Organization is a funny word. Merriam-Webster defines it two ways. The first is, “the act or process of organizing or being organized.” The second is, “An administrative and functional structure.” It is both an act and an entity.

Unfortunately, if most people were honest with themselves, the organizations they work in are rarely organized or embody a structure that works.

This gap between the definitive organizational ideal and frustrating reality, when unaddressed, can create massive friction, sideways energy, and even drive your best employees to go back to the job boards hunting for the place that is closer to where they envisioned themselves working all along.

The opposite of organization is chaos. In chaotic organizations, attempted execution happens with no structure, strategy, or intentionality. People constantly leapfrog each other making ill-informed decisions for a multitude of reasons. If you are wondering how off your environment might be, let’s dig in! Here are four signs that you are closer to complete chaos than you realize.

Mosh Pit Decisions

Have you ever seen a mosh pit? You find them at alternative, hard rock, and punk concerts where a group of people start pushing each other around in a cluster in front of the stage. It looks like a crazy shoving match of bodies as things get crazy. Unorganized companies and non-profits can be like that sometimes when leaders decide to start making decisions for teams that they have very little interaction with or authority over. This type of fragmented decision-making drives people crazy. There’s nothing worse than when a team is working on a project or solving a problem and needs some guidance, but their leader is tied up with something else, and along comes someone from a different department or an executive from a different division.  The executive leader innocently engages the team, but instead of pointing them back to their leader they decide to weigh in, “solve the problem”, and send the team down a completely different path without having the context, people knowledge, or details needed. When the team’s actual leader checks back in only to find they were sent in a different direction from someone from else, it creates massive friction and causes the team to waste significant time, while eroding trust and building frustration.

Whenever I’ve seen this happen, it is typically accompanied by someone in the group passionately saying, “Stay in your lane!” Imagine if you were watching Olympic swimming. The race starts, the swimmer in lane two decides that they’d rather swim in lane five. They start crossing over the ropes toward lane 5 and chaos ensues. They not only distract and impede the swimmer in lane five, but they also end up disrupting the swimmers in lanes three and four in the process and the pool becomes a mess.

High level leaders must use discipline in how they engage with other teams by recognizing the weight of their words.

If they have questions or suggestions, they must follow up with the team’s leader directly instead of sending teams on wild goose chases.

Mismanaging Time

There are times when you must make a call in the heat of the moment, but that doesn’t have to be a regular occurrence. Teams that repeatedly win are the ones who take the time to plan, employ discipline, create feedback loops, establish healthy accountability, and execute to the plan. Working within a plan is always better than trying to hit a moving target because it builds confidence and focus. Organizations who struggle to plan and/or stick to the plan often find themselves changing details at the last minute and frantically spending their earned leadership equity in the process. Most people are pretty understanding when an alteration needs to happen. The kicker is when last minute changes become the norm, and you’ve spent hours and days working on the intricate details of a project only to get it scrapped at the finish line for something else. These repeated behaviors always come at a cost by people losing trust, joy, motivation, and a passion for excellence, while distracting them from a team-first focus.

Leaders, we all need to be flexible, but before you make a major change after considerable work has been done by others, ask yourself this question, “Is it worth spending the change to make this change?”

Muddy Objectives

In organizational life, clarity is king. If people understand what needs to happen, they will give their right arm to make it so. If I were to walk down the halls of your company or non-profit and ask each person what your three to four key initiatives were last year, what would they say? When I ask executives this, I get the same answer every time. They say, “You’d probably get as many answers as people you asked.” That, my friends, tells me that there is a significant lack of clarity and the objectives (if you have any) are muddy.

If your organization is organized, then there is a tenacious commitment to clarity at every level – it’s a core behavior, not an idea.

Years ago, when I took over a P&L losing close to seven figures a year, the first thing I did was establish clarity and build out three to four key initiatives that we could commit to, build accountability for, and rally around. Creating crystal clear team objectives was the major factor in digging out of a deep pit and establishing value for our clients and greater compensation for our staff.

Missed Deadlines

One of the litmus tests for organizations that are on the brink of all out chaos are missed deadlines. How often does your team get things done on time? A missed deadline communicates a few things – too many competing priorities, not enough healthy accountability, and an unrealistic workload. I understand that we want to maximize profits – I like making money too! However, when folks are trying to do too much and can’t breathe, balls will drop, and plates will break. If you have a healthy culture where people are being challenged but can also produce high quality work on time, you will outshine your competition, while creating margin for greatness.

I hope this list helps you and provides some insight into how you can improve your organization and get organized! If you have examples of ways you’ve helped make your organization more organized, please feel to share those in the comments section!



David Bennett

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