The 5 Most Common Problems of Organizations

Creating a great business of any kind is a daunting task, one that can be fraught with challenges and problems with organization. The five most common problems we have experienced in our work with client organizations over the past 35 years are outlined below.

1. Absence of clear direction.

Ships HelmLack of direction is one of the most common organizational problems and it stems from two root causes:

  • The leader or leaders rarely discuss or chart a deliberate direction or strategy for the future, or they fail to communicate a coherent message about the strategy to all members of the organization.
  • There are many activities to execute and the organization lacks the alignment needed to gain the traction necessary to help the organization transform, adapt, and shape the future—activities that would ensure the organization’s long-term, sustained growth. In short, too many functions and individuals lack an understanding of how they fit or why they matter. As a result, people become complacent, content to just show up, take care of today’s business, and hope that someone is in the wheelhouse steering the ship.

2. Difficulty blending multiple personalities into a cohesive and unified team.

SilosThis can be an enormous challenge, regardless of whether the team is part of the executive suite, a special project team in an R&D lab, or an operating team in a production facility. People’s personalities vary widely, and the diversity of backgrounds, opinions, views, and experiences can cause challenges for teams. This creates a unique set of potential issues and opportunities.

If you can get people to come into alignment and support common objectives, a diverse team of leaders can produce amazing results, take on the demands of customers, and meet the threat of competitors. However, if leaders stay in their silos, protect their own “turf,” fail to share information, refuse to collaborate on shared problems, or lack the ability to think with an entrepreneurial mindset, the organization will under-produce. You have to have a team that is both in the business and on the business.

3. Failure to develop key competencies and behaviors.

In our work with organizations, we commonly encounter a lot of hardworking people who have good intentions. However, despite their experience in the industry, their technical talent, and the subject-matter expertise that many leaders bring to the table, creating a high-performance organization is often still out of reach.

Nearly everyone we meet, including senior leaders, has at least one (and in some cases, multiple) leadership weaknesses. Sometimes leaders are aware of their behavioral shortcomings; in other cases, they are blind to their leadership deficits. People inside the organization are often afraid to candidly say what they think, and helping enormously successful leaders with their Achilles heels can be tricky.

Leading and managing an organization is a complex task that requires a unique mix of skills. Leaders have to utilize their natural strengths, but they also have to search relentlessly for ways to close their own performance gaps and improve their behavior.

Without continuous improvement, an organization’s capabilities will be severely limited. In short, if leaders don’t constantly raise their game, they will suck all the energy and employee engagement out of an organization. Leaders need to be constantly aware of and working on their personal opportunities for improvement.

4. Poor communication and feedback.

Feedback-1There seem to be two extremes in this area: Either people do everything in their power to avoid confronting others and holding them accountable or they relish any opportunity to chew people out, belittle them, and crush their spirits.

I have worked with countless leadership teams in which the number-one problem was a lack of honest, constructive, and open dialogue about the team members’ practices, styles, skills, or behaviors. Without a culture of openness, feedback, and coaching, organizations will struggle to grow.

In fact, next to pitfall #1 (“absence of clear direction”), this is the most frequent lament we encounter. In fact, this issue is so predictable, common, and destructive that we prepare material on this topic prior to any work we do with individual leaders or leadership teams.

Many teams try to muddle through this somehow, enduring the bully or trying to guess what others want and need from them.

People often tell us that they fear reprisal or retaliation if they open up—but the reality is that leaders can’t execute on their strategies, lower costs, or effectively launch new processes or services when people fail to communicate with constructive candor, so this is an issue that must be overcome.

5. Lack of awareness.

Building a solid organization takes hard work and a keen awareness of the culture and environment that exists in a business. Most executives are very busy people; a lot of things vie for their attention. Market conditions can change fast in a VUCA (velocity, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity) world and demand huge portions of a leader’s time. We affectionately call this the “task magnet.”

Unfortunately, while they’re busy focusing on their many necessary operational distractions, many managers take their eye off the teamwork ball. This means that communication suffers and leaders get preoccupied and fail to recognize people, celebrate progress, build the talent pipeline, or invest time reviewing processes, practices, and better ways of working across functions. People then become disengaged, feel marginalized, and lose focus and commitment.

Please contact us if you would like to explore these organizational problems or other challenges that are currently affecting your business.

About the Author

Steven Stowell, Ph.D.

Dr. Steven J. Stowell is the Founder and President of the Center for Management and Organization Effectiveness, Inc. CMOE was created in 1978 for the purpose of helping individuals and teams maximize their effectiveness and create strategic competitiveness. Steve’s special interests lie in helping leaders and organizations transform into high-performance cultures that are focused on long-term, sustained growth. Steve began his career working in the energy industry. During the past 30 years, Steve has consulted with both small and large corporations, government agencies, school systems, and non-profit organizations in 35 different countries. Steve enjoys the challenges of • Helping functional organizations define, create, and execute strategy in order to differentiate the business. • Developing and designing creative and innovative learning experiences, simulations, and keynote presentations. • Helping functions across the organization be more effective and aligned in executing long-term plans. The centerpiece of Steve’s consulting, learning, and executive coaching work is his advocacy of applied research and data collection. Steve is a highly effective presenter and facilitator and enjoys creating customized solutions, assisting senior teams, defining strategic direction from the individual level to the corporate and business-unit level, and improving teams that are faced with important challenges and issues.

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