Expert View: Management structures - Keep it clear and keep it simple

Give your managers defined responsibilities within a straightforward structure.

Earlier this year I made a presentation to managers from leading UK charities on what makes a healthy organisation. I stressed the importance of mission, strategy, organisation design and leadership, and my concern about the fact that so many organisations still don't have clear missions.

I said I presumed that mission was a strong feature of charities. This caused considerable mirth. "Our mission is driven by the source of the money," came the reply. It seems that the leadership agenda might not always be well managed in charities.

Given a clear mission and strategy, leadership is built on three components. First, leaders at all levels need accountable roles. Second, the organisational structure should consist of the minimum number of leadership roles, ensuring the correct number of hierarchical layers that add value to the work of others. This makes for a simple structure. Third, organisations need competent individuals with the requisite abilities to carry out their clear accountabilities.

Most organisations undermine their leadership development by concentrating only on the third of these elements: the training of the staff to ensure they are competent. This overlooks the critical need for accountable jobs within simple structures.

It seems that many charities do not know how to identify accountability and therefore do not know how to build an optimal, simple organisation. A simple structure is the bedrock of leadership in any high-performing organisation.

Each accountability level above the front line needs only one layer of management. Charities seem to vary between three and five levels of accountability. They therefore need between two and four layers of management at most. The trick is to find the right answer for your charity - this is not a 'one-size-fits-all' approach.

Charities need leaders throughout their organisations. But leaders cannot perform in non-jobs. The issue of accountability is complex, but it is fundamentally important for charities if they are to be run effectively.

- Brian Dive is managing director of DMA Consulting and author of The Accountable Leader.

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