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What does a helix reorganization look like? (part two)

The helix organization model creates flexibility, can streamline roles and responsibilities, simplify decision-making processes, and empower employees.
Aaron De Smet

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

Designs and manages large-scale, end-to-end organizational transformations, ensuring that structures, processes, and people are all working to support organizations’ strategies

The traditional matrix structure of the past is not doing today’s increasingly-complex organizations justice. We have found that the helix organization model – which splits management tasks differently into two distinct but parallel management tracks beyond classical primary solid and secondary dotted line logic– creates flexibility, can streamline roles and responsibilities, simplify decision-making processes, and empower employees to capitalize on business and personal development opportunities.

In our first post in this three-part series, we defined the helix organization model and explored its benefits. But what does a helix organization look like and what are the benefits?

Consider the experiences of a U.S.-based consulting firm. The organization found itself struggling with inefficient processes, too many management layers, and stagnant growth. Employees were getting stuck working on efforts that were not the highest priorities for the organization, but there wasn’t the flexibility needed to move them onto the more critical efforts. Although the firm wasn’t very large, there were approximately eight management layers between the CEO and the front-line employees who were delivering support directly to the customers. As a result, the company experienced stagnant and even slightly negative growth at a time when the opportunities were expanding, as well as increasing employee frustration.

The leaders of this firm wanted a fundamentally different way of organizing to better meet their objectives. In short, they were seeking an innovative operating model that would enable them to e.g. move quickly in response to external changes and evolving client needs while shifting their priorities and resources dynamically.

The company implemented a helix organization model, creating functional “service lines” (“capability axis”) aligned to the major functional topics on which they served clients (e.g., organization, operations, logistics), and then trained people on the relevant topics so that they could be deployed dynamically to the relevant client engagements. The other axis for the organization was the core “value creating” axis, where the firm organized against market areas (i.e., major clusters of clients). Based on these changes, the consulting firm was able to significantly consolidate its management layers (from approximately nine to five), increase the span of control for certain parts of the organization (from ~1:3 in places to ~1:20 or more), and improve collaboration across organizational silos. Most importantly, the firm significantly increased its revenues over the next year and was able to grow the workforce to serve many more clients.

In another example, a large consumer goods multinational was experiencing slow growth and an inability to keep up with the pace of the industry, losing market share to small, local brands. Its slow processes and numerous alignment meetings were leading to a decreased focus on core activities and new product ideas. The company determined its marketing team was in need of a reorganization, in order to reach faster product launches, more efficient use of resources, and offer new capabilities to encourage engagement.

Through a helix organization model, the consumer goods multinational established squads in the marketing and brand management function as cross-functional groups, skill groups (“capability axis”) of functional experience, and “run” teams for recurring and individual tasks. Additionally, the company shifted performance management to its skill groups and implemented staffing mechanisms, to enable a flexible shift of the right resources.

Ultimately, the organization was able to reduce its time to launch by half, increasing the number of new products developed by approximately 20%. It reduced the time required for campaign development from six months to one month. Sprints helped the company improve allocation of resources to smaller brands, and it also cut its non-value-added tasks by 30%.

In the final post of this blog series, we discuss the best practices for adopting a helix organization model, including shifting management mindsets, and establishing a talent pipeline for success.

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