7 Ways to Survive and Thrive a Reorganization


What is the word that inspires the biggest groan from government employees? That’s right, reorganization. When you work at any level of government, agency reorganizations can hit like a hurricane, leaving us feeling like we have been buried under a ton of debris.

As today’s government works toward adopting a more agile and businesslike environment, we can expect that reorganizations will continue to happen. Although sweeping change can feel chaotic, there are plenty of real opportunities to be gained as well. Keeping your cool in the midst of the storm, and not becoming overwhelmed by the distractions can go a long way toward helping you come out on top.

Here are seven strategies to not only survive the whirlwind of a reorganization, but to actually thrive in a reorganization environment.

  • Listen with curiosity. When it feels like everything is turned upside down, focusing on new agency strategy and leadership can be difficult. The tendency for fight or flight can cause you to raise your defenses and close yourself off from information. Do your best to listen to the details with an open and curious mind. Most often, our immediate concerns are how the changes will affect us personally and what we could lose in terms of location, status, and who we work for. Trying to change to a positive and inquisitive mindset will help you to remain open to the conversation and be curious about how the changes could improve some areas where you have experienced barriers in the past.
  • Practice acceptance. When it feels like injustice is being done, it is natural to feel that if only the executive level fully understood the situation, they might not make this decision. Although it may feel righteous to fight for justice, the hard reality is that the decisions have already been made. By the time the communication has gotten to front line staff, the wheels of reorganization are firmly in motion. Resist the urge to send the email taking up the cause for your unit or colleague. It won’t change anything and could potentially damage your ability to come out ahead in the process, or bring additional problems for the person you are trying to help.
  • Manage expectations. Keeping your immediate expectations reasonable and staying flexible will do a lot to get you through a reorganization. Getting your data and outcomes up to date can provide information to the new executive team to inform the decisions and expectations at that level as well. Preparing a briefing paper for your new leadership team that includes details of your position, key stakeholders, and upcoming deadlines can also be a helpful tool for leadership to learn about your current priorities.
  • Step up your leadership. Agency reorganization gives us a great opportunity to practice essential skills of collaboration and communication. Practice non-confrontational ways to refocus conversation and help teammates avoid speculation as a way to fill in communication gaps. Understanding that teammates who are feeling anxious may say things in an awkward way helps to let go of little slights and hurt feelings.
  • Acknowledge that change is a journey, not a destination. Adopting a continuous improvement mindset will help with riding out the inevitable bumps and restarts along the way.   Encourage your team to work together to make sure new processes are the best they can be, knowing that improvement will mean stopping periodically to review how things are working and making adjustments along the way.
  • Increase your efficiency by doing the important things better. A reorganization can give us a fresh start to begin looking at our daily work and removing what no longer fits. Ask yourself why you are doing a certain thing or doing it in a certain way. No matter how good a process may have been initially, changes in business processes, technology and stakeholders means all current processes will need to be updated or removed at some point.
  • Above all, stay focused on the mission. Through all the changes, the people we serve still depend on us. The very best thing we can do is to remain focused and make sure that the work we do every day points directly back to fulfilling the mission of our agency.

Reorganizations can feel overwhelming, but they don’t have to be. Trying some of these strategies might help you find the hidden opportunity that comes with a new start. Comment below to tell us what strategies you use to get the most out of an agency restructuring!

Brenda Dennis is part of the GovLoop Featured Blogger program, where we feature blog posts by government voices from all across the country (and world!). To see more Featured Blogger posts, click here.


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Francesca El-Attrash

Hi Brenda, insightful post! This is very helpful, especially for govies who experience this type of reorganization and transition on a regular basis. It’s important to keep these tips in mind.

Brenda Dennis

I agree, even when we have been through it many times, it takes a certain amount of focus to not get caught up in the chaos.

Tony Guillen

Your point about stepping up your leadership is paramount. The only thing one can control, as chaos ensues, is your reaction to it. As you lead yourself to a place of understanding and stability, don’t forget about those around you and ask them to come along with you.

Brenda Dennis

Excellent point Tony! I think it is easy to become focused on yourself and how things will affect you, your point about asking others to join in the journey is a great one. By joining together, we help each other get through the rough patches and create a stronger community of employees.

Becky Latka

As someone who’s gone through a reorganization, I agree with you! We all went through the “stages of grief,” most notably “denial” and “anger,” but in the end, change happens with or without you, so it’s best to keep positive, get on board, and be happy that you are still part of the workforce.

Brenda Dennis

Yes! The stages of grief is exactly what people are experiencing! Having an awareness of that process is a big help in understanding what the current dynamics are, Thanks for your insight!

Toni Messina

Brenda – Length of your post is fine. I’ve found that, in some places, re- org never stops. In addition to listening, it’s helpful to talk with someone you trust who may have more insight. It’s draining and distracting when you’re nust working with your own assumptions. Also, we are in charge of our own futures and should take courage and control.

Brenda Dennis

You are so right about the re-org never stopping in some places, I’ve been there! The danger in that is that all the energy of the agency goes into the reorganization, rather than the mission, after a while.

LaShawn Graham

The only constant thing is change. I like the where the article states, “change is a journey, not a destination.” That really helps to put it all into perspective.

Brenda Dennis

Thank you for your comments LaShawn! Perspective is what we all need in these types of situations for sure! I once had a mentor remind me that two years from now, this event won’t even be on your radar. It was good advice!

Marie Koko

I shared this with my colleagues. We are in a university setting, but it’s a public one, and the items you discuss above definitely apply to us too.

Brenda Dennis

Thank you Marie,
My friends who work in a university setting talk about the disruption that happens with sweeping changes and the challenges that come from putting students first while you are trying to keep on an even keel. Thanks for your comment!