How to Set Your Team Up for Failure

Our clients often ask us to conduct an organizational assessment. Sometimes we assess an entire function, other times a specific department or team.

These engagements typically focus on part of the client’s business critical to their future success, but currently perceived as struggling. A senior leader asks us to provide objective, 3rd party perspective on the root(s) of the problem(s).

Listed below are the top 3 ways executives set their organizations up to fail… or at least struggle mightily:


This misalignment is a classic organization design problem. It means a team has been given responsibility to deliver (ex: a service to internal customers), but they have not been given the corresponding accountability and/or authority.

This takes many forms. It could be the resources needed are not available like funding or infrastructure. It could mean the headcount to do the work is still “owned” somewhere else in the company, and the team in question is asked to work through influence and relationship building.

A situation like this inherently limits effectiveness. It will never result in sustained innovation or business growth.


The world today changes constantly. It requires agility. All business units are not the same. Internal customer needs differ. External customer requirements vary. The trend shifted quite a while ago to customization and production quantities of ONE.

When organizations set up identical service level agreements for all internal clients, or structure sales teams the same way for all external customers, they appear tone deaf.

Instead, adapt early and often. Structure teams based on the business needs of the internal and/or external customers served, accounting for variability. Re-assess frequently and adjust again.


When multiple, internal organizations provide the same (or very similar) service(s), business units don’t know who to work with from project to project. Do they decide based on the funding model? Who do they like to work with better? It’s even worse if hand-offs are supposed to take place between the teams and those hand-offs happen inconsistently.

Clarify leadership under a single executive. If multiple teams continue to exist, communicate when to go to which team (the leaders must align on this). Specify accountability for hand-offs clearly.

Explain services/offerings and what differentiates your internal organization from the other(s).

Neither organization can have long-term desired success as long as the other, competing organization(s) exist. A very senior executive must decide which one will last and/or if they will consolidate to minimize hand-offs.

Betsy Winkler is a Partner at PeopleResults. She can be reached on Twitter @BetsyWinkler1