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What’s Gone Wrong at Boeing? An Organisational Design & Development Perspective

What we can learn from the problems of Boeing

Table of Contents

Understanding the Challenges Faced by Boeing: Background and Context

case study organisational design and development at Boeing

Boeing, once an exemplar of the corporate world, considered unbeatable and unassailable, has been rattling through a series of unfortunate events in recent years that raise critical questions about its organisational design and evolution. These ongoing problems, most notably, the 737 MAX crisis, and more recently, the blow our of the door plug on Alaska Airlines whilst in flight, have highlighted glaring safety concerns, and are symptomatic of systemic failures venturing heavily into Boeing’s corporate culture, communications, leadership and risk management.

This introductory analysis will attempt to unravel what exactly went awry at Boeing from an organisational design and development perspective, delving into the root causes of the problems and identifying hidden shortcomings in both individual and team functionalities that the company has been trying to ignore or overcome. It is an investigation into the weaknesses in Boeing’s structural fabric that have led to a tarnished reputation, a declining confidence among stakeholders and a jarring fall from grace.  

This analysis aims to offer Leaders, OD and Change professionals a valuable opportunity to glean insights from Boeing’s experiences. It seeks to emphasize the significance of our work and dispel any misconceptions that it is merely superficial or inconsequential.

Challenges Facing Boeing: Exploring the Current Issues

Boeing, one of the largest aircraft manufacturers globally, has been grappling with a series of complex and high-profile issues for several years. Perhaps the most notable problem is the 737 Max crisis, which began in 2018. The existing 737 Max models, Boeing’s counterparts to Airbus, were grounded worldwide due to two disastrous crashes in Indonesia and Ethiopia which killed 346 people. Investigations revealed a problematic flight-control software, MCAS (Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System), as the prime cause. In addition, Boeing has been facing scrutiny over aircraft production issues, quality control lapses, and an alleged culture of prioritizing profits over safety. Strict regulatory investigations and legal battles from various stakeholders impacted the company’s reputation. Furthermore, the COVID-19 pandemic severely disrupted the aviation industry, leading to a sudden decrease in demand for new aircrafts.

And, now recently, Boeing faced a safety crisis related to the door plug blowout incident on an Alaska Airlines flight. This incident involved the sudden and forceful separation of the door plug from the aircraft during flight. It raised concerns about the structural integrity of Boeing’s door plugs and their potential weaknesses. Following this incident, further investigations were conducted, revealing additional door plug weaknesses in some other Boeing aircraft models. 

These combined issues have delivered a significant blow to Boeing’s finances, its standing in the market, and its ability to recover quickly and effectively. 

Controversial leadership decisions 

In recent years, controversial leadership decisions within Boeing have resulted in substantial critics and detrimental ramifications on the company’s reputation. Notably, the decision to expedite the production and distribution of the 737 Max planes, despite evident design flaws, was a disastrous leadership decision. It tragically culminated in two fatal crashes leading to a worldwide grounding of the fleet.

This decision has been heavily criticized for prioritizing profit margins over passenger safety. Boeing’s leadership has been accused of suppressing concerns raised by Boeing engineers about the MCAS system during the plane’s development phase, effectively disregarding vital safety measures.

The problems surrounding the 737 Max have raised serious questions about the management’s priorities, ethical standards, and the overall organizational culture at Boeing.

The reluctance to accept help from regulatory bodies during crises and an overall lack of transparency has also come under fire, further damaging Boeing’s once-impeccable reputation.

These controversial decisions altered the trajectory of Boeing’s future and undermined the immense responsibility that accompanies corporate leadership. 

How these issues have impacted Boeing's finances 

Boeing’s finances have been significantly impacted by the costly grounding of the 737 Max jets in March 2019, following two deadly crashes. Public trust in one of Boeing’s flagship products seriously diminished, resulting in a major hit on its bottom line as airlines cancelled orders and demanded compensation.

Based on its financial reports, this event led to a staggering $20 billion in incurred costs.

Further financial strain came amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, due to an abrupt decline in air travel and a subsequent decrease in the demand for aircraft. In 2020,

Boeing also reported net losses totalling $11.9 billion.

In addition to this, the issues with supplier relationships and production defects for the 787 Dreamliner model have required costly rectification work.

These multi-faceted problems have not only significantly dented Boeing’s historical profitability but also posed a huge challenge to its financial recovery efforts.  Recent events will also almost certainly impact any recovery plans. 

How these issues have impacted public trust in Boeing

The multiple issues that have plagued Boeing in recent years have considerably eroded public trust in the corporation.

The most notable of these has been the devastating 737 Max crashes in 2018 and 2019, which claimed 346 lives and led to the grounding of the entire fleet worldwide.  Investigations revealed numerous issues with the plane’s software, training, and certification processes, creating a perception of negligence and a lack of integrity in Boeing’s operations.

Further damaging Boeing’s reputation were previous issues with its 787 Dreamliner where recurring technical problems prompted safety concerns.

Additionally, Boeing’s involvement in various controversies, including allegations of unethical competitive practices and the removal of its CEO for mismanagement, has only exacerbated the erosion of public trust.

These incidents have painted a picture of a company seemingly prioritizing profits over people’s safety, causing widespread skepticism and significant reputational damage, which Boeing is striving to repair.

These series of scandals and failures have shaken the confidence of passengers, airlines, regulators, and investors alike.

Organisational Design at Boeing

Colleagues collaborating with post-it notes

Organisational design at Boeing is executed with a vision that focuses on creating efficient structures for optimal productivity and performance.

The aircraft manufacturing giant has adopted a divisional organisational model, organising its key operations into divisions based on products and services. These include Commercial Airplanes, Defense, Space and Security, Global Services, and Boeing Capital.

Also, each division operates autonomously with its management structure and decision-making process. This design facilitates specialization and efficient use of expertise in each division, thereby bolstering performance.

A notable aspect of Boeing’s organizational design is the embracing of a cross-functional team structure to encourage collaboration and innovation.A case study of what went wrong at Boeing is found within the organizational chart, which mirrors a top-down hierarchical structure, with strategic decisions and approvals occurring at the top management echelons. Simultaneously, Boeing makes use of extensive decentralization for day-to-day decision making at individual division levels. Through this blended organisational structure, Boeing should be able to  maintain a balance between efficient control and flexibility, which would be conducive for a dynamic and high-risk environment.  

Upon closer examination and analysis of Boeing’s missteps, it becomes evident that the company’s organizational chart is structured in a traditional top-down hierarchy. In this framework, strategic decision-making and approvals are primarily concentrated within the upper echelons of management, while routine operational decisions are decentralized and entrusted to the divisional levels. This hybrid structure aims to strike a delicate balance between effective oversight and adaptability, both of which are crucial in the highly volatile and risk-laden aerospace industry. By adopting such an approach, Boeing seeks to optimize its ability to navigate the complexities of the industry while ensuring that all facets of the organization work in tandem towards its overarching goals and objectives.

While the theoretical underpinnings of this organizational design strategy seem robust, the crux of the issue lies in its implementation. The disconnect between Boeing’s strategic vision and its operational realities often stems from a failure to effectively translate the higher-level directives into actionable procedures at the divisional level. This misalignment can lead to lapses in communication, inconsistencies in decision-making, and ultimately a compromised execution of the company’s strategic intent. Furthermore, the organizational complexity that arises from this stratified structure may unwittingly impede agility and swift responsiveness, which are paramount in an industry characterized by rapid technological advancements and shifting market dynamics.

Organisational Development at Boeing

Organisation development at Boeing

Over the years, Boeing has invested substantially in areas like talent development, innovation and technology to uphold its competitive edge in the aerospace industry. It also emphasises creating a diverse and inclusive work environment as part of its organisational strategy, recognising the immense value of diverse perspectives in driving innovation and solutions.

Implementing a strong culture of continuous learning is also notable at Boeing. It leverages a variety of training programmes and professional development opportunities to further enhance employee skills and productivity.

Additionally, Boeing employs a systematic approach to problem-solving and decision-making within the organisation, promoting efficiency and coherence. Thus, organisational development at Boeing encompasses not just structure and operations, but also focuses on nurturing its human resources, fostering innovation and maintaining an inclusive culture.  

Where Boeing's execution of Organisation Development has fallen behind

Boeing’s execution of Organisation Development (OD) has fallen behind in recent years, significantly impacting the company’s overall growth and performance.

A primary area of concern lies within its faulty design and manufacturing process, as evidenced by the Boeing 737 Max crisis. The catastrophe, which involved two fatal crashes, pointed to a deep-rooted failure in Boeing’s production system rather than a simple technical glitch. This suggests a lack of effective organisational development strategies to ensure high-quality manufacturing and risk management.

Furthermore, the company’s leadership has also been questioned following several allegations of prioritizing profits over safety standards and integrity. This indicates a detrimental effect on the company’s values and culture, another major facet of OD.

Additionally, poor decision-making, communication and problem-solving mechanisms have further hampered Boeing’s Organizational Development. Consequently, their failures in these areas have led to massive reputational damage, loss of trust among stakeholders, and financial implications, indicating the urgent necessity for a comprehensive revamp of its OD strategies.

How the principles of Organisational Design & Development could improve Boeing's situation

Organisational Design and Development principles play a crucial role in the transformation and streamlining of a company’s structure, processes, and personnel to adapt to a rapidly evolving marketplace.

Applying these principles can significantly improve Boeing’s situation, which has been marred by various operational and management setbacks in recent years. The principles to focus on, include:

  1. Firstly, it is vital for Boeing to re-establish a strong, unwavering commitment to safety and quality controls to regain customer trust and rebuild its tarnished reputation. Transparency must be encouraged at all levels of the organisation, accompanied by enhanced communication to stakeholders.
  2. Secondly, implementing innovative technological strategies while adhering to strict engineering and manufacturing standards will enhance its products’ performance and reliability.
  3. Furthermore, establishing strategic partnerships and collaborative efforts can drive growth and facilitate sharing of best practices in this competitive landscape.
  4. More efficient division of roles, clearer communication, increased employee engagement, and higher productivity.
  5. More specifically, a well-structured Organisational Design would allow allocation and coordination of tasks to be more effective, avoiding overlaps or gaps, thereby improving the organisational culture at Boeing.
  6. In addition, a strong focus on Development would ignite continuous improvement, fostering a culture of learning and innovation.
  7. Assessment and tweaking of processes would allow Boeing to swiftly adapt to market changes, curtail costs and enhance quality.
  8. This, coupled with investing in employee development for increased competence and morale, could lead the company towards growth and stability, meeting shareholder expectations while ensuring customer satisfaction.


By addressing structural and development aspects, Boeing can better manage its resources, risks, and relationships, paving the way for long-term success.

Final thoughts on the importance of effective Organisational Design & Development in any industry

Effective organisational design and development is of paramount importance in any industry, be it healthcare, technology, engineering, or manufacturing. It is an essential aspect that establishes a foundation for operational efficiency, employee productivity, and overall business success.

Organisational design involving the structure, hierarchy, and flow of information creates clarity in roles and responsibilities, reducing ambiguity and fostering accountability.

Good organisational development, encompassing strategies aimed at improving an organisation’s adaptability and effectiveness, can facilitate change management, capability building, and continuous learning.

Such systematic implementations can foster a healthy work culture, promote innovation, ensure the right talent is in the right roles, and enhance job satisfaction, leading to improved performance and productivity.

Ultimately, effective organisational design and development is integral to achieving operational excellence, driving growth, and maintaining competitive advantage in the ever-evolving business landscape. Neglecting this crucial aspect may result in reduced business agility, poor decision-making, increased costs, and decreased customer satisfaction.

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