Organisation design: Odile the organisation designer, part 3

A couple of weeks ago I started the story – following the story arc: exposition, rising action, climax, falling action, and resolution –  of Odile the organisation designer as she joined Intersection Railways in a newly created role of Organisation Design Lead.  The second part of the story, left Odile deciding to take several actions as she strove to use Intersection Railways intention to introduce a sleeper service and related app as a test bed for a) proving value an organisational design ‘movement’ and b) developing a governance framework for the movement – bearing in mind that Ernestine the Enterprise Architect had already established something on these lines.   Odile’s story continues here – she is about to present to the Executive to get their support for her work

Characters:  Odile the organisation designer.  Hans Fischer, Director, Marketing and Comms. Leonie Bletcher, Director Operational Planning.  Farzin Ahmadi, HR Director and Odile’s manager.

Chapter 2:  Climax

Odile (to herself): Oh dear, it’s nerve wracking to be standing outside the Executive Suite waiting to be called in.  Still, it’s better face to face than being in a virtual meeting with them.  I hope I don’t get bumped off the agenda, Farzin warned me that it was very packed, and that he, Hans, and Leonie had had to act in concert to get me a slot.  The Executive secretariat thought it was a fringe, low-value item.   I hope I can convince the Executive that it’s not – it’s high value.    What will they think of me? I haven’t met all of them yet.  I think I can rely on some support but I’ve heard that the VP Infrastructure can be very brusque and dismissive and I haven’t met her.   Will I be able to handle the group dynamics, how do they interact as a team?  OK, I need to think positively here.  As long as they are curious, I think it will go well.

Post-presentation hot wash

Hans: Wow, Odile, good for you. That was a stunning performance.   There were three points that I commend you on.  First,  slightly disarming them by opening with the point that you’ve been with Intersection Railways around 100 days, and they may think you hadn’t learned enough about Intersection Railways to make substantial proposals, but you’re going to show them that you have.  Second, following this up with the  3  specific things you have achieved since you joined:  coalition building, the systems map, and the framework for the minimum viable data set.   You certainly aroused their curiosity as you explored these with them.  Third the way you wove in the complexity angles.  They’re not well-versed in this and there’s a danger it coming across as jargon, or mystifying.  The fact that you’d organised a demo of Sensemaker (badged as ‘making sense of complexity’) for a good proportion of enterprise architects, other designers and data analysts  went down well. 

Leonie:  Yes, congratulations, Odile, I was holding my breath a bit when Rajit Rajan (Head of Infrastructure) started to argue that Enterprise Architecture was in his domain and ‘did’ organisation design. Implying that he ‘owned’ it.  He and Farzin are known for fighting turf wars

I think you surprised him by saying that you and Ernestine, (Enterprise Architect reporting to Rajit), have developed a great working relationship and are able to see the way your different perspectives on design can be blended and grown to make a very strong and collaborative design ‘offering’.

The way you explained how you moved the relationship from spiky to collaborative, was a nice little learning cameo. I saw some members of the Executive smiling as you explained the losses and gains discussion, (Note: a tool in the Brains Behaviour and Design Toolkit).   You went on to remark that collaboration and ‘one team’ are part of Intersection Railways stated values, and the fact that you and Ernestine, having now established common ground, are moving forward together was, I thought a not too challenging reminder to the Executive members to walk the talk themselves.

Farzin:  Ha ha – yes, I wondered whether to take that as a mild rebuke to me and Rajit. Nevertheless, I’ll let that pass as I think you ably proved the value of cross-discipline, collaborative ‘design’ in Intersection railways.  Your emphasis on making it central to our strategic delivery with examples on what we have learned from some of the failures and sticking points in the sleeper service/app so far was excellent. (Note: See Fail Forward for good resources).

A bit of our history is that we develop a good strategy that fails to get to a good implementation because we haven’t gone through a reflective, aligned, and collaborative design process that recognises complexity.  (Note: see the Brightline Initiative for articles and resources on bridging the gap between strategy design and delivery).

The other thing I think you did well was clearly present the next steps and assume their approval for them.

Odile:  Thank you, and just to make the point that my presentation wasn’t just my work.  A group of us, in design and other disciplines across Intersection Railways, got together.  So, in that sense we’ve sown the seeds of the design movement that I’ve been charged to develop.

I was pleased that the Executive agreed with my saying that any change including design change, is brought about not just in the structures, systems, and process change but also in the emotional and interactional experiences of people.  It seemed to resonate with them. Maybe they also appreciated my view that leaders are people too, and they find change hard even as they promote it.

Differently, I have to thank you three for being such a great informal steering group for this piece of work.    I think I’ve come away from that Executive meeting with their buy-in.  

Farzin, Leonie, Hans:  Yes – you’ve got the mandate.  Now to continue to the next phase of the work

Odile: (Later to herself).   Right.  I’m glad that went well.  Now to put develop the proposal I put to design the governance of both a design movement and the way we design products/services somewhat as ICANN  is organised – as ‘a bottom-up, consensus-driven, multi-stakeholder model’.  It’s big step away from the formality of the ‘Board for Governing cross-department process and IT change initiatives’ that Ernestine has instigated but I think there are strong arguments in favour of simplifying the bureaucracy and getting involvement and insights from a range of people.   

I was surprised the Executive supported this – we must make sure that we keep them informed and interested on what it means in practice, and what a radical shift it is for Intersection Railways. I’m anxious about their interpersonal dynamics and differing agendas.  I wonder if they really are supportive.  I’ll have to keep an eye on that.

Now, there’s the comms and wider engagement angle to plan in detail.  I’m glad Hans really does seem supportive.  I wonder if he’s seen the report From the Margins to the Mainstream – it’s aimed at government innovators, but it’s got some interesting ideas in it we could perhaps adapt to accelerate whole organisation design thinking in a complex system.  (Oh, I better not get ahead of myself here).


Odile seems on track.  Do you think she’ll be successful? If so, why?  If not, why not?  Let me know.  (Final episode to come).

Image: Design Leadership Skills