Back to Top

The way toward an agile communications department - Step 3: Structure

Organization of an agile communication department

A structural reorganization is the most radical step communication departments can take on their journey toward more agility. The key question CCOs try to address with a reorganization is how to deploy the people at hand most efficiently and effectively, but also in the most flexible way. 

  • The increasingly connected and interdependent nature of content production and distribution requires people to collaborate across teams and subdivisions
  • Communication uses a multitude of channels to address internal and external stakeholders at the same time. To counter the information overload, it becomes more and more important to focus on strategic topics that were derived from the overall corporate strategy.
  • There are also areas in corporate communication where agility is less sensible, if not counterproductive. These include tasks that are heavily regulated, in particular topics relevant to the share price or that could harm the company if communicated incorrectly. These must be dealt with by experts according to a pre-structured and clearly defined process. 
  • There are also other tasks, such as mergers and acquisitions or crisis communications that are very sensitive and complex and require a high level of case or specialist knowledge
  • The majority of larger communication departments experimenting with agile work are still organized in hybrid or matrix structures with a growing number of agile project teams. However, abandoning departmental silos and reducing hierarchy levels can help to truly and sustainably engage in agile cooperation. It can facilitate a mind shift among staff members and force them to abandon old affiliations and comfort zones. 

"It takes a lot of courage and willingness to take such a step. Letting go of the familiar and accepting the new is easier said than done."

Elfriede Schmitt-Jones, Vice President, Communications Service, Deutsche Telekom

You can find further information und case studies here:

About the research project

  • The research project was headed by Prof. Dr. Ansgar Zerfass and Dr. Lisa Dühring at Leipzig University. It was carried out from July 2017 to July 2020 and used a multi-faceted approach. 
  • Thirty-eight interviews were conducted with chief communication officers and senior communication managers from multinational companies that provided insight into the impact of agility on corporations and their communication departments today.
  • Ten case studies have been conducted in selected companies that have different levels of experience with agility. Overall, 92 interviews were conducted, each of which lasted approximately an hour with a diverse range of personnel, including CCO board members, heads of strategy, senior communication executives, junior communication staff, human resource managers, agile coaches, and other employees related to the agile transformation. 
  • In addition to the interviews, we also gathered insights during informal conversations and by attending several workshops and meetings. We also analyzed the documents made available to us.
  • Finally, the compiled knowledge was bundled to describe a five-step change process that visualizes the most important steps of the agile transformation.

Key findings

  • Step 1:  Create a work and management culture, in which the agile transformation can take place. This can be realized by a change of the workplace to support collaboration, creativity and flexibility. On the other hand, it requires a leadership culture that focuses on trust, empowerment and self-management.
  • Step 2: Implement the right working platform in an agile project organization. This does not imply restructuring the department's organizational chart, but rather focusing on the team- and cross-departmental work. This can be encouraged by using agile tools and methods.
  • Step 3: Old departmental structures and hierarchies have to be adjusted or even dissolved. It is necessary to review established power and management structures so that the agile transformation can be sustainable. 
  • Step 4: When hierarchies and management positions are eliminated and employees are confronted with changing tasks, a new compensation and incentive system is needed. As well career paths and competence management must be designed differently.
  • Step 5: The performance management must be adapted. Previous approaches are too inflexible to take into account the volatility of today's working reality. In the future, performance evaluation at shorter intervals at team level will play a greater role. At the same time, it is important to critically question constantly which dimensions of agility really make sense for a department. Agility should never become an end in itself.