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7 signs of the functionally dysfunctional organization

What exactly is “functionally dysfunctional?” Well, in its simplest terms, and in the business sense, it means that while your organization functions per se; that is, people show up to work, work gets done, people get paid, and things get delivered to clients, there is still something that isn’t working or isn’t ‘right.’ It is that feeling that something is amiss or not quite as it should be. There is an underlying malaise or things that are going on that prevent your company from realizing its potential or at the very least being fully functional. Basically, your company is functioning despite dysfunctionality being imbedded in its DNA.

DysfunctionThe overall impact to you and your company is that your organization is simply not moving forward. Perhaps you aren’t growing, or you aren’t retaining your best people. Maybe employee satisfaction levels are low, or customers aren’t happy or perhaps product/service quality is poor. I am not saying that ALL of these things are happening but at least 2 or more of them probably are. The struggle for us as HR Pros is that often we are so immersed in the day to day grind of our roles we often don’t see these leading indicators or signs that something is wrong. In order to help you see the forest from the trees, or at least smell the smoke, here are 7 signs you have a functionally dysfunctional organization:

  1. Department wins vs. organization losses – simply put, departments do things that make their individual department look good. It may not be in the best interest of the organization overall, but due to the dysfunctionality imbedded in the organizational DNA, departments do not consider organizational wins. It is every department for itself.
  2. Decision making grinds to a halt during the absence of a sr. leader(s) – when all operational decisions require sign off, input, etc. from a specific member(s) of your senior management team, than you probably see this occur in times when these leaders are not present for stretches due to vacation, travel, meetings, etc. In essence, nothing can move forward without their blessing, so in its absence, there is a decision void created.
  3. Competing interests / goal conflict – similar to the first point, this may be at a department or individual level. Managers/Directors do not have aligned goals or organizational goals are not cascaded effectively. The result is that people are left to define what is important to THEM and this results in organizational goal conflict. I.e. one department determines quality is most important while another supporting department determines delivery speed is more important – the end result is dysfunctionality.
  4. Lack of clear organizational vision/strategy – If you ask your employees what is your organizational mission, vision, values, etc. and you can’t even get a response that is remotely close to what they actually are, than you have a problem. In terms of what you want to be when you grow up (organizationally) this has to be clearly articulated, cascaded throughout the company and led by example. Employees don’t have to recite the mission statement verbatim that is on the wall, but they do need to know what your company stands for and what is important to the organization. When employees give you a mish mash of responses in this area it means you have a dysfunctionality problem.
  5. Personal arguments vs. constructive debate – another sign that things are functionally dysfunctional in your organization is that employees do not or cannot constructively discuss/debate work related problems. Everything turns into personal arguments and attacks, which usually manifests itself in HR babysitting (I mean counseling) employees on how to play nice.
  6. Lack of clarity around processes and desired outcomes – when employees take any means necessary to get the job done, or whenever a business issue arises, there is never a clear path forward on how it needs to be addressed or even WHO the issue belongs to, than you have a process issue. Each work challenge is treated like it’s the first time the company ever faced it before. Your organization probably has no processes in place on how to function or worse yet; processes are in place but are never followed. In conjunction with this, you may have processes but there are no stated desired outcomes as a result of these processes. In essence, you do something for the sake of doing something.
  7. Paralysis by analysis permeates throughout the organization – this is as a result of people being afraid to make decisions. Every little decision gets analyzed to death until father time takes care of the decision because an event beyond the organization’s control takes place. You often see this in companies where the purchase of a $500 piece of equipment is analyzed and debated by 4 or 5 people whose combined salary is about $500,000. Talk about not applying the right amount of rigor to that decision making process! Decision making breaks down and the level of dysfunction increases.

What about you? What have you seen? Any other signs of functionally dysfunctional organizations that I have missed? As always, I welcome your thoughts and feedback.

Image courtesy of ChrisGoldNY/Flickr.com


One Response

  1. Reblogged this on The Armchair HR Manager and commented:

    From the dusty archives……

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