I'm Praveen Suthrum. After 13 years of building and running NextServices, a healthcare technology/management company, the challenges and opportunities in the industry leap out at me. I also get early access to industry trends and changes.

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5 steps towards re-organizing your team for high performance

5 steps towards re-organizing your team for high performance

Leading a group of people towards a common objective is tough. It constantly requires you to evaluate your decisions based on various changes. Sometimes, it requires restructuring your team to achieve a higher objective.

You may be driven towards a re-org because of many reasons. Industry changes. Client expansion. Financial optimization. Productivity. Technology trends. 

The most important reason for a re-org is to create an environment that lets high performers thrive. 

Here are 5 steps to help you think through a re-org.

Step 1: Curve your team into A, B and C

Take a leaf from Jack Welch’s vitality curve (I know GE says it ended annual performance reviews altogether). Group your team into A (top 20%), B (middle 70%), C (bottom 10%). Use any parameter that works for the greater good of your team. 

If you are stuck, ask the boat-question to identify your top 20%. It goes something like this:

If you had only one spot left in your boat, whom would you choose? 

Repeat that question until you fill your 20%. For example, for a team of 40 people, you get to have 8 people on your boat. Those are your A players.

Then ask a different question.

If you had to ask only one person to get off the boat (otherwise it would sink), whom would you choose? 

Repeat that question until you get your 10%. That means 4 people for a team of 40. Those are your C players.

The remaining ones are B - your team’s crucial 70%. That translates to 28 people out of a team size of 40.



Step 2: Identify gaps in your existing org structure

Study your existing organization structure and now ask this question.

Does your team structure allow A players to thrive?

A players are found in every level of the organization. They are the ones who drive the team forward. They often perform beyond expectations. Usually you’ll find them working at a level or two above their official designation. 

Are your A players stuck in an org maze? What changes in your team would allow them to thrive? Are their job functions aligned with their strengths? Are they getting the training that they need? Do they feel valued?

Answering these questions will help you identify gaps in your existing team structure.

Step 3: Spot A players in your B list

Examine your B list. You’ll be surprised to see a few people in there who should’ve been A. Ask yourself why they ended up here?

It’s possible that their interests have changed. Or, they are going through a difficult life situation. Or, simply they’ve dulled down and fallen behind.

Can you give them a different opportunity? For example, you could move people from operations to say human resources or marketing. Would a deeper one-on-one help them?

I prefer giving the benefit of doubt to someone - rather than the other way round. People change all the time. Sometimes they suddenly do better after a change of role.

Step 4: Figure out next steps with C

You don’t always have to ask your C players to get off the boat. But you have to signal clearly to them that their performance is below expectations. 

Work with them to identify where the problem lies and create a plan of action. Do they lack skills? Or, are they not motivated enough? Skills is easier to fix than attitude.

Give them time. But if they consistently fall back into C, you know that there’s an unaddressable problem. It’s possible that they may do better in a different environment than your team.

Step 5: Re-imagine your team in the context of industry trends

For example, AI and machine learning are trends that are clearly on the horizon. If the Google AI has the capability to make a haircut appointment, surely it’ll be able to run a few repeatable transactions on your team.

Does your team structure allow for accommodating the future? What new functions would you create if you were starting afresh? How would your organization fall behind if you did no changes in the next 5 years? If you were to fully embrace industry trends, how different would your future team look like?

Now start with a blank slate

Say you have the opportunity to start over today, what would you do? 

  • Whom would you rehire to sit in your boat? Whom would you not? 
  • What kinds of teams would you have? 
  • What new functions would you create? What functions would you skip? 
  • How would you use technology differently? 
  • What processes would you standardize more? 
  • What would you automate? 
  • What requests would you make of your clients? 
  • Which mistakes would you absolutely avoid?

We often hesitate to scratch everything and starting over. We worry about consequences and the pain we have to go through. However, when we keep adding patches to our orgstructures, we make room for inefficiencies and redundancy. Great players are lost in the system. With every year, it gets more difficult to change. Fiefdoms develop.

Just the other day, I became a sounding board to a senior executive from an organization I was earlier associated with. We were talking about changes in leadership.

He said, “Things aren’t bad but aren’t great either.” He was referring to someone at the helm.

I responded, “Are you getting the outcomes you want now?”

He said, “No, we are not.”

“What should you be doing?” 

He didn't answer my question directly. Instead, he said, “We don’t have anyone else identified. But I’m also concerned that he’ll feel bad if we make changes now.”

“So what?” I paused to let him think. Then I added, “Which of your responsibilities is more critical? Your responsibility towards him or the org?” 

“The org of course! You are right, he’s not a fit. Let me take some time to think this over.”

After a couple of hours, we spoke again. A little later, he triggered changes seeking new leadership of the organization.

And that was the right thing to do.

A version of this article first appeared in The Economic Times.

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