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Organization design blog- May 2017

Of nets and networks

04/10/17  7:23 PM 

Last weekend I was in Villajoyosa, a Spanish fishing port, 'birthplace of the fishing net industry'. Walking around the harbour and seeing the nets all piled up started me thinking about what was caught in the nets and what escaped through them.

Earlier in the week we'd been discussing a paper by Niels Pflaeging on Organizing for Complexity where he outlines three types of organization structures: formal hierarchy, informal network, and value creation network. In this he argues that, 'value creation is never the result of individual action: It is a team-based process of working interactively, "with-one-another-for-each-other".'

The idea of networks of empowered teams as a new organizational model is one that we're hearing a lot about. Deloitte (a consultancy) describes, 'This new mode of organization-—a "network of teams" with a high degree of empowerment, strong communication, and rapid information flow' as integral to value creation.

But as Anne-Marie Slaughter, talking about her new book, says, 'Network theory is a whole branch of science, but it's relatively new in terms of the last 20 or 30 years. We haven't had a chance to take all that theory out of the universities and apply it to ask, "What kinds of networks should we build, and for what purposes?" '

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Astonishment and don't know

04/03/17  6:22 AM 

'To be astonished is one of the surest ways of not growing old too quickly'. Sidonie-Gabrielle Colette

One of the words that has not yet come into common organizational usage is 'astonishment' and I'm just wondering why. As Lucy Kellaway points out we have a vast language of words that have become debased into corporate guff but 'astonishment' fortunately has not yet reached this point. So, while it is still untainted by being included in a competence framework or list of essential applicant capabilities let me suggest why it is a valuable characteristic to nurture.

'Astonishment' has appeared a couple of times this week in my in-box, once in the quote above and once in a Brain Pickings email in which poet, Wislawa Szymborska, argues that not-knowing, 'is the seedbed of our capacity for astonishment, which in turn gives meaning to our existence'.

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Moral courage and intellectual humility

03/28/17  7:58 PM 

I watched Crimson Tide last weekend. It's a terrific film on all things leadership with a strong theme on the 'moral courage' shown in it by two men who take opposite views and hold on to them. Watch the film to see what happens.

One researcher explains that, 'Moral courage involves acting in the service of one's convictions, in spite of the risk of retaliation or punishment ... that moral courage also involves a capacity to face others as moral agents, and thus in a manner that does not objectify them'.

The same week I came across a research paper on 'intellectual humility', defined as 'the opposite of intellectual arrogance or conceit. In common parlance, it resembles open-mindedness. Intellectually humble people can have strong beliefs, but recognize their fallibility and are willing to be proven wrong on matters large and small.'

This set me wondering on the relationship between moral courage and intellectual humility and how they get played out in organizations and with what effect. One writer notes that 'In organizations, some of the hardest decisions have ethical stakes: it is everyday moral courage that sets an organization and its members apart'. I asked a few people what they thought.

Chris Rodgers came back with the following which is well worth sharing and he's agreed I can. So now it's over to him.

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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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    Naomi Stanford
  • Naomi Stanford is an author, teacher,
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