A bit of a Brain-Teaser for you….

This week I got these questions:

  • What are you noticing about the practice of organization design recently? What are the implications?
  • How would you best design a corporate centre for a new organisation which doesn't have 100% clarity on what its delivery arms will be specifically doing yet?

It seems to me that taking a stab at the first two questions might help with the third question. So here goes.

I'd already given a bit of thought to the question 'What am I noticing about the practice of organisation design?' in prep for a conversation over the weekend with Organization Design Forum colleagues on it and their views both changed and added to mine. I'm noticing:

a) An accelerating desire to learn about organisation design i.e. there seems to be recognition that it's more than re-jigging the traditional organisation chart. I mentioned in an earlier blog that Deloitte in its Human Capital Trends 2016 has organisation design as its top trend. (But think through why you want to follow a trend). People are looking for skilled organisation designers. I first started facilitating organisation design programmes for the CIPD in 2007. That year we ran 1 course and it was undersubscribed. When I stopped teaching it in 2014 there were 5 or 6 courses running per year, all fully-subscribed. That may not count as evidence of accelerating interest in the topic but it is an indicator.

b) Digital technologies are rapidly changing the way organisation design can be done and also the way that we think about organisation and organisations. Look, for example, at Alex Pentland's work on Social Physics and you begin to get the scale of the possibility – it goes beyond social network analysis and data visualization. Some of the people on the call started talking about socio-tech and I've just found my 2003 folder full of info on it. There do seem to be some interesting and relevant-to-now lines to follow from that theory. See this 1999 paper on it.

c) Organisation design working with other types of designers – graphic, service, business, product, user experience, etc. They offer similar but different skills and perspectives. Working on a design issue or opportunity together and with other disciplines is a fruitful way of looking at organisational possibilities. In my 2-years with nbbj, an architecture and design firm, I learned the value of thinking 'design' and not just 'organisation design'.

What are the implications of this? These 'noticings' leave me thinking:

  • That the 'models' we use in organisation design e.g Burke-Litwin model, Galbraith's 5-star model, Nadler & Tushman's congruence model and so on, have probably had their day. Maybe the way we think about organisations has also had its day?
  • We (organisation design practitioners) could learn a lot from fast prototyping, test and learn, and other iterative ways of designing that other types of designers use.
  • We can't design for any predicted future because the predictions won't hold – digitalization is moving too fast to keep up even if predicting were more accurate than it is.

So for the person who asked 'How would you best design a corporate centre for a new organisation which doesn't have 100% clarity on what its delivery arms will be specifically doing yet?' I suggest:

One approach is to work on the basis that you'll never get 100% clarity, so:

  • Develop some design principles – I enjoy Dieter Rams' principles as a discussion point for organisation design work.
  • Work on what you do know and what you can find out about the current direction.
  • Look not just at your own organisation but the context in which it is operating.
  • Watch what is happening to the design of the organisation without you doing anything and see how things are forming.
  • Use data and visualisations to help free up your thinking and head towards 'what-if' mode e.g. why are you assuming a 'corporate centre?'
  • Work with things that seem to be working in the 'right' known direction and help adjust those that aren't.
  • As things become clearer review and iterate the design –view the work as ongoing and not as a project with an end point.
  • Start now even if it's only 5% clear.

How would you answer the three questions? Let me know.

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