Tag Archives: organization chart

Dysfunctional Undermining Behavior

From the Ask Tom mailbag –

Does the Manager-Once-Removed (MOR) have the tendency to undermine the Manager to show that they cannot do their job well?

Sounds like a simple question, but it is actually complicated. Let’s start by laying out this structure visually.

Manager-Once-Removed (MOR)


Team Member

Your question is about undermining. This could be undermining authority, undermining performance, no matter, it is dysfunctional coping behavior. So what could be going on with the MOR? The undermining behavior is not the problem (I mean, it’s a problem, but not THE problem). Simply stopping the undermining behavior will not solve the underlying difficulty.

When I see this kind of dysfunctional behavior, which could present as undermining, micro-managing or just being mean, I always look for structural problems. Most would think we have a personality conflict or that we need a communication seminar, but both are smokescreens for a misalignment in organizational structure.

Most likely we have promoted the MOR to a role for which they are unprepared. I look for one of four underlying causes of the underperformance –

  • The MOR lacks the necessary capability
  • The MOR lacks the necessary skill
  • The MOR does not value the work of an MOR
  • We failed to contract for the necessary behavior of an MOR

So, who do I hold accountable for the underperformance of the MOR? It is the MOR’s manager (yes, the MOR has a manager, too) that I hold accountable. It was likely a faulty selection decision to promote this person to the MOR role with insufficient due diligence or testing.

More Problems Than We Had Before

“Let’s look back at your org chart,” I suggested. “You have 110 employees and twelve layers of supervision and management. Two people quit yesterday, so your org chart is already out of date. What do you think you need to change?”

Sydney’s mood had turned from generous to perplexed. “Our intention was to make sure everyone had someone appropriate to report, and to make sure no manager was overburdened.”

“And you ended up with?” I pressed.

“And we ended up with people in positions, creating more problems than we had, before we announced this new reorganization,” Sydney explained.

“I want you to shift your approach to this problem. Instead of trying to figure out who should report to who, determine which manager is accountable for the output of which team. And for this exercise, I want you to reduce from 12 layers to four.”

A friend of mine in Buffalo NY, Michael Cardus, published a short piece on the impact of role-crowding, too many layers. Take a look.

Too Many Layers

Sydney thought for a moment. “We just promoted Justin to Team Leader. The rest of the guys on the crew say he is breathing down their necks. He is obviously not ready to be a full supervisor, and we are losing his productivity as a machine operator.”

“And?” I prodded.

“And I really don’t know what to do,” Sydney replied.

“Let’s look again at your instructions to Justin. You said if a team member has a problem, help them solve it, if they have a question, answer it and make sure all the work gets done by the end of the day. And yet, you said he was not ready to be a supervisor? Sounds like you gave him supervisor tasks, but you already know he is struggling with those tasks.”

“Yes, but, if we are going to have the team report to Justin..” Sydney stopped. “So, I took my lead technician and tried to make him a supervisor, even though we already have a supervisor. It looked good on paper.”

“Actually, it didn’t look good on paper. You have 112 employees and twelve layers,” I observed.

“I know, I said 112,” Sydney explained. “Now it’s 110, two people quit this morning.”

That Sounds More Organized

“Why are we having this discussion in the first place?” I asked. “What do you see, as a manager, that is creating a problem?”

Arianne was puzzled. She knew the answer, but didn’t know the words to express it. “There are all kinds of issues. I guess it’s just getting organized. Our company has grown, things are more complicated, now. It used to be, everybody did a little bit of everything, and somehow, all the work got done. Now we have more customers, way more customers, and the volume, we now do, in one day, what we used to do in a month. We started out with eight people, now we have eighty-five.”

“When you think back to when your company was small, and then you added more people, what was the biggest change that you noticed?” I pressed.

“I remember, clearly, everybody was doing a little bit of everything, and then we had to divide up the work. Some people would work on one part, others would work on another part, and someone else was assigned to find new customers,” Arianne explained.

“Well, that sounds more organized,” I observed.

“Are you kidding. That was the beginning of the first set of problems. We ended up with two people doing the same thing, duplicating work. And other work that no one was doing, gaps all over. I felt like Hans Brinker, plugging the dike with my thumb. But there were too many gaps. Too many customers, too many orders. It was a mess.”

“What did you do?”

“Somehow, we got it sorted out. We drew a big flowchart on the wall, with boxes for each of the major steps. It became easier to see the holes in the dike, and where work was duplicated. We made checklists, created push schedules. It was a lot of work, a lot of effort, a bunch of overtime, but at least we got all the work out the door.” Arianne took a breath.

“Well, that sounds more organized,” I repeated.

“Are you kidding,” Arianne sat forward. “That was when we almost went broke.”

Predictability and Uncertainty

“I understand how we calculate profit, but what does that have to do with my organizational chart?” Derrick asked.

“You design a predictable profit into your price, but what is it that keeps your profit predictable when you actually deliver your product or service?” I replied.

Derrick was thinking. “It becomes predictable when we are able to do the same thing over and over, the same way, with the same methods, in the same amount of time, with the same amount of scrap.”

“And how do you make all that happen over and over?”

“Well, we have designed a system and we train everyone to work the system.”

“And so, if something is happening with the predictability of your profit, what’s wrong, where do you look?” I continued.

“Something has to be wrong with the system,” Derrick nodded.

“So, where do you look?” I insisted.

“We should try to find out what’s wrong with the system.”

“Remember, I said that your problem is seldom a what, almost always a who?

Derrick grinned. “So, that’s why you want to look at the org chart.”