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Unleashing sustainable speed in a post-COVID world: Reimagine structure

This is the second blog post in a three-part series that reviews the nine actions to unleash sustainable speed. Read the first post here and the third post here.
Aaron De Smet

Delivers growth, innovation, and organizational agility and is an expert on culture change, leadership development, team effectiveness, capability building, and transformation

Elizabeth Mygatt

Advises clients across a variety of sectors on topics regarding organizational transformation with expertise in organizational design, governance and decision rights, leadership, and change management.

As global leader of McKinsey Accelerate, Daniel supports leading organizations in sustaining transformational impact through capability building, execution excellence and leadership development. He advises companies in the aerospace, defense, industrial, and technology sectors, especially in using digital and analytics to achieve sustainable growth and operational excellence

Charlotte Relyea

Works closely with clients to build organizational capabilities to sustain long-term growth.

Helping clients transform through technology, innovation, and agility

In the first blog post in this series, we discussed how many organizations were forced to accelerate numerous approaches to business (serving customers, working with vendors, collaborating with colleagues) due to the eruption of the coronavirus pandemic. While many companies may have been uncomfortable with having to stretch extensively in such a short period of time, the results indicate that this faster, more agile way of working should become the new normal.

Based on numerous case studies, we’ve uncovered nine actions that can help organizations unleash sustainable speed. The first three, covered in the first part of the series, aim to rethink ways of working: speed up and delegate decision making, step up execution excellence, and cultivate extraordinary partnerships.

In this blog post, we’re reviewing the next three actions—all of which aim to reimagine structure:

4. Flatten the structure: A speedy organization has more people taking action and fewer people feeding the beast of bureaucracy. Rigid hierarchies must give way to leaner, flatter structures that allow the system to respond quickly to emerging challenges and opportunities. Creating this new organism requires reimagining structure not as a hierarchy of bosses but rather a dynamic network of teams. As one CEO told us, “We can finally turn the page on the traditional matrix and reinvent how we organize and how work gets done.”

Real-time collaboration and co-location become more important and have even extended to the virtual world. For example, putting engineering and product-development specialists on the same team can speed up innovation and boost output. The role of the corporate center must also be rethought. In many cases, central functions could become capability platforms deploying skills, tools and talent where they are needed most, while also acting as a catalyst for learning and best-practice sharing.

5. Unleash nimble, empowered teams: The pandemic has seen the large-scale deployment of fast, agile teams—small, focused, cross-functional teams working together toward a common set of objectives that are tracked and measured. Leaders have made this work by charging each team with a specific mission: identifying an outcome that matters for customers or employees, empowering each team to find its own approach, and then getting out of the way.

Research by McKinsey and the Harvard Business School found companies that had launched agile transformations pre-COVID-19 performed better and moved faster post-COVID-19 than those that had not. Agile organizations had an edge because they already had processes and structures available to them, such as cross-functional teams, quarterly business reviews, empowered frontline teams, and clear data on outputs and outcomes, that proved critical to adapting to the COVID-19 crisis. For example, telecom companies and banks that were agile before the crisis were twice as fast in releasing new services in response to it. One European bank tasked cross-functional teams to deploy new online services; they did so in a matter of days.

6. Making hybrid work, work: The next normal will see significantly more people working in a hybrid way—sometimes in person with colleagues on site, sometimes working remotely. This model can unlock significant value, including more satisfied employees and lower real-estate costs. There are other benefits to a hybrid working model, including access to a broader range of talent, greater flexibility and improved productivity.

To achieve these gains, employers need to ensure that the basics are in place to digitally enable remote working and collaboration, while taking care to create working norms that foster social cohesion. They should precisely define the optimal approach for each role and employee segment. That requires understanding when on-site work is better compared with remote interaction or independent work. Perhaps more important, hybrid organizations must adopt new ways of working that help build a strong culture, cohesion and trust even when many employees are working remotely.

In our third blog post, we review the last three actions (aimed to reshape talent) that can help organizations unleash sustainable speed.

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