Gordon Ramsay, Darcey Bussell and Your Next Re-Org

When we are faced with a problem, maybe a new competitor, a cost challenge, a product launch or simply a new job, we marshal our forces to deal with it.

  • We reform our departments
  • Shuffle our management teams
  • Hire the right talent
  • Politely ask those who aren’t performing to the standard we expect to leave.

We reorganise.  It is the right and obvious thing to do.

It might be obvious but is it right?

I saw a video last night about a restaurant kitchen (you can watch it below).

I was mesmerised by the way the chefs and waiters worked.  Everybody knew what everybody else would do next, where the pans would be put, where the ingredients would be placed, when the dishes would be ready.

All this fervent activity was in a tiny kitchen, yet people didn’t bump and bash into one another.  The movements were perfect.

It was better than clockwork, it was far more fluid than that, it was verging on balletic.

Ballet dancing takes time, practice and teamwork

I don’t know of a short cut to build an organisation that is so in sync as that kitchen.  If you want your business to work that seamlessly it takes time and it takes practice and it takes teamwork.

You can train your staff, you can document your processes, you can develop world-class strategies and you can bring in new blood, but untill your staff know, like, respect and trust each other then a beautiful performance won’t happen.

That level of teamwork only comes with time.

So why would you reorganise?

Reorganisations are like buses; hang around for long enough and one will arrive.  Every other year a new executive will move in and the first thing he’ll do is throw the organisation up in the air and see how it lands, disrupting the ballet and creating a whole new set of power plays, turf wars and misunderstandings.

The customers still need feeding, but the ballet in the kitchen stops

Maybe you should tread lightly with your next re-org and focus on improving the system instead.

We trained hard, but it seemed that every time we were beginning to form up into teams, we would be reorganised.  I was to learn later in life that we tend to meet any new situation by reorganising, and a wonderful method it can be for creating the illusion of progress while producing confusion, inefficiency and demoralisation.  ~ Petronius Arbiter 65 A.D.

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  1. Hello James
    I witnessed, participate in, and lived a similar experience about ten years ago with Landmark Education. On my first day ‘assisting’ at Landmark Education I could not believe that there was nobody in charge giving order, nobody to run to if I had problems, no process/script to follow. And it was difficult for us ‘newbies’.

    After a short while – another couple of days – a transformation occurred. I fitted in. I just got what needed to be done, how to do it, who on the team to approach etc. And the work got done. It wasn’t just me, this showed up for all the person “assisting”. Even to this day, I find it hard to believe that which occurred.

    When I think back to it, I am clear that all the people at Landmark including those of us “assisting” want to be there. We identify with the mission of the place. It is place where the context is straight communication, being team, focus on the possibility/mission. With that context there is no place for politics. Everyone is empowered to do what it takes to fulfil the mission as long the values are respected/lived.

    Within that context people gave of their best. They helped each other out. The quickly figured out the ropes. And if there none, they made the ropes or built the scaffolds. And in that climate of ‘challenge’ that required creativity, thinking, communication, and teamwork solid relationships were built. We really got to know each other.

    The more I get present to that experience the more I am present to what little gets accomplished in almost all organisations. And hence, the need for regular reorganisations. Of course that is dealing with the content and not the context that gives rise to the content. Which is why it almost never delivers lasting performance. And so another reorganisation occurs.

    I found it amusing and sad that we name ourselves homo sapiens: the wise ones! It occurs to me that at least on organisations we are far from wise. We are distinctly and categorically ‘not wise’. Does that mean we are stupid? I’ll let you decide.

    All the best

    • James Lawther says:

      Interesting Maz, and I guess your example happened without any organisation, let alone re-organisation. Fascinating what people can do when left to their own devices.


  2. One word – FLOW. They built it with PDSA and a LOT of practice.

    Well done.

  3. James,
    Just ask any successful sports team and they’ll tell you that it not only takes time but a whole heap of effort, a lot of training and practice and a reasonable amount of pain both on and off the field of play before you get to that winning state. And, even then it requires a lot of effort to stay there.

    Winning is hard work. A re-org may be symptomatic that the pain threshold is too low and that the organisation that rushes to re-org is just not ready to take the pain of winning yet.


  4. “You can train your staff, you can document your processes, you can develop world-class strategies and you can bring in new blood, but untill your staff know, like, respect and trust each other then a beautiful performance won’t happen.”

    That is a great quote and a timely reminder that we are not simply automatons following standardized instructions. Machines couldn’t care less for one another; if we adopt that attitude we are doomed to failure.

    • James Lawther says:

      Thanks for your comment Mark

      If not failure then boredom and frustration, which might well be worse

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