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by Ruth Tearle

One of the most traumatic changes experienced by employees is the dreaded 'organizational restructure.'


Many leaders often delay the confrontation they know will happen once they formally announce a new structure. Once they've made their decision, they remain silent, waiting for the right time to communicate the change. Rumors begin to abound. People become uncertain. Many fear losing their jobs. Many begin trying to 'prove their worth' to their leaders through attention seeking behaviours. Some try to discredit those that they think are favoured by the CEO or directors - so that they look good in comparison. Conflict between team members becomes heightened as team members begin to manoeuver themselves into the positions they want under the new structure.

It is at this point that Human Resources, Change Management or OD people want to get involved in alleviating the pain and conflict that has emerged in the organization. They often ask - when and how should they get involved in an organizational restructuring.

What makes a restructure different.

A restructure is different from almost any other type of organizational change or intervention. This means it cannot be handled in the same way as introducing a new system, process or culture. It also requires leaders to play a role at crucial points in the restructure, before HR, OD or change management people are called in to support them.

When to restructure

Structure is about the roles people play, and how they are organized together in order to achieve an organization's strategy. When an organization changes its strategy, it often needs to change its structure to support the new strategy.

The nature of structure and structural change.

Structure affects managers and leaders roles, career paths, teams, authority levels and power bases. Therefore structure is always political.

Structure affects managers and leaders roles, career paths, teams, authority and power bases. Therefore:

  • In any restructure some people gain power and others lose power. There are winners and losers.
  • The losers use a variety of techniques to try to maintain the status quo. Some of these techniques involve trying to pull down those who they think are being favored by the new structure.
  • Structure is therefore political.
  • A restructure is always difficult to accept.
  • You can never get agreement or consensus on adopting a new structure. So participative leadership doesn't work when deciding on or announcing a restructure.
  • Any structural change is always greeted with extreme resistance.
  • After a restructure, morale drops. A great deal of work is needed to rebuild the organization or team after a restructure.

The leader's role in a restructure.

Communicating a change in structure is best done by the leader in an autocratic way.

Because people will resist losing power in a restructure, it is never wise for someone in a supportive role (e.g. HR, Organizational Development, or Change Management) to communicate a change in structure to people that don't report to them.

It is the leader's role to decide on a structure and to communicate it to his team. While he/she may get and consider the views of some of his team on what would be the best structure, the final structure is best decided by a leader - alone, and in an autocratic way.

Ideally the leader should base his structure decision on his strategy. i.e. what roles will need to be played for a strategy to work and who would be the best people to play these roles. Then he/she needs to communicate the new structure to his team, face to face, and in a clear and direct way.

While there may be resistance, the leader does not need to respond to that resistance immediately. Resistance is natural and normal for any restructure as people process how the restructure will affect them in the future. People need time to settle into their new roles and reporting lines.


However, often after a few weeks, the leader may notice that morale in his team is low. He/she needs to understand how people are likely to feel as a result of the restructure. He/she then needs to work with his change/OD/HR people to begin rebuilding morale.

The role of HR, change managers, OD managers or consultants in a restructure.

After the restructure has been announced, and people are occupying their new roles, supportive functions like HR, change managers, OD managers or consultants can help leader to help rebuild their areas around the new structure.

On an organization wide level this would involve helping the leader to:

On a divisional or departmental level, it would involve helping new teams at each level to work effectively together under the new structure. For example by helping them to:

See the restructuring interventions in our OD interventions library to support you in helping people to move on, rebuild teams and clarify new roles.

Restructures that are handled well.

Organizational restructures that are handled well are those where:

  • The leader communicates the change in structure and the reason for the change in a clear, direct way.
  • The leader doesn't back down when faced with initial resistance.
  • The leader allows the team a few weeks to settle down.
  • Then, the leader (together with support from HR, change management, OD managers or a consultant) works on rebuilding the team, and clarifying team and individual roles.

You may also like:

  • Change management for organizationsA library of practical articles, guides, diagnostic tools, case studies, dashboards and solutions to use when doing organizational wide change.
  • Change management for teamsA library of practical articles, guides, diagnostic tools, case studies, dashboards and solutions to use when managing change in teams.
  • OD Interventions library Use the 1 and 2 hour interventions in this library on restructuring.

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