All organizations are perfectly designed... to get the results they get

Organization Design Simplified provides an elegantly simple (but not simplistic) 10,000ft view of organization design and what’s involved in the journey of system-wide organization change.

An organization’s Stories and Structures shape its Patterns (of thinking, behaving, working, relating, etc.), which produce “Consequences” (intended and unintended.)

  • Stories include all our inner and outer conversations, our visions, our dreams, our fears, our metaphors, our beliefs, our values — our stories
  • Structures include our roles, rules, principles, objectives, strategies, our built and social infrastructure, even our language
  • We can think of ‘organization design’ as being defined by its Stories and Structures
  • An organization’s culture (its collective patterns of thinking, behaving, working, etc.) is primarily shaped by its organization design — its Stories and Structures
  • Our Consequences (intended and unintended) are a direct result of our culture — our Patterns

If we want different organizational outcomes (e.g. better product-market fit and faster time to market), it is essential that we change the Organization Design (the Stories and Structures) in ways that shift the Patterns to produce the results we want. While structures may be easier to see and change, focusing on structures alone can be insufficient (or even damaging) in achieving the desired outcomes.

Notice that for the “Sad Face” in the picture, there are no feedback loops from the Unintended Consequences to the Stories and Structures. Without those feedback loops there is no awareness of why unintended consequences occur, and there is no meaningful accountability for them and their causes. 

The point about awareness is an important one — most people are oblivious as to why negative consequences occur. The dominant assumption is that it’s the “leadership’s fault” – your manager, CEO, etc. Few are aware that their patterns of thinking and behavior are largely a result of the organization’s stories and structures. Without awareness and accountability, positive change will be incremental at best. Unfortunately, most of today’s organizations still fall into the “Sad Face” category.

Where to start the change effort?

It depends. Sometimes tweaking the Structures, e.g., the reward system can be a highly leveraged way to shift Patterns of behavior. However, in general, Stories are the best place to start. A compelling new Story does much to minimize the uncertainty and resistance normally associated with structural change.

Wondering how best to approach a significant change effort in your organization? Contact us for an exploratory conversation.

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