Reality testing an organisation design

Mar 14th

How to judge an organisation design: Part 2

“I can see what you are trying to achieve with the organisation design.  I’ve got some questions to kick the tires on it a bit harder. Can we find time to talk?”

You probably knew that ‘organisation’ as a relatively modern word first meant the structure of a living being, a whole with interdependent parts. But did you know that ‘organisation’, ‘energy’, ‘work’ all come from the same root concept, over 4000 years ago, meaning ‘work’, ‘to do’, ‘be effective’? The organic metaphor for organisation is built on the idea of ‘work for a purpose’.

If the rationale for an organisation redesign looks good at the highest level, you can add value to the design by probing or testing how it works, how effective it will be:

  1. Look under the bonnet of the operating model. What are the key processes of the business in this area and what are the key decisions that have to be made? Who makes those decisions, and with what support?

Ask if any work has been done on responsibility charting (RAPID or RACI or similar) for those key decisions. Don’t expect an enthusiastic reaction – responsibility charting can be one of those tick box exercises that takes up time and adds no value, but only if done poorly.  Use whatever responsibility framework you are familiar with or which is your organisation’s standard, get the questions clear in your head and use them to guide an exploratory conversation.  Take notes, tidy it up and reflect it back – as a responsibility table or a flow chart – and see how the subsequent dialogue teases out where accountabilities and interfaces aren’t yet clear.

You can be sure that fudge now is likely to mean a sticky mess later.

  1. Explore the options and issues that came up. Were there some significant options worked through in the design process and how did they end up? What about the design issues that were encountered and resolved? Ask about the biggest dilemmas, what the options, trade-offs and choices were and how they were overcome.

What you want to understand is how fully have the issues been resolved or if have they been papered over or kicked down the road.

This is also a way of testing the design principles – if the issue isn’t described to you in terms of the principles and you can’t see how an active trade-off decision has been made, then you need to know what actual principles have been called into play.  If there is something else driving the big organisation decisions other than the clear tidy rationale that you have established for the design, you need to know it!

If the issues have been dodged you need to understand why and be prepared for when they resurface.

  1. Use your common sense. How well will this structure cope with major changes in demand? Or supply of key goods and services? Talking though a couple of scenarios will give you an idea how agile the design can be, how it can shift its balance.

 Look at the ‘weight’ of the top line roles – measured by resources, or budget, or nature of decisions. Do these look out of whack? Have you got, say, one role that manages 75% of the people and budget and 6 others that need to interface with it to succeed?  How is that going to work? Where is the power and is it balanced?

If the organisation design is unbalanced, maintaining stability and moving swiftly will create strains that ultimately affect performance.

If you have got this far your focus has been very much on the design and engineering of the organisation – as a machine. But structures need people…so Part 3 gives you some key threads to follow.




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