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.

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

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…