Every structure has a downside, but all houses are not created equal. Houses that are costlier (when there are more resources) usually have fewer downsides. And houses within the same price range aren’t created equal either. Some downsides are easier to tolerate given our specific priorities—and their upsides are much more important to us.
There is no perfect organization design. When we’ve lived in an organization a while, we learn the disadvantages of our specific design. Sometimes it makes sense—given our priorities and the nature of our work and value offering—to give up our current organization design and change to another one. Sometimes we are simply trading one siloed organization for another with a comparable set of problems.
Organizations group work and create boundaries. These boundaries have downsides. So we need methods to connect across the boundaries, to share and process information. Linking mechanisms can help us increase the upside and mitigate the downside of a particular organization structure.
What are linking mechanisms? They include everything from informal contacts to formal policies and rules, technology (including enterprise social media), cross-discipline or process management teams, goals and measures, and structural linkages like hierarchies or matrix organizations. There is a wide range of cost and a wide range of effectiveness to different linking mechanisms.
Some organizations have far too many linking mechanisms. Some have too few. Too many linkages may become cumbersome and slow down the organization or weigh it down with costs. Too few may mean missed opportunities, confusion, even disasters. Part of good organization design is recognizing the risks of a particular design and prioritizing interdependencies. The appropriate type of linking mechanisms—low cost and informal whenever possible—can help mitigate gaps and tradeoffs and truly enable strategy.