Brexit: Why Team Structures Limit Or Enable Outcomes

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Unless you have been avoiding the news and social media for the last three years, you will know that the United Kingdom has decided to leave the European Union (or rather, a slim majority decided this in a national vote).

Now, I’m not here to debate for or against Brexit (though disclosure; I did vote in the referendum), nor to extol the virtues of any political parties or opinions; there’s plenty of that going on already. Instead, I’m here to suggest why the decision process is so complicated and what could be done about that. There are a huge number of stakeholders involved for a start; there are the various political parties in the UK, the core European Union team, and then local country governments for each of the member states. On top of that, we have the people who live in each member state, currently including the UK, businesses that trade in each, and so on. And of course, we have channels like the press and social media heaping on commentary and opinion, sometimes without helpful knowledge and/or with facts, opinions dressed as facts, or pure falsehoods.

It's so hard to try to please all of these stakeholders, especially when their views are diametrically opposed. Now, conflict isn’t – per se – a bad thing at work, indeed, that’s how many different ideas can be harvested, though what is a challenge is how the various stakeholders are organized. Presently, we have a number of silos within the UK; the Conservatives, Labour, etc., and even within each of these political parties we have further segmented silos with differing views. Just look at the recent votes and you’ll see how fragmented the parties are. The same applies to each of the local country governments, and – I’m convinced – within the EU team leading on this.

Now, think about the organizations you may have worked in. The silo-based organizations are the typical command and control structures where decisions are slow, innovation is stifled because of the fear caused by perceived risk, and where dissent isn’t heard because it is best to stay under the radar. And beyond that, trying to gain buy-in and make decisions across silos is even harder. We have clients that operate like this now, and we are working with them to shift their mindsets, behaviors and practices in support of getting better results in an easier – and dare I say – more joyful manner.

When moving away from silo-based organizations, the next natural step for companies around the world is to embrace the matrix organization. Many companies do, and they are excited for this shift. In reality, this is simply a number of silos that are placed at 90 degree angles to each other and while they are great when managing across functional and divisional areas, the reality is that it can be as cumbersome as the silos that many companies have left behind, not least because participants in the matrix have two managers each. I would imagine that there are ministers with portfolio (with a specific responsibility) that are trying to navigate their local constituents, their primary role (e.g. trade, healthcare, etc.) and the chaos of either how the UK will leave the EU, and what it might mean for their stakeholders if the UK does or doesn’t leave the EU. That’s a lot of complexity to manage even within a matrix organization.

I am not pretending that any of this is easy; the EU has a population of 508 million people. However, it could be easier than it is. Most innovative, leading organizations recognize that empowering people gives the best results. Offering people the ability to be agile, to take on acceptable risk, to work collaboratively with the right decision makers in self-forming teams that come together, work, and disband as needed to solve a problem, is the right way to get results. Many people call this the future of work, though I’d go one step further and say that this is the current reality of work. There are manifestations of this in our existing organizations, too; open-plan office spaces, hotdesking, remote working – all of these would be enablers of the new ways of working, the behaviors that will generate different results. Sadly, though, many organizations who offer these manifestations are still organized as silo or matrix-based organizations, and so the mindsets and behaviors of the people who work there are constrained by the structures, processes, and systems, defeating the purpose of the ideas and inhibiting the new ways of working.

When we turn our minds back to the current situation with Brexit both in the UK and across the EU (and the rest of the world, given trade deals that are contingent on the upcoming outcomes), I wonder whether we should ask the people who are deep in the decision making processes some key questions to help them organize for success: Does it make more sense to collaborate effectively in these self-forming teams that embrace innovative thinking? Could we prioritize candor and agility in service of having all ideas, challenges and opportunities on the table? Should we have at the very core of their mindsets the ability to focus on win-win situations for all stakeholders regardless of their political positions and preferences, simply because we are in this together? What would the outcome be then? What would the process look like to get to that outcome? Surely easier than this one has been! Would the various Brexit stakeholders in the UK, EU and local countries benefit from an easier and more joyful approach to what they are doing? I would imagine so, and honestly, doing what has been done for the last three years has not given us a definitive outcome, so perhaps now it’s time for some different thinking that might avoid the embarrassment, division, and negative impacts – regardless of what you believe about how the process should play out.

Rob Whitfield is the CEO of Ferrazzi Greenlight, a behavior engineering company that provides keynote speaking, coaching, and consulting services to the best known companies globally. If you’d like your team to be more agile in mindsets, behaviors, and practices, and to achieve some of the benefits that are well within reach, get in touch and we can explore how you can empower your people to want to aim higher, together. Not only will your results speak for themselves, but you’ll have more control, satisfaction, and joy in your day to day work. Follow me on LinkedIn, or get in touch to get started.