Over the course of my professional career, one thing that I came to understand is that administrative reorganization does not fix organizations.

I saw it often: The members of an organization elect new leadership because they are dissatisfied with the performance of the organization. The first thing new management does is reorganize. New bylaws, new department structure, new board configuration, something.

Why do organizations keep reorganizing? Well, new leadership often concludes that mistakes were made because the wrong person was elected or the departments weren’t organized properly. They assume that with a better structure, better decisions will be made. It seems like such a logical, easy fix.

After restructuring, organizations continue to perform more or less the same. The right leaders can get things done with a weak governance structure; the wrong leaders will struggle no matter how beautifully organized the group is; no leaders can get things done if the rank and file aren’t on board.

So this question has troubled me for months: If I don’t believe reorganizing is an effective solution to correct an organization’s problems, why am I proposing a revolutionary structural reorganization of greater Hartford’s governance? Here’s why:

The success, vitality and health of organizations is driven by culture, not by structure. Culture determines how people relate to one another, how they work together, how they take care of each other. In sports, it’s called teamwork. In business organizations, it involves a commitment of everyone to the objectives of the organization.

The people in greater Hartford live in one community – we share the same roads, we share the same local economy and cost of living, we root for the same teams (more or less), we use the same hospitals, we shop in the same stores. However, by virtue of having governed ourselves as separate towns for over 200 years, we do not share one culture. We have created separate mini-cultures within greater Hartford. We may not like to think about the differences (because there’s a measure of racism and elitism that becomes apparent), but I believe most people will acknowledge that, for example, the culture of Newington is distinct from the culture of Hartford, and both are distinct from the culture of Wethersfield, and West Hartford and Bloomfield and Windsor and East Hartford and South Windsor, as well.

In other words, although we live in one community, we have a fractured culture. We are one group of people, but we don’t think of ourselves as one group – we identify ourselves as multiple subgroups.

Greater Hartford will not progress until its culture changes. We, the people who live here, must think of ourselves as one community.

Is it possible for us to live and work together successfully as a single community without structural change? I don’t think so. So long as we have separate governments, every decision requires approval by each separate government. Politics, self-interest, town jealousies all lead to one town or another not participating in one decision or another. We can’t agree on shared fire services, shared parking services, shared road maintenance.

There is only one way for greater Hartford’s mini-cultures to stop thinking of themselves as distinct, and that is to get rid of the governance structures that personify the distinctions. We have to do away with town government. Only when we erase town borders will we see our neighbors and begin to have the regional success we deserve.

So the answer to my question is that I’m not proposing that we merge city and towns to make our organization run more efficiently. It’s true that changing our governance structure will result in better government and substantial economies, but that’s not why we need to do it. Merging is necessary to eliminate the mini-cultures. Greater Hartford needs to reorganize to drive cultural change. We are a single community, and only when we govern ourselves as one will we think of ourselves as one.

So long as we have separate towns, we can’t make greater Hartford greater.

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