By Dev Mookherjee

Our house parties are always difficult to plan for. I’m not that keen on parties but my partner is. When backed into a corner I sometimes foolishly agree to a party… but then there are the tricky questions of how many people do we want to come and who should be on the list. As an introvert I appreciate small gatherings while my partner seems to rejoice in her ability to draw a crowd and connect friends and neighbours.

We find that these questions of how many and who to invite also arise at the initiation of organization re-design processes, and especially when thinking through membership of a core design team. Many of you reading this post know that we are staunch advocates of participative organisation design (Link) and so  give a lot of thought to these questions. I thought I would share our rules of thumb and generic invite lists with you.

How many to invite?

We suggest a range of 6-9 in a core design group. Our recommended number is 9 as this:
– allows a sufficient range of participants to meet the criteria set out below;
– is the maximum number for all to participate and have sufficient voice in this time-intensive process and;
– enables effective breakout conversations and design work to be done in trios.

Who to consider inviting?

It’s sometimes helpful to remember such info with a mnemonic, and in this case our is LINKED…

L – The leader of the unit! In our experience you need the leader of the unit present during the process: leaders are tempted to delegate this task and then reject the outcome, leaving a legacy of mistrust in their wake and making it much harder to engage the organisation.

I – Who will Implement the design? Keep in mind people who will be responsible not just for drawing up designs and job descriptions but those who need to make it work well.

NNovelty – people who are newly in and have a fresh perspective on the organisation, perhaps from competitor organizations, or people in your high potential group. Often more able to identify possibilities in a very different organisation design

K – Who has knowledge of how the organisation’s work is done – what it actually takes and from which people to perform key tasks successfully?

EExisting leaders – some but perhaps not your entire leadership team. If you have ONLY the existing leadership team you will be more likely to get a new design that is close to the old one (which could feel like “more of the same”) but there will be solid commitment to the outcome.

DDiversity of perspective. Include possibly network or union representatives, as well as finance rep, detail-oriented and strategic thinkers, members who can support dialogue.

Perhaps this goes without saying but you also need to make sure that the people you pick have the time and attention to devote to an intense and stimulating process. You don’t want people who are inclined to dip in and out, or who will be trying to multi-task. This work is too important!

Once you’re clear about who’s in the core design team, you can also think about the wider inquiry group – this is where it is really useful to talk to a mix of people in different teams and business units, and especially those who are always bending your ear about all the things that are wrong with the organisation – they usually have a lot of useful insights.

Need help with your invitation lists? Get in touch!


We at Metalogue have developed a tool (www.orgwith.com) to help in-house organization designers to facilitate participative, activity-based design conversations. If you would like a demo of Orgwith™ get in touch at the following email address: orgwith-admin@metalogue.co.uk

#orgdesign #strategy #od #facilitation #facilitationtech #hrtech #orgwith

By Sarah Beart & Dev Mookherjee

When a senior leader realises that their organisation is not performing well, or well enough, they often commission a redesign, and task a small design group to start thinking about how they could be better organised. The temptation for the design team is to start tinkering with org charts, add in new roles to bridge perceived gaps, and identify savings and synergies.

However, we believe that what SHOULD take centre stage at this point is getting the design team sufficiently clear and aligned on the strategy. After all, you want them to be designing based on choices you have made about the purpose of the organisation and your beliefs about how it will succeed in possible future contexts, in short, you want the FORM of the organisation to follow its FUNCTION. So we are always curious about how people understand the strategy, and how well-designed the organisation is to make it happen.

Often leaders are impatient to see an org chart, and resist opening up any conversation about strategy at this stage. Many have a fear opening the Pandora’s box of strategy. Or they are impatient “we’ve talked ENDLESSLY about the strategy and everyone is PERFECTLY CLEAR! GRRRR” (often accompanied with an eye roll).  But as one of Michael Frayn’s characters in Matchbox Theatre comments “There are masses of things I want to be clear about. Since I am being so absolutely clear about them, and since one totally transparent thing looks so much like another totally transparent thing, it’s difficult to tell one from the other.”

Inquiring into the Strategy: what we find

Often people do know the headlines, and the desired outcome but they haven’t thought about HOW it’s going to happen. When starting a process of re-design we often carry out interviews with a range of staff and stakeholders with questions including:

– How clear are you about the strategy (they often know at least some of WHAT the strategy is but have little idea of how they choose to make it happen)

– How well organised are you to deliver the strategy? Frequently this provokes a tumbleweed moment – because people haven’t had time to think about this – whether the current form really does enable what they’re trying to achieve.

In his 1992 letter to Berkshire Hathaway shareholders, Warren Buffett said, “It’s only when the tide goes out that you learn who’s been swimming naked.” These inquiry questions pull the tide right out on the strategy and exposes the flotsam and jetsam of strategic thinking, unresolved or unspoken disagreements about strategy (and maybe the odd wreck of previous strategies).

Any senior team who are going to be making the decisions about org design need to have a good enough shared understanding of a good-enough shared strategy if they are going to make good decisions about the design. So that’s where good participative organisation design starts.

Inquiry about terminology should not be avoided – it is the work!

Often, we find that time is expended by groups working on design on understanding what others’ mean when they use certain terms. There is a “dialogic pull” to move to a shared language around what we are trying to do and what we mean by different activities. Examples of this are what exactly is being done under the banner of “commercial” or “compliance” or “operations”. Different parts of the organization may have very different assumptions about the activities implied by different terms. We would suggest that you don’t fight the need for conversation – it’s no reflection on you if there are things that need clearing up, or that new ideas emerge. It’s a natural part of doing org design work, to be welcomed and allowed space and time.

This strategic conversation helps you build a coherent shared narrative about why you needed to redesign, why you have chosen the design you have chosen and how you expect this to help you deliver your strategy

In summary

– Org design is done to help you deliver strategy, so it requires you to look at strategy

– This is needed and not to be feared

– Good participative org re-design processes help you get your senior team to have a shared language and sense of purpose

– This helps you take the rest of the organization along because there is a clear enough shared narrative about the need for re-design and the background to the choices you have made – you will be appropriately clothed for conversations with the wider organisation

Need help with your organization design conversations? Get in touch!

We at Metalogue have developed a tool (www.orgwith.com) to help in-house organization designers to facilitate activity-based design conversations. If you would like a demo of Orgwith™ get in touch at the following email address: orgwith-admin@metalogue.co.uk

Sources

Buffett, Warren. Berkshire Hathaway: Letter to Shareholders (1992)

Frayn, Michael. (2014) “Matchbox Theatre: thirty short entertainments”, Faber & Faber: London

Goold, M & A. Campbell. “Do you have a well designed organization?” in Harvard Business Review, March 2002

Sullivan, Louis H. (1896). “The Tall Office Building Artistically Considered”. Lippincott’s Magazine (March 1896): 403–409. Quoted on Wikipedia: https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Form_follows_function

Photo: Dev Mookherjee

#orgdesign #strategy #od #facilitation #facilitationtech #hrtech #orgwith

The client call            

“I know you can do organization re-design in face-to-face workshops but our team is locked down on two sides of the Atlantic and we’re in a hurry. Can you still help us with this?”

Gulp…Keep calm.

In the few seconds we have to answer, the following thoughts go through our heads…

– Can we still productively hold the difficult trade-off conversations needed in the redesign processes virtually, or are face-to-face conversations essential for this?

– How can we replicate our plenary and breakout conversation formats?

– How will we replicate our approaches to activity mapping design options, which we would normally do on large meta-plan boards using post-it notes?

In those few milliseconds we realised we had a choice to make…and we responded “Yes. We can run this process virtually.”

What happened next?

Our first thought was that Zoom plenary and breakout rooms would work well and answer our first two questions and we started the process through a series of Zoom workshops with a core design group following a number of inquiry calls.

The Zoom platform soon proved to be up to the challenge, but we struggled as a facilitator team with the process of activity mapping using Power-point:

The preparation for workshops took an eternity:

– The process was so manual, which took our attention away from attending to the important team dynamics involved in the design process

– Instead, we were having to attend to the more mundane and less value-adding job of moving boxes around on Power-point charts

– Even after the workshop we had to find a way to record the outputs and we had no efficient way to export the designs in a way that would be helpful to the client.

There has to be a better way…” we told ourselves.

…and so the idea for Orgwith.com™ was born

We spent the second half of 2020 building a web-based app, with our brilliant digital agency partners Audacia (www.audacia.co.uk), which makes the process of facilitating organization design virtually (via Zoom or other web-conferencing platforms) much simpler and far less time consuming. The app is designed for in-house organization designers to build design options and populate them with activities using simple or more complex design templates, based on the work of Andrew Campbell. We built the app for us to use with our clients but realised that if we would find it helpful, so would our clients and other in-house organization design practitioners.

What are the features of Orgwith.com™?

– Drag & drop user interface to minimise hassle & maximise participation

– Import, add and edit activity listings as the building blocks of design options

– Build designs and compare options easily

– Work together in plenary or assign Breakout Facilitators

– Save and name design options

– Compare options easily

– Export design data in Excel to create role definitions

– “Save as you go” functionality

– Stable and secure as hosted on Microsoft’s Azure platform

– Built to run on Chrome and Safari PCs

Interested in finding out more?

Check out www.orgwith.com or contact us at orgwith-admin@metalogue.co.uk.

Finally, if you are interested in developing your skills in facilitating participative organization design we have some spaces available on our programme in November. Email us at contact@metalogue.co.uk if you would like to find out more.

The quote “CULTURE EATS STRATEGY FOR BREAKFAST!” often pops up (in big bold letters) on LinkedIn posts and has variously been attributed to Peter Drucker, Gary Hamel (and with more veracity) Bill Moore and Jerry Rose.

It’s an idea that smells good but is difficult to swallow due to the elusive nature of culture.

If we follow the wafting scent we notice that it is the decisions we make and don’t make which are gobbling up our strategic intentions. Even when we can get to make the decisions, they are often hard to swallow and difficult to digest for the wider organisation. But what can we do to protect our strategies from the patterns of interaction embedded in our culture?

We suggest that “decision-making” is the dish on the culture change menu which is most likely to hit the spot. We describe below some of the examples of decision-making in organisations we have recently worked in to illustrate how patterns of decision making inhibit or constrain strategy.

At the end of our post we present “Our Menu” – interventions we suggest can improve decision-making to support strategy execution.

Too many cooks

Example: A professional services business struggles to reach agreement on internal ways of working. Significant time is spent by the senior team reaching consensus on minor issues, leaving less time to focus on business development, quality reviews, and development of intellectual property.

What has helped: Creating leadership roles on specific topics. Asking those individuals to get agreement from all to a general approach, and document it, and then empowering those individuals to make decisions within that framework.

Reject the “under-cooked” opportunities

Example: A tech firm we have worked with struggles to make decisions on new business opportunities. Sales staff bring in opportunities with great potential but many are prematurely rejected as sunk costs and investments in particular laboratory technology only support a certain type of client or product. This leads to very difficult conversations between the engineers and commercial units resulting in sub-optimal outcomes. The sunk cost fallacy (making ongoing decisions to justify previous investments) plagues decision making in this organisation. This is hard to challenge as it conflicts with the pressure for demonstrating investment payback over time.

What has helped: We suggest that what is needed is acute attention on what the emerging flow of opportunities are telling us the market wants and then critical judgements on what decisions the business needs to make in order to respond.

Eat your vegetables!

Example: In this professional services business, the top team struggle to spend sufficient time on organisational matters such as building leadership capability and team development. Professional and technical issues are ascribed with far more value and so leaders are drawn to the meat on their plate but tend to leave vegetables uneaten. As a result, tricky organisational decisions have been put off and difficult conversations requiring resolution are perpetuated, partly because no-one is clear who has the right to make them.

What has helped: When introduced to the RAPID tool (Blenko & Rogers) the senior team were able to put on the table difficult decisions. They then worked through who does, and who should, have the decision rights in order for the business to deliver its strategy.

Salad dressing

Example: In an alternative energy business a senior team were having difficulty getting any traction or momentum behind decisions that they were taking which were cross-business unit. When they met, differences were aired, however, the overriding atmosphere was one of good humour and play which perhaps masked a fear of conflict and a group norm around the value of harmony. One team member talked about their meeting culture being like a bottle of olive oil and balsamic vinegar. At the start of the meetings the layers were separated. Through discussions they shook the bottle creating a smooth emulsion of the ingredients. However, following on from their meetings, the “salad dressing” of their collective decision making gradually separated back into its constituent parts. This was not an active unpicking of decisions, more a return of focus to individual business units which let things unravel through inertia.

What has helped: is spending time as a team surfacing and noticing their own dynamics. Working with the playful spirit of metaphor the team have a language for calling themselves out on these patterns so they can see when they need to push decisions forward.

Our Menu

– Be explicit as a team about decision-making rights. The RAPID tool (Blenko M. & Rogers) is great to use for this conversation: it identifies who holds each of the critical roles around a decision i.e. who Recommends, Approves, Performs, provides Input and critically who actually decides. Do this as a dialogue/collective experience, preferably with facilitation, and not a theoretical desk top exercise.

– Clarify decision criteria before getting into the decision itself. This can help prevent the professional culture (e.g. legal, risk, clinical, engineering etc) from “crowding out” strategic, commercial and operational matters

– Don’t fall into the trap of expensive restructuring exercises to resolve lack of accountability

– Be clear on what is up for grabs (on the plate) and what is a given (off the plate)

– Finally, pay attention to who is involved in decision making and notice your dynamics as a team

Ingredients used in this post

Arkes, H.R. & Blumer, C. (1985) The Psychology of Sunk Costs, Organizational Behaviour and Human Decision Processes, 35, 124-140

Blenko M. & Rogers (2006) “Who has the D?” in Harvard Business Review. 01 Jan 2006

Campbell, A., Whitehead, J. and Finkelstein, S. “Why good leaders make bad decisions, in Harvard Business Review. 01 Feb 2009


Chef
: Dev Mookherjee

Sous Chefs: Sophy Pern, Simon Martin, Kevin Power, Andrew Day and Sarah Beart

 

“It’s a dance, isn’t it?” was how a client recently described the relationship between the Executive Team (ET) of the organisation and the Senior Management Team (SMT). This description seemed to strike a chord with others in the meeting with a number of knowing smiles in the room, including from us as facilitators.

I experience this dance in many organisations. Executive Teams organise and have gatherings together with the next level of the hierarchy, sometimes jointly referred to as the “Senior Management Team”. While these gatherings are a common occurrence in organisations we work in, the style of “the dance” between the two groups varies tremendously. They sometimes dance together confidently, but often they are hesitant and uncertain. Becoming explicit about the nature of this dance seems important as these gatherings are important rituals in the cultural tableau members of the organisation create to make sense of what is important. Sometimes how these interactions happen is highly aligned with the explicit culture of the organisation. In other organisations it may be in direct conflict with the culture organisation leaders have espoused.

Generally an invitation to the meeting (an invitation to “the dance”) is crafted. Sometimes this is done with a lot of thought and crafted together between ET and SMT representatives. In other organisations we experience that the only thing SMT members know about the event is that someone has sent them a meeting invitation with an explict demand that they attend (which isn’t really an invitation at all).

The Dance Styles

We also experience a real range of meeting formats when these meetings take place. We thought it would be helpful (and fun) to use a number of dance styles to describe the variety of style of interactions that can take place in organisations when the executive team meets their senior management team to “dance”. These are offered to help you make sense of your experience of such gatherings in your organisation. Hopefully they might help you to be a little more conscious of whether the nature of the dance supports of undermines the culture you are looking to support.

Paso Doble

Modelled on drama and movement of the Spanish bullfight. “This two-person dance form has the man performing as the bullfighter and the woman as the cape”(1). Based on passionate and short lived session-based exchanges usually around a pressing issue or project, usually in the spotlight with a rather dramatic soundtrack. In such ET/SMT gatherings:

– political factions may “lock horns” or try and score points or get the upper hand
– Executive Team members lead on key agenda items and are supported by their respective SMT members
– conversations are highly male-dominated: men take the lead and women provide support and an artistic flourish
– words like “critical” or “burning platform” may be used with great frequency and team members are invited to create action plans with unfeasibly short timelines

Viennese Waltz

This describes a formal and formulaic process with background music known to all. “The Viennese waltz is a rotary dance where the dancers are constantly turning either toward the leader’s right (natural) or toward the leader’s left (reverse), interspersed with non-rotating change steps to switch between the direction of rotation.” (2).
Your teams dance in this way if:

– you have a very clear tempo or rhythm to your ET/SMT meetings
– meeting agendas and formats (if not agenda items) are predictable
– the leader takes a formally prominent role
– the dance requires training and not knowing the rules can lead to critical comments and whispers of incompetence

Scottish Reel

Highly participative process amongst a group of equals, with many taking part. “Fast tempos, quick music and a lively feel” (3). You will know if you have this dance in your organisation if:

– many are encouraged to take part in ET/SMT “gatherings”
– you are not expected to “know it all” as others will help you out
– you experience the meetings as fun and energising
– there are clear patterns of interaction together with a spirit of co-creation

Contemporary Dance

“Tends to be intricate and physical, and the dancers change levels and directions quickly and seamlessly. Contemporary dance may deal with… images, or emotional extremes. It has a rawness that sets it apart from plot-driven ballets or Broadway jazz.” (4). Executive Team/Senior Management Team meetings with this dance style:

– work a lot with metaphors
– acknowledge and express a full range of emotions
– expect all present to take up different leadership positions regardless of anyone’s position in the formal hierarchy
– are highly dynamic in their meeting formats and subject matter

Military Tattoo

A highly practiced series of music or artistic performances teams in a tightly choreographed and timetabled schedule, usually with a large audience gathered in a ticketed seating area. You will know your ET/SMT meetings resemble a Military Tattoo if:

– your agendas are highly predictable
– everyone knows their place and role in the meetings and all are expected to be perfectly aligned in advance
– you generally have a large number of people who come to observe the meetings, usually in seats set apart from ET & SMT members
– the sessions often involve a series of increasingly attractive but complicated power-point slides presented with key points preceded with drum-rolls and successes with trumpets.

We at Metalogue love dance – we help executive teams improve their technique or change their dance style. So…which dance do you recognise in your own organisation?

References

1. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pasodoble
2. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Viennese_waltz
3. https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Scottish_country_dance
4. Helen Hayes, Youth Dance Ensemble director, Joy of Motion Dance Center, Washington, DC, quoted at:
https://www.dancestudiolife.com/how-do-you-define-contemporary-dance/

The gift is the present

We both attended a recent meeting which started with this exchange…

John:  “Can we spend some time preparing our plan for the future?”

Pam:  “I think we spend too much time thinking about the future and the past – can we pay more attention to what’s going on for us right now?”

This conversation reminded us that we are often willfully or unconsciously not fully present when preparing for the future. Inherent in assumptions of working with strategy is that strategy is “all about the future”. We are often invited to hold or facilitate “blue-sky brain-storming” or to help prepare scenarios for “The [insert organisation name] 2025 Vision”. John and Pam’s exchange got us thinking that rather than just accept the notion that we need to separate the future from the past and present, perhaps we needed to consider a more helpful way of working on strategy.

Well, there are certainly benefits of an exclusively future focused approach in developing strategy which can include…

– lots of energy and excitement from the executive team about future possibilities

– we start to feel creative, powerful and omnipotent when unencumbered from the heavy responsibilities of day to day delivery, thus forgetting that we exist in an emerging present (George Santayana) and we can participate in the future but not change it (David Lewis).

– it breaks assumptions about what’s possible by unhooking us from the assumptions restricting our thinking. Note: Dan Gilbert challenges our ability to do this by arguing that we under-estimate our change in interests, views and preferences because we often find it difficult to imagine a future for ourselves that is different.

However, the downside of the full future focus is that…

– we end up only paying attention to data signals from users, customers and the market which confirm our intended future (termed confirmation bias by Wason) and therefore miss opportunities and threats.

– we ignore the organizational myths and rituals from the past which could shape or frame the perception of future possibilities – e.g. “we tried to offer services ten years ago and it nearly killed us”.

– we pay insufficient attention to the possibilities inherent in what we are currently doing. It could be a current product, service or capability which could become the revenue stream of tomorrow. An example of this is how Amazon Web Services was transformed from being a back office enabling function supporting the Amazon retailing business to a significant and fast-growing business stream in its own right.

Hallucinations not Visions

This encouragement to separating ourselves from the murky, complex nature of our present realities often ends in strategies being described post-hoc as resulting from hallucinations, not visions. The gap between what middle managers in organisations experience in the present and the idealized nature of the vision is often too great to be credible, increasing the likelihood of cynical conversations at the water-cooler.

William Gibson’s suggestion that “the future is already here — it’s just not very evenly distributed” suggests that we need to pay far more attention to opportunities and signals in the present, from both within and outside the organization.

Changing our focus to the present

Well, there are strategy processes that do indeed enable participants to both stay present and build a compelling and connected future. An example of such a process is Future Search (Weisbord & Janoff), which helps organization participants build a compelling future by paying sufficient attention to the opportunities in the present. It encourages participants to look at common ground to build a compelling organisation future. However, even if we don’t choose one of these approaches to building our strategy, we can all question whether we really are present enough when preparing for the future.

Take this gift I give you – it is the present

(from poem by Ian MacMillan)

The gift is the present

Dev Mookherjee & Sarah Beart

Bibliography

Gibson, W. (1999) “The Science in Science Fiction” on Talk of the Nation, NPR (30 November 1999, Timecode 11:55)

Gilbert, D. (2014) “The Psychology of your Future Self”, TED talk at TED2014, https://www.ted.com/talks/dan_gilbert_you_are_always_changing?language=en

Lewin, K. (1943). Defining the “Field at a Given Time.” Psychological Review, 50, 292–310

Lewis, D. (1976) “The Paradoxes of Time Travel.” American Philosophical Quarterly, 13:145-52.

Macmillan, I. Extract from a poem read on a BBC Radio 3 programme but not otherwise published. Permission provided by author to use the quote in this blog.

Santayana, G. (1942). The Philosophy of Santayana, Modern Library, Vol 224

Wason, Peter C. (1960), “On the failure to eliminate hypotheses in a conceptual task”, Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology, Psychology Press, 12 (3): 129–40, doi:10.1080/17470216008416717, ISSN 1747-0226

Weisbord, M. & S. Janoff (2010). Future Search: Getting the Whole System in the Room for Vision, Commitment and Action. San Francisco: Berrett Kohler.

Organisation re-design traps

Organisation re-design bear traps

By Dev Mookherjee and Sarah Beart

Many of us have experienced organisation re-design processes that have destroyed trust and value in the organisations in which we work. (Some of us have even been responsible for them). When things go wrong, it’s often down to misguided assumptions about what’s needed, usually based on good intentions and responding to organisational pressures. Letting off steam over the holidays, we listed some of the most-tempting bear traps for the organisation designer. Warning: this post contains irony!

1. Ensure no link to strategy. You don’t really understand what the strategy means anyway, and checking for understanding may well expose your ignorance.

‎2. Ask the HR Director to come up with the new structure over the weekend, they will come up with a new organigram, or better still ‎outsource the re-design process to a consultancy – they have tried and tested templates to do “this sort of thing”. The best thing about this approach is that you could blame them if the re-structuring gets too painful and this allows you to remain “off the hook”.

‎3. Do early planning in secret, announce the high-level plan and then maintain radio silence (while all your good people look for other jobs). You don’t want to make any promises you can’t keep. If you involved people you would be forced to take on board their ideas and that’s not a good idea as you’ve made your mind up already. This is a great tip if you are an avid practitioner and advocate of “mushroom management”.

4. Build your new structure around the people you like, and use the opportunity of the restructure to get rid of the “dead wood” you were never able to give difficult feedback to. They will never know that you thought they weren’t any good at the job anyway.

5. Assume that the structure you choose will act as a kind of magic wand to disappear all the unhelpful behaviour and perverse incentives you now have. Act surprised when these things resurface in the new set up.

‎6. Come up with only one structural option. No time to waste and you know what you need to do anyway. You could copy the design that your closest competitor has – after all it works for them. Or go back to a previous design which, with the benefit of hindsight, looks better than what you have now.

7. ‎Rush the re-design. After all, you don’t want people to be worried for too long and we all know that “time is money”.

8. Keep the re-design disconnected from culture and feelings – you don’t want any of that soft stuff creeping in to your nice tidy organigram. You can always mop up later with some kind of specialist therapy.

9. Run some organisation re-design workshops to consult the workforce, and smile broadly at people who come up with ideas that suit your secret plans, frown at those whose ideas contradict it. They’ll all soon get the message.

10. Invent a lot of jargon, acronyms and strange job titles to bandy about. It will help you stay on top of the conversations.

Recognise any of these or have others to add? Drop us a line at: devmookherjee@metalogue.co.uk or sarahbeart@metalogue.co.uk.

Avoiding organisation design traps

Successfully avoiding bear traps on your organisation re-design journey

So…you think you need to re-structure? Really?

Organisation design

Re-structuring – the organisation defibrillator

We are often asked whether we could support a company re-design. The conversation usually starts something like this…”We have decided to re-structure our organisation and would like some help on how to do this well – can you help us”? We then respond… “What is the question you are trying to answer, and what makes you think re-structuring is the right answer to your question”?

At this point some clients are bemused (or irritated) that we seem to challenge what they see as an obvious need. Others seem relieved and intrigued by the possibility of having a range of choices available to them.

Restructuring: the design option of last resort

Our view is that re-structuring should be seen as the option of last resort – the one you turn to when others won’t solve your problem.

Why do we say this? Well, large scale re-structuring is often disruptive to the people in the business, takes time (research suggests most take over a year to bed in) and can have a negative impact on clients during the transition. A client described the experience of re-structuring as “fixing a running car”.

We are not though saying that re-structures are never appropriate, indeed we make a living out of supporting them, just that they should not be initiated without understanding of their impact and the other organisation design choices available.

Client experience of an alternative design option

A recent client has had a chronic issue around the fact that accountability for decisions was so opaque and freedom for managers so great that this resulted in duplication of activities and confusion for clients as they received different offers from different departments in the same organisation. Rather than restructuring, the initial preferred option, they were able to make significant improvements by clarifying decision rights on critical decisions. In the process they got under the skin of their culture to understand and address their aversion to consistency and clarity.

When are re-structures helpful?

There are however a number of circumstances where re-structures (not structural tweaks) seem to be helpful and appropriate…

1. when you have tried addressing the other design policy areas on Jay Galbraith’s Star Model (people, process, rewards) and the results have come up short;

2. when the scale of the challenge is big and urgent and perhaps mandated due to an acquisition or divestment;

3. when you have clear evidence that structure is the critical barrier to delivering your strategy;

4. if you believe the organisation needs the equivalent of an electrical jolt to the heart to re-pattern its activity.

If you are still clear that re-structuring in the right answer given the above then hang on to the moving vehicle or grab the defibrillator and stand clear…