The organisation’s Form Follows Function

When a senior executive becomes aware that their company is underperforming or not meeting expectations, they frequently initiate a redesign process and assign a small team to explore ways to improve the organisation. the design team may be inclined to simply make changes to the organisational charts, introduce new positions to address perceived deficiencies, and identify potential cost savings and collaborative opportunities.

In our opinion, it is crucial to prioritise clarifying and aligning the design team with the strategy. It is important for them to design based on the choices made regarding the organisation’s purpose and beliefs about its future success. The organisation’s form should align with its function. Therefore, we are constantly interested in gaining insights into people’s understanding of the strategy and evaluating the effectiveness of the organisation’s design in implementing it.

Leaders often have a tendency to be impatient when it comes to discussing strategy and can resist the idea of examining an organisational chart. This could be due to a fear of opening the “Pandora’s box” of strategy or simply because they believe that conversations about the strategy have already taken place countless times and that everyone has a perfectly clear understanding. This impatience is often accompanied by frustration and eye-rolling. However, it is important to realise that clarity is essential, as Michael Frayn’s character in Matchbox Theatre pointed out. When we are clear about numerous things, and when one transparent thing closely resembles another, it becomes challenging to distinguish between them.

Inquiring into the Strategy: What We Find

Frequently, individuals are aware of the main points and the intended result, but they have not considered the methodology or the steps required for its realisation. When commencing a redesign process, it is common for us to conduct interviews with various personnel and stakeholders, posing inquiries that encompass a wide range of topics.

The level of understanding regarding the strategy is often limited to knowing “what” it entails, with little knowledge about the specific methods employed to implement it.

How efficient are you in implementing the strategy? This question often leads to a moment of silence as people may not have had the opportunity to consider whether the current structure truly facilitates their desired outcomes.

In his annual letter to Berkshire Hathaway shareholders in 1992, Warren Buffett famously stated, “It is during times of adversity that the true weaknesses become apparent.” These investigative queries effectively reveal the shortcomings and hidden conflicts within strategic thinking, shedding light on unresolved or unexpressed disagreements about strategy (along with potential failures of past strategies).

In order for any senior team to effectively make decisions regarding organisational design, it is crucial that they possess a comprehensive understanding of a suitable shared strategy. This shared strategy serves as the foundation for making informed decisions about the design. Therefore, participative organisation designs begin by ensuring a solid grasp of the shared strategy among the team.

Embrace Terminology Research – It’s Crucial for Success!

In many cases, groups working on design projects often encounter challenges in understanding each other’s use of certain terms. This creates a need for a shared language that clarifies our goals and the meaning behind various activities. For instance, terms like “commercial,” “compliance,” or “operations” can carry different implications for different parts of an organisation. Rather than resisting the need for discussion, we should embrace it as a natural part of organisational design work. This allows for clarification, the resolution of ambiguities, and the emergence of new ideas. Conversations are valuable and should be given the necessary time and space without reflecting poorly on anyone involved.

This purposeful dialogue assists in developing a unified and comprehensive storyline regarding the reasons behind the redesign, the selection of the specific design, and the anticipated benefits in implementing this strategy.

Strategic implementation necessitates examining the organisation’s design, as it serves as a facilitator for effective strategy execution.

Embracing Necessity: Don’t Fear the Unknown

Effective redesign processes within participative organisations can facilitate the development of a common understanding and sense of direction among senior team members.

By having a clear and shared narrative about the necessity of a redesign and the underlying reasons for the decisions made, you can effectively bring the rest of the organisation on board. This will ensure that you are well-prepared to engage in discussions with the broader organisation.

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