Five Important Trends in Organization Design

Recently I participated in a panel discussion with members of the Organization Design Forum’s Advisory Group of which I’m a member. Participating in this discussion were Stu Winby (President, Sapience Consulting), Sue Mohrman (Senior Research Scientist at the Center for Effective Organizations, University of Southern California), Craig McGee (President, Solutions Consulting), Terri Hill (President of Nationwide Growth Solutions), and Naomi Stanford (Author, Teacher, and Consultant to the UK Government). These panel discussions which occur several times a year are always a treat for me because I get to interact with colleagues whom I deeply respect and I always learn something new. Here are my take-aways from our most recent call:

First Trend: Involve the organization’s ecosystem in the design process

Involving the ecosystem means including people from within and outside the organization in the design process. Design succeeds because of collaboration. If you want your organization design process to succeed, it is important to involve those who will be impacted by the design in the design process. Involvement early and often throughout the design process builds support for the design within and outside the organization. It builds the social capital that ensures the design’s success.

Second Trend: Rather than design around specific roles or jobs, design the organization around key deliberations or information flows

Look at how the information needs to flow in your organization. Where do the key deliberations occur? Does technology help or hinder information flow? How do roles need to be structured in light of these information flows? What structures and supports are necessary so that the right information is available at the right time and to the right people? Finally, who needs to be involved in these deliberations and information flows and what are their roles and responsibilities in relation to the decision-making process?

Third Trend: Changes in technology change the way work is done

Changes in technology are frequently disruptive to people in their current jobs. Technology changes the information people receive, their working relationships, and in some cases their identity. You ignore these disruptions at your own peril. In most organizations, technology changes lead while changes to the social system follow. When introducing new technology, it is important to understand the impact on individuals and whether their work becomes more or less meaningful as a result of the new technology.

Fourth Trend: Customer experience is driving organizational change

The need to provide superior customer experiences drives many organization design efforts. This customer driven outside-in approach is very different than the efficiency driven inside-out approach that was prevalent in the past. The customer experience driven approach often involves changes in physical structure and is frequently driven by advertising and marketing professionals. Customers today have more access to information and as result are more informed than in years past. This means that organizations must be prepared to interact with and respond to a more sophisticated consumer. More than ever, organizational design requires a collaborative experience, not just between organizational members and their customers but with members of allied professions such as marketing and advertising.

Fifth Trend: Organization design is an iterative process

It’s rare that you can sit down in one session and design an organization. Successful organizational design requires dealing with design issues at increasing levels of depth over time. It may start with understanding and subsequently redesigning the customer experience. This may then lead to changes in technology or changes in the physical layout of the workplace, which may lead to changes in the way information flows and the deliberations necessary to provide an excellent customer experience. The days when you could design an organization just by laying out a new structure on a piece of paper are long gone. Successful organizational design requires dealing with the polarity of depth and speed. Iterative design requires depth while market urgencies require speed. This can be accomplished through rapid prototyping, where the emphasis is on putting a new organizational arrangement in place even though it’s not perfect and then learning from that experience and continually making adjustments. Since all organization designs are flawed, this learning process is essential.


Again, let me say thanks to my fellow panel members for their contributions. The full discussion is available for viewing here and the chat box transcript of the discussion can be read here. Better yet, join us at our upcoming conference in Santa Fe, New Mexico.

Posted in Organization Design.