structure

The Right Questions team structure organisational structure

What is the right organisational structure for your team or business?

Once people understand their roles they next need to know how they interact with other people. Everyone needs to be clear about the lines of communication and decision-making authority. Authority, accountability, reporting and other leadership and management functions all need to be reflected in the organisational structure. 

The structure of a team, organisation or company can take many forms. For example, ‘flat’, ‘hierarchical’, or ‘matrix’ are all descriptions of structures. But, there is no single correct structure for every team or circumstance.  The type of structure that a team should employ depends on the nature of the task and the nature of the people within the team.

Take a fresh look at what organisational structure you need

You may need to start with a blank piece of paper. Ask some questions related to your task, team and the individuals in that team. For example:

  • Who needs to communicate with whom to make effective decisions?
  • Which people have to work closely together to fulfil their responsibilities? 
  • How are individuals kept accountable for what they are doing?
  • Who needs to be empowered to make decisions? 
  • Who is responsible for their management and supporting their personal development? 
  • What things need to happen for your team to be able to achieve its goal
  • Does your present structure support that aim?

The larger the organisation the harder it is to answer all these questions in one go. So, you can start by looking at the individual team level first. Work out how they need to function, and then look at how each team needs to operate and interact.

It might be helpful to do this graphically. One method I find helpful is using names on post-it notes, arranged on a whiteboard so that I can experiment. In this way, you can see how people are best grouped. You can add the different decision and communication lines that are needed in coloured pens and see what works. Get the team involved in the process too. They are likely to have the most detail about how they need to work effectively. It can be a lively team-building exercise in itself!

Form should follow function

A structure should support communication and decision-making in the most effective way possible. You need to be organised so that you can achieve the specific goal your team is pursuing. This means that the structure is likely to need to change over time.  Organisational growth, replacement staff, new goals or different stages within a project can all spell a need for a change in structure.  Don’t shy away from moving things around. But there is a delicate balance to achieve. Too much change can cause instability and will make team members anxious. Too little change, on the other hand, will hamper your progress. In my experience, small businesses and start-ups have to watch out more for the former, while large institutions have to be aware of the latter.

On some tasks, it may be that the roles within a team need to change within the course of a day.  That is particularly true within smaller organisations where people have to share more responsibilities. If people are comfortable with their roles, and the responsibilities of others, then they can deal with this change. Very strict, traditional, hierarchical structures can make this sort of fluidity a lot harder.

Most teams won’t have to deal with this speed of change all the time. But the lesson is – as with every other tool in planning – to remain flexible.  And remember, the structure is not the end in itself: it is just a tool to achieve our end. Achieving our dream or mission is the most important thing. So, if our structure is hindering us then we need to adapt it and improve it.

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