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.

As part of our research into the practice of designing organisations, we spoke to leaders and practitioners about their experience and reflections on organisation design projects. Most of them acknowledged that, with the benefit of hindsight, they had not given sufficient attention to how changes would be brought to life.

Underestimating transitions

In every case, we were told that the amount of time and resources that was necessary was underestimated. Looking back, most felt that transitions require a minimum of 12-18 months and that 18-24 months is more realistic, particularly for more complex changes. In practice however all the attention goes on agreeing what the organisation needs to look like in the future, and significantly less attention is directed towards:

• What is being communicated through the process
• How people will transition into new roles, teams and departments.

Culture-creating moments

We discovered that embedded in the design process and subsequent organisational transitions were culture-creating moments. These related to how any changes were done. They included events such as:

1. Who was involved in the design process
2. How design changes were decided
3. How the changes were communicated and the rationale given for them
4. How senior appointments were managed
5. Who was appointed to key roles
6. How exits or redundancies were managed
7. How the new design was launched or went ‘live’
8. The extent to which endings, transitions and beginnings were acknowledged.

In these moments, important symbolic questions are addressed through what actually happens (rather than what is espoused). These include:

• Who will be included and who will be excluded?
• How will power be exercised and decisions made?
• What is actually changing and what is staying the same?
• What will be valued in the future (and what won’t)?

Such moments define or re-define cultural norms and convey the actual values of senior leaders. What happens around these events, therefore, reinforces the core messages of the redesign or undermines them. They influence people’s commitment to the new design, the relationships that form and whether people act in ways that support the aims of the organisation.

Consciously attending to process

The emotional impact of these key moments is significant but is often underestimated or avoided because they surface sensitivities or uncomfortable issues. They are however unavoidable realities of the re-design process and opportunities to model desired norms or values. They need therefore to be engaged with consciously and with sensitivity to ensure that consistent, meaningful and clear messages are communicated. This can be difficult to do when you are steeped in an established culture or in the midst of a complex design process. The risk however is you sleepwalk into reinforcing the very patterns you want to change. In organisation design projects, as well as supporting the design process, we help everyone involved to attend to transitions and the symbolic, emotional and cultural dynamics of the process.

If you would like to read our research report, you can download it here:

https://metalogue.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2020/12/Metalogue_Designing_Organisations_Report-2020.pdf

Throughout 2020, we conducted an action research project with our clients into the practice of designing organisations. One observation we made is that most organisations are in a constant process of redesigning themselves as they adapt to ever-increasing levels of uncertainty and complexity. Because of this, organisations are becoming more fluid and structures more transitory. As 2020 unfolded, we observed and heard how the pandemic is amplifying and accelerating this process.

In many organisations, multiple design projects are happening simultaneously at different levels. For instance, we are working with a large and complex University that is changing its structures and working practices across the whole system whilst at the same time individual faculties and schools within them are reorganising how they operate. In many cases, we heard how the tail end of one design project overlaps with the start of the next. For employees this can leave them feeling in permanent transition and struggling to make sense of how to make decisions or get things done. This stirs up anxieties and insecurities.

These observations led us to conclude that organisation design is increasingly an ongoing and iterative process. We need therefore to shift our thinking away from creating ‘the design’ – which suggests the construction of a static, enduring entity – towards ‘designing’ as a critical ongoing practice in organisations.

Our research indicates that designing requires:

> Keeping the future in mind whilst drawing on past experiences to understand what will work in a given culture,

> Accepting that designing is a messy and unfolding process and not a neat linear one,

> Focusing on ‘good enough’ design decisions that are able to adapt and flex with feedback,

> Creating ownership by involving people to develop ideas and make decisions,

> Encouraging the questioning of assumptions and creating space to explore design options and possibilities, and

> Taking transitions seriously and undertaking realistic assessments of support people will require to let go of the past, learn new skills, and take up new roles.

To make this shift, we argue that organisations need to possess the expertise and capability to design and redesign themselves, and leaders at all levels need to see designing as a core part of their role.

If you want to read more about our research, you can download our report “Whose design is it anyway?” at:

https://metalogue.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2020/12/Metalogue_Designing_Organisations_Report-2020.pdf

It is by no means business as usual for anyone during this crisis period. While the impact varies 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.

Organisations too are re-thinking what they do, and how they do it- in many cases coming right back to fundamental questions of meaning and purpose. Our engineering clients are engaging with the challenges of building ventilators and producing PPE. Our clients in tourism have been concerned with getting people home safely- and playing their part in keeping the supply chain going for vital things such as food & medicine.

Like many consultancies we have been asked to find innovative ways of continuing essential assignments. Indeed people have been surprised at how much you can still get done in the virtual space once you get over the new rules of engagement.  Sarah Beart’s blog on virtual working  is well worth reading on these.

We have noticed that many organisations are needing to re-evaluate and adapt their structures or ways of working to adapt to the new reality. The broad principles we follow continue to apply,  however some things need to be emphasised more than ever.

With that in mind, our (slightly revisited) 10 top tips for organisation design are…

1.  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. At this time of heightened uncertainty the importance of making sense together is even more crucial. We’ve had many a light bulb moment in workshops as the implications of a strategy memo suddenly become much clearer- this will be even more the case at the moment.

2. Create a small and representative design team to work on this and give them a clear remit. With the right facilitation support they will design for the strategy & for the future- and most importantly feel ownership of the new design.

3. Pay even more attention than usual to communication. We’ve seen great examples of very open communication by CEOs in the last 6 weeks- very conscious that distrust and paranoia thrive in a vacuum. The same also applies to organisation design work: even more attention than usual needs to be paid to communicating on the process and the decisions that are being taken to those who are not part of the design team.

4. Build a real warts and all picture of what is and isn’t working about the current structure. And share that picture (with the warts) as you start the re-design work so you have enough shared context from which to work.

5. Trust that a good design process (like ours) will get you to a good outcome for your organisation– even though no one knows at the outset what that outcome will be. As we said to a workshop participant recently “We haven’t failed yet”.

6. Beware of the sketch someone (the CEO/ an expert consultant) has drawn up on the back of an envelope and which is “the answer”. It might not be a bad idea- but it won’t have the right level of ownership in the organisation to allow for a successful implementation

7. Be pacey – but don’t rush it. This 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.

8. Be creative. In the last few weeks face to face workshops have gone virtual- and clients have been positively surprised at the quality of work that they have been able to do.

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

10. Plan for transition support. Individuals will end up in new roles needing to do all the “traditional” management stuff (set new KPIs, implement new governance processes, create new leadership teams etc) AND in all likelihood with individuals in their teams requiring significant emotional support. At the best of times it will typically takes 6 months to individuals to be fully up & running in a new structure. It might take longer this time, and not providing appropriate support runs the risk of not realising the benefits of your re-design.

We hope these tips and pointers are helpful. What would you add from your own experience?

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


In recent years, I’ve noticed that enquiries for team development and coaching, invariably start with the statement: “we (or they) need to be a high performing team.” On face value, this strikes me as a reasonable request. However, I’ve learnt that this statement covers a whole range of ills, dysfunctionalities and possibilities. It gets used as a proxy for ‘help us sort out our problems…without risking exploring what these might be’.

In truth, there are no off-the-shelf answers to what constitutes high performance for a leadership team. Every team needs to work it out for themselves. However, we believe that there are important questions that a leadership team needs to ask itself which can act as a starting point of a conversation or development process.

Below are ten questions we think it is important for every leadership team to ask itself:

1. When are you a team and when are you not?

Research on teams argues that they are only effective when people need to work together to complete a task or achieve a goal. Many years ago, colleagues of ours Bill Critchley and David Casey wrote a paper titled: ‘Second Thoughts on Teambuilding’. In it they questioned, the implicit assumption that many leadership teams have that they are a team. In practice, they argued that for much of the time, leadership teams are not a team and do not need to be. At others times, such as when they need to formulate and execute strategy, they do need to be a team.

So, the first question to ask yourselves, is when do we need to be a team and when are we not a team?

2. Are you organised for success?

It’s not uncommon to find leadership teams of between 12 – 15 members or more. Whilst hard rules do not apply, this is usually a clear indicator that the team has a problem with its design. It’s too large!

An effective leadership team includes only those roles necessary to perform its work, and no more (West, 2012). The team also needs to (i) have the necessary authority for executing or running the service or operation for which it is accountable; and (ii) be rewarded and recognised for working as a team.

Does the organisation structure and design support and enable you to be effective?

3. Do you believe in what you need to achieve?

Most models of teams emphasise the importance of teams having a meaningful purpose or direction, shared commitment and specific goals (e.g. Katzenbach and Smith, 1993). In my experience, there is both a rational and emotional side to effective teams. The team has to exercise thoughtful strategic judgement around what they need to and can achieve. However, they also need to care about, believe in and be committed to their aims.

4. Do you have the support of your stakeholders?

All teams exist within a wider socio-political context. The success of senior teams invariably requires legitimacy and political support from individuals and groups outside of the team. For an executive team of a large public or private sector organisation, this might include: the board, ‘the public at large’, regulatory bodies, shareholders, trade unions, the workforce, the senior management, etc. The recent controversies around UBER demonstrate how success is not simply defined in terms of growth and financial performance.

5. Do you have effective and authorised leadership?

Questions of power and authority often lurk beneath the surface in teams, particularly senior ones which mainly include confident individuals with a high need for power. How the leader enacts their authority and engages with the team influences the extent to which the team feels accountable and responsible for its performance. Equally, the leader needs to be authorised, and not resisted, by the team if he or she is to be able to lead the team.

6. Is the climate of the team one of openness, respect and trust?

The quality of communication and interaction within a team is fundamentally related to the level of trust and mutual respect that exists within the team. Trust is in essence the willingness of individuals to be vulnerable with each other (Lencioni, 2005). Generally speaking, the higher the trust in a team the clearer individuals communicate, the more individuals are willing to listen, to challenge each other and to share their ideas, feelings and doubts. High trust environments are characterised by disagreement, the expression of emotion, lively debate, appreciation and humour. When I encounter a team that feels dry and unemotional, more often than not, the team is suffering from an absence of trust. Individuals are holding back from bring their full selves to their work and protecting themselves by suppressing what they really think or feel.

Put simply, do you trust each other?

7. Do you execute critical judgement for key decisions?

The work of leadership teams often centres around decision making both operational and strategic. The research on ‘group think’ and group decision making highlights the importance of teams being willing to question their assumptions, challenge their conclusions and assess the risks of their decisions. Often teams that have enjoyed success (i.e. growth, external recognition etc.) start to believe their own press and lose their critical perspective and moral compass. The stories of Enron, Lehman Brothers and RBS are examples of where the hubris of the executive leadership contributed to the collapse or decline of the organisation.

8. Are you learning and developing as a team?

A differentiator between high and low performing teams is the capacity of the team to reflect on how it goes about its work and its group process. Teams are more effective and innovative when they regularly reflect upon their objectives, strategies, processes and dynamics and make changes accordingly (West, 2012). This capacity is becoming increasingly important given the dynamic and turbulent nature of organisational environments.

How often do you take time as a team to reflect on how you are working together? Do you take time to give each other feedback? When problems arise does the team have a culture of inquiry or defensiveness and blame?

9. Is it healthy and satisfying to be a member of the team?

The longer-term success of a leadership team needs to encompass the health and psychological needs of its members. Sustained anxiety and stress, excessive work hours and a blind and obsessive focus on results leads to burnout, health problems and resignations. Do you feel supported by your peers? Would you describe your team environment as healthy and confident? Is there an invigorating, positive and vibrant team climate?

10. Do you work together to enable the organisation to achieve its aims?

Leadership teams exist to enable a work system to achieve its aims. The ultimate measure therefore of a leadership team’s effectiveness is whether collectively the team works together to develop the organisation’s capacity to be successful in both the short and long term. This requires a balancing of the achievement of operational and strategic goals. How do you balance short term results with longer term development and change of the organisation? How do gather feedback on your impact?

Finally, I would add that truly effective and high performing teams are not commonplace. They are hard to develop and sustain. Don’t let perfect be the enemy of good! If you have more ticks than crosses to these questions then recognise and acknowledge what you are doing well. If you have mainly crosses, then now might be time to start a conversation about how you work together.

References

Lencioni, P. (2005). The five dysfunctions of a team.

Katzenbach, J. R., & Smith, D. K. (1993). The wisdom of teams: Creating the
high-performance organization.

West, M.A. (2012). Effective Team Work: Practical Lessons from Organisational Research.