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Organization design blog

Handling multiple disjointed pieces of design work

03/20/17  8:17 PM 

During the week, I was contacted by someone I used to work with – I'll call him Bill - asking for help on a piece of work he'd just been asked to manage. Briefly his manager had asked him to develop a Business Plan for the Unit (comprising around 4000 people) along with an overarching narrative on proposed design changes.

This was no blank page. Bill told me that there's much work going on but in disjointed pockets. He mentioned: one piece looking at the core Unit functions, another at business processes that traverse his Unit and other Units, a third looking at a wide-reaching re-design of a different Unit but one that his Unit is interdependent with, and a fourth piece aimed at ironing out some overlaps and inefficiencies looking at a newly formed group within the Unit. Additionally, there are some small bits of redesign work in discrete work areas. The Unit as a whole has to make a headcount reduction, control costs, drive value, and manage any potential operational risks.

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Do organisation designers need political skills?

03/14/17  4:53 PM 

In a couple of work-shops I've been in during the last week we've started to explore 'politics' – both in a governmental sense and in an organisational sense. They're shorthanded as 'Politics' and 'politics', and they're both difficult to navigate, and when they're in the same piece of work the difficulties are compounded.

Gareth Morgan, in Reflections on Images of Organization, discusses organizations as political systems, saying 'When you start to explore organizations as political systems you quickly get into images of autocracy and democracy, Machiavellianism, gender, racial and social power imbalances, images of exploiting and exploited groups, subtle or crude power plays, and so on.' He asks, 'Isn't the stakeholder approach another way of exploring the relations between the interests, conflict, and power that lie at the heart of political analysis?' (Morgan, 2011)

A classic piece of work by management academic Henry Mintzberg suggested that: 'Politics and conflict sometimes capture an organization in whole or significant part, giving rise to a form we call the Political Arena'. He proposes four basic types of Political Arenas:

  • the complete Political Arena (characterized by conflict that is intensive and pervasive)
  • the confrontation (conflict that is intensive but contained)
  • the shaky alliance (conflict that is moderate and contained)
  • the politicized organization (conflict that is moderate but pervasive). (Mintzberg, 1985)

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Thinking about design

03/06/17  4:20 PM 

My blog topics usually arise from the week preceding Sunday – blog writing day. This week's looks in both directions. Back at last week's idea and forward into next week's event.

Looking forward: next Wednesday March 8 is International Women's Day and yesterday I opted to #BeBoldForChange ticking on their website the boxes that I would forge women's advancement and champion women's education. Both much needed.

Just after having done that I picked up a book, lying around the house, 'What makes great design: 80 masterpieces explained'. Hmm - a couple of thoughts crossed my mind as I skimmed through it: where are the women designers and how inherently biased language is. Look at the book title 'masterpieces'. That is a male word. There are no 'mistresspieces', and 'masterpieces' isn't noticeably gender neutral. Out of 80 'master designers' there are 6 women. That 7.5%.

Looking back: I picked up the book because last week we had the idea that we would see what the interest was in designing a multi-disciplinary 'design function' to work on organisational wicked problems: a flexible function that would include business architects, service designers, customer experience designers, graphic designers, strategy designers, organisation designers, and so on. Put differently, it would draw on anyone who could identify with the idea that they have design thinking skills developed through training and/or use in some field.

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Rituals, restrictions, and relationships

03/01/17  12:56 AM 

What are the rituals, restrictions, and relationships that define cultures? I ask because last week I was in two events where multi-cultures were in play.

Event one was in Dubai and one of the things I did there was facilitate a two-day organisation culture course. Dubai is a great place to discuss culture as its population is so nationally diverse – the 10 course participants represented Lebanon, Canada, UK, India, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Dubai, and Pakistan, not to mention various professional cultures, and various corporate cultures. We also had the full mix of generations. So, a diverse group with many different perspectives and lots to say on designing organisational culture.

Event two was my daughter's wedding. She's lived and worked in many countries. Her list of 80 or so guests represented Tanzania, Germany, Italy, France, Switzerland, Ireland, South Africa, Zimbabwe, Nigeria, Ghana, Afghanistan, Yemen, Ethiopia, Pakistan, Finland, Sudan, Iran, Hong Kong, England, Scotland, Australia, Holland, and Jamaica. As with the Dubai event it wasn't just the national cultures represented, there were multiple professions and the entire age range. It was a joyous experience to participate in a World Cafe in its truest sense.

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Failure as a form of helpful feedback

02/20/17  11:32 AM 

I'd given myself the task today of starting chapter 3 of the new edition of my book. But instead – I've decided to write on learning from failure which is a topic I discussed in several conversations this past week. However, in the spirit of things, I'm wondering what I'm learning from failing to stick to my chapter 3 schedule. Two things:

  • I need a refresher on important v urgent. (Remember the Eisenhower matrix?)
  • I will try out StickK's Commitment Contract 'a binding agreement you sign with yourself to ensure that you follow through with your intentions'.
The learning from failure conversations came up in my facilitating two different sessions of a workshop on resilience (see my blog on resilience here) because what people lit on in the definition of personal resilience was the idea that resilient people have the 'ability to see failure as a form of helpful feedback'. The consensus was that this is a really hard thing to do both individually and organisationally.

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Simplifying design

02/14/17  1:37 AM 

A couple of years ago I wrote a blog on the Complexity of Simplicity so I wondered if I'd be repeating myself if I wrote again about simplicity. But having just re-read it I'm taking a different tack this time - no nugatory work involved.

Nugatory means something of no value or importance. Look around your organisation and see if there is nugatory work going on. It can be difficult to spot – particularly if it's part of what 'we do around here' but it's the type of thing that can slow down effectiveness. When I ask, 'What work needn't be done? 'when I'm facilitating organization design workshops people can generally provide a list of stuff like producing unread reports, or multiple re-drafting of documents, or clunky business processes or duplicative functions. Scott Adams, Dilbert cartoon strip, provides multiple fun/familiar examples. I typed 'nugatory work' into the search box on his website and got a message 'Notice: Too many results returned for your search. Displaying the first 1000 most relevant results'.

I don't remember if the reminder of the Agile Manifesto, principle that 'Simplicity - the art of maximizing the amount of work not done - is essential' came up in relation to nugatory work this week but they are connected. Maximising the amount of work not done means not doing nugatory work. It also means not doing work that doesn't fall into the nugatory bucket but still doesn't need to be done.

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    Naomi Stanford
  • Naomi Stanford is an author, teacher,
    consultant and expert in organization design.
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