To deliver on the purpose of an organization, we need to focus on the mandates of the different units in the organization (teams, departments, and so on). That was the topic of my previous blog post.
In this post, let us look more closely at this topic. How do we establish effective unit mandates? As I mentioned last time, this is the topic of an article that Shawn Pope and I are working on.
In the article, we propose five criteria that you can use as a check list when formulating a mandate.
1. Vertical alignment. As I explained last time, the mandate should first of all describe the unit’s key function or purpose.
For example, the key purpose of a team can be to serve customers, to develop new products, or to ensure that the IT infrastructure is working.
But the team is not an isolated entity; it is probably part of a department, which may be part of a business unit, which (in a large firm) may be part of a business area.
So one has to ask oneself how the team, by performing its function, will contribute to fulfil the mandate of the department of which it is part.
2. Clarity. An effective mandate is one that clarifies why the unit exists, what its domain (or, to use a legal term, jurisdiction) is, and its authority or decision rights.
To evaluate the degree of clarity, you can ask employees how easy or difficult it is to set goals and determine which actions they should pursue to reach the goals.
Another method (suggested by Julian Birkinshaw of LBS) is to ask several people to describe the mandate and check whether they have the same interpretation.
3. Coherence. The three elements of the mandate (purpose, domain, authority) need to reinforce each other.
As an example, a few years ago, I wrote a case study about a market development team of a large food production company.
The team’s mandate was to define tools and frameworks for brand managers related to business development, portfolio management, and innovation.
The team was also supposed to ensure that brand managers actually made use of these tools and frameworks (in order to ensure consistency across different brands).
But this turned out to be an impossible task. The team was placed at the same hierarchical level as the brand managers and had no formal authority to ensure compliance.
In other words, the team had an incoherent mandate. The authority it had been delegated was not commensurate with one of the key functions it was supposed to perform.
4. Focus. How broad or narrow should the mandate be? You can err in both directions.
If it is too narrow, it reduces the autonomy of the team. The team will not be responsible for a complete deliverable (e.g., a product, module, or feature) but only provide inputs to others.
But if the mandate is very broad, it may include so many goals and activities that some of them are likely to conflict with each other (making it impossible to attain all of the goals).
The marketing team that I described above faced this challenge as well.
On the one hand, it was supposed to ensure compliance with company guidelines to standardize the marketing processes. But it was also supposed to provide support based on requests from the brand managers.
These are two roles that can be hard to combine.
5. Horizontal alignment. It is not enough that a team mandate is aligned with the mandate of units at higher levels of the organization; it also needs to be aligned with the mandates of other units at the same level.
One thing you can do is to interview people in different units and ask them to describe their respective roles and the interfaces toward other units. For example, do they consider themselves as internal clients our suppliers to the other units?
The idea is that the unit mandates need to be complementary to each other (as opposed to conflicting) and that people need to understand both their own mandate and those of other units that they interact with.
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This was a summary of the key points in the article that we are writing. Let me know if you have any comments or questions!
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