Originally published on LinkedIn here

To evaluate the current state of something you often have to take a step back and ask a reflective question. If I could start over would I make any changes or would I do it all the same? How we got to where we are is mostly irrelevant with the exception of the experiences and knowledge we gathered along the way. Given the chance to start over we can apply that experience and knowledge to making better decisions and creating a different outcome.

If you were to take this introspective approach to evaluating the structure of government you would probably come up with some pretty interesting insights. By starting with the undesirable traits of the current situation you may be able to come up with ways to avoid them. Here are some of the things that come to mind:

  • Bureaucracy makes it very difficult to change and innovate without jumping through endless hoops.
  • Politics get in the way of productivity and personal agendas often distract from the real challenges.
  •  People derive responsibility from job descriptions and managers instead of the actual needs of the organization.
  • Strategy is often far removed from the front-line workers who understand the challenges the most.
  • Individual employees get their value from job titles and rank in the organization instead of their contributions.
  • This little experiment can help raise real concerns around the way things are currently being done. Even though you cannot start over that does not mean you cannot create a new future. Changing organizational structure is not easy but the transition may just be worth it.

Challenges with the Current Organizational Structure

Government relies on innovation to meet the steadily increasing needs of citizens. Needs will always outpace resources and therefore innovation is a requirement. That has worked great until now but the needs are increasing at such a fast pace that government cannot keep up. The pace of change is not going to slow down and a traditional organizational structure does not provide clear ways to handle these challenges.

When problems do not get addressed until they become emergencies they are often solved with a Band-Aid approach instead of addressing the root causes. This is counterproductive because when an organization is constantly reacting to challenges it loses focus on the core value it provides. That is not a good recipe for success in the information age.

New Organizational Structure

Many organizations have been moving towards different organizational models. Some of the models have names and some are a brain child of leadership. The one thing they all have in common is that they understand that the traditional organizational structure will not serve them well in the future. Here are some of the things these new organizational structures focus on:

  • Responding to Challenges – Organizations must be dynamic so that they can evolve with the environment instead of trying to predict it.
  • Keep Risks Small – A successful approach to innovation requires lots of small risks instead of a few big risks. This requires addressing challenges early on before they become large.
  • Focus on Meaningful Work – Bureaucracy, politics and management functions all drain organizations of precious resources that could be used on more meaningful work.
  • Promote Personal Responsibility – Giving employees the responsibility and authority to make decisions allows them to be more productive and makes them feel valued.
  • Adapt to Changing Responsibilities – The days are gone when someone can do the same thing for years. Work is changing every day so employees and organizations have to be constantly evolving.

By being responsive and constantly adapting to the environment government agencies can better utilize resources and focus on the actual needs of their constituency. That is key to keep innovating at the pace that citizens demand.

Final Thoughts

In many ways the current organizational structure from which government operates is not sustainable. What the future looks like is hard to tell because the one size fits all approach is most likely a thing of the past. To stay innovative, leaders will have to reflect on their current state and determine the best path for the future.