In a turbulent and changeable world, organisations need to adapt how they organise if they are to be healthy and successful. Organisation design has therefore become an increasingly critical activity.
The design process is often difficult and challenging for those leading it and those affected by the outcomes. In many cases, leaders, employees, or both, are left disappointed because their hopes and aspirations are not realised.
This research report explores the practical realities and challenges of organisation design. Its underlying aim is to understand how to develop a new design and transition into new ways of working. Our intention has been to develop practical insights grounded in the experience of those who lead or support these kind of change efforts.
We started the research at the beginning of 2020, in the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic. We interviewed twenty-five leaders and change agents about their experience of either leading or facilitating a redesign of an organisation. This was supplemented by inquiry into, and reflection on, our organisation design work with our clients, including a two-day inquiry in January 2020, and a review of concepts, frameworks and theories. We engaged both European and UK-based private sector organisations and UK-based public sector organisations and charities. A number of the private sector organisations, whilst headquartered in Europe, have global operations. Section 9 provides further detail about the range of sectors and types of roles of those interviewed.
While organisation design is increasingly iterative, most people thought about design in key phases: set-up and planning, the process of designing, and implementation and transition. They also highlighted the importance of the connections between these phases.
We have therefore chosen to organise this report into four sections. The first focusses on the context for organisation design and how design processes usually start. In the second, we explore the design process itself and the tensions and trade-offs that surface; while the third highlights the risks and pitfalls involved in implementation and transition. Finally, the last section is concerned with the trials and tribulations that come with taking a participative approach to designing. This includes our recommendations for leaders and practitioners.