Designing an organisation that works for the people in it

Mar 28th

How to judge an organisation design: Part 3

“How do you think people are going to take to the new design? How can we show the benefits to them?”

You have been understanding, testing, probing the org design to see if it stacks up, but you will also have been getting to grips with the people dimensions too. First thoughts may have been about the simple but difficult issues that are going to consume time in the future like filling new roles, redeployment, selection processes, the pipeline of talent, redundancies, the programme of change and how it will be managed.

But organisation design is about performance. You should want to know how this new design is going to create better jobs, with more motivated people, in a more productive culture.  Of course, people related benefits may have been drivers or principles behind the redesign which you have discussed already but there is one aspect which you might want to dig into more – does the design create ‘space to lead’?

Creating Space to Lead

Space to Lead is a lens through which to look at organisations which focuses on a number of interconnected aspects: are accountabilities clear? Are day to day decisions taken at the right place in the organisation i.e. close to the customer and the action or are they sucked up by senior roles? Are leadership and managerial roles of a scale and with the headroom and elbowroom to deliver successful performance? Is the organisation hierarchy based on clear value- added, where senior roles only make decisions which their subordinates cannot? How does the organisation drive empowerment and meaningful jobs?

One of the ways into this is to have the conversation about ‘layers and spans’? Are there corporate principles of maximum layers and desirable spans of control and where did these come from? If they are correct and the design has applied them it should create some stretch but there should also be positive energy about the expected ‘space to lead’ outcomes.

If the organisation doesn’t have a framework for vertical organisation design (crudely speaking, layers and spans) then your testing and shaping of the vertical org design from the people angle has the potential to make a significant difference.  There is a science behind Space to Lead which you might want to understand but without the methodology you can still ask the right questions.

See Adam Pearce’s big recent article on Space to Lead:

Organisational layers

First of all how many layers of hierarchy does this org design show? And then how many to the top of the whole organisation? Bear in mind that the largest international corporations may have an optimal structure of no more than 8 layers from front line to CEO.

If you think there are too many layers, where do you think the decision- making and accountabilities look confused or cramped? If it’s within the design of your area does that square with anything you have concluded about issues or weaknesses in the design? From the front line going up through the hierarchy can you get your client to articulate the value added of each role and show clearly why that role exists?


What about the spans of control? Actually that’s not a good term – hierarchy should be about value added and control is only a small contributor to that, so let’s use ‘leadership span’ from now on. If you see any spans less than 4 you should probe. Why such a small set of subordinates? Could the role be combined with another? What’s the risk that the role-holder will end up filling their time by micro-managing their little team? What about spans of more than 10 – where are these? If you’ve got front line teams of 10 or more that’s not unusual but if you have senior managers with 10 subordinates you have to ask how that will work and how those subordinates get the full value added from their manager. There are at least 10 factors that help to judge the appropriate leadership span.

If you have followed Parts 1 -3 you will have made sense of an organisation design in its own terms and against what it is trying to achieve, and then against some of the key pillars of the org design toolkit. I hope this exploration will have sparked some useful insights…


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