Starting an organisation re-structure? 10 ways to get it right.

Organisation Design

by Sophy Pern

13 April, 2021

It is still by no means business as usual. While the impact of the pandemic has varied from individual to individual, we are all living with less certainty, often more anxiety and questioning some of the taken for granted in our lives.

Many organisations and teams need to re-evaluate and adapt their structures or ways of working to adapt to the new reality. So we thought it would be useful to share what we are learning about organisational re-design. The broad principles we follow continue to apply, however, some things need to be emphasised more than ever. These are our 10 top tips, re-visited in the context of our recent experiences:

1. Keep linking design to strategy. At this time of heightened uncertainty the importance of making sense together is even more crucial. From an organisation design perspective, be as clear as you can be on what the strategy is AND see organisation design as an opportunity to continue to engage people in the development and the implementation of strategy. We’ve had many a light bulb moment in workshops as the implications of a strategy memo suddenly become much clearer. This is critical given how much is changing around us at the moment.

2. Create a small but representative design team. With a clear remit and the right facilitation support they will design for the strategy and for the future, and most importantly feel ownership of the new design.

3. Continue to share as much as you can. We’ve seen great examples of very open communication by CEOs and leaders over the the last year. This is very important given that distrust and paranoia thrive in a vacuum. The same principle applies to organisation design work: pay particular attention to communicating the process and decisions to those who are not part of the design team.

4. Build a “warts and all” picture of what is and isn’t working at the moment. Share that picture (with the warts) as you start the re-design work so everyone has shared context from which to work.

5. Start by paying attention to process- the outcome will follow. As soon as the words re-design, or restructure are mentioned, naturally most people start to try and second guess what the outcome will be in terms of individuals and roles. Although it may seem counter intuitive, our experience suggests that the most helpful thing to focus on is what your redesign process will be. If you have a good process, you’ll get a good outcome- even if you don’t yet know what that will look like.

6. Conversely, beware of easy answers. This might be the sketch someone (the CEO / an expert consultant) has drawn up on the back of an envelope that is presented as “the answer”. It might not be a bad idea, but it won’t have the right level of ownership across the organisation for a successful implementation.

7. Be pacey, but don’t rush it. Re-design work is important for any organisation and has significant implications, so it’s important to take the time to get it right. That doesn’t mean it has to take years. Our experience suggests that 6-8 weeks is enough to come up with a well thought through robust organisational design. Bringing it to life will however take much longer – see point 9.

8. Be creative. The design process needs to encourage thinking outside of the box. The obvious example from this year has been virtual and multi site teams becoming the norm. It’s also highlighted how we can also be creative about the process itself. Our clients have been surprised at the quality of work that they have been able to do virtually instead of face to face, and it’’s even led us to develop an app to facilitate organisation design processes virtually. Necessity is the mother of invention and all that…

9. Plan for implementation up-front. A significant re-design always requires implementation resource: leadership time, HR support, internal communication and project coordination. Don’t let yourself be surprised by this.

10. Plan for transition support. Individuals find themselves in new roles having to do all the core business of management (i.e. set new KPIs, implement new governance processes, create new leadership teams etc) AND will need to provide emotional support to their teams who will be going through transitions themselves. At the best of times, this will typically takes 6 months for individuals to feel settled in a new structure. It will take longer in the present context and not providing appropriate support risks not realising the benefits of your re-design.

What you would add from your own experience?
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For more information and insight on organisation designing see our 2020 Research report into designing organisations

Starting an organisation re-structure? 10 ways to get it right.

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