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Organization design blog- March 2017

Simplifying design

02/14/17  1:37 AM 

A couple of years ago I wrote a blog on the Complexity of Simplicity so I wondered if I'd be repeating myself if I wrote again about simplicity. But having just re-read it I'm taking a different tack this time - no nugatory work involved.

Nugatory means something of no value or importance. Look around your organisation and see if there is nugatory work going on. It can be difficult to spot – particularly if it's part of what 'we do around here' but it's the type of thing that can slow down effectiveness. When I ask, 'What work needn't be done? 'when I'm facilitating organization design workshops people can generally provide a list of stuff like producing unread reports, or multiple re-drafting of documents, or clunky business processes or duplicative functions. Scott Adams, Dilbert cartoon strip, provides multiple fun/familiar examples. I typed 'nugatory work' into the search box on his website and got a message 'Notice: Too many results returned for your search. Displaying the first 1000 most relevant results'.

I don't remember if the reminder of the Agile Manifesto, principle that 'Simplicity - the art of maximizing the amount of work not done - is essential' came up in relation to nugatory work this week but they are connected. Maximising the amount of work not done means not doing nugatory work. It also means not doing work that doesn't fall into the nugatory bucket but still doesn't need to be done.

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Designing resilience

02/06/17  8:01 AM 

I've just been listening to a talk by Martin Reeves on building 'resilient businesses that flourish in the face of change' that speaks to 6 principles - prudence, adaptation, embeddedness, modularity, redundancy, diversity - of organizational sustainability based in biological principles. Someone sent it to me last week saying, 'While the subject is not new, the topic is presented in a really cogent, insightful and engaging way'.

It was a timely send, because next week I'm facilitating a conversational 3-hour session on 'change resilience' and am getting materials together to do that. Originally, I was thinking about three segments: organisational resilience, team resilience, personal resilience. These are three aspects of resilience touched on in a booklet 'Engagement, Resilience, and Performance' which I was given this week. (Thanks Paul). It's a free resource - fourth down in the books list on the website.

Now I'm thinking of including a fourth segment on cultural resilience which is less often discussed 'Cultural resilience considers how cultural background (i.e.culture, cultural values, language, customs, norms) helps individuals and communities overcome adversity. The notion of cultural resilience suggests that individuals and communities can deal with and overcome adversity not just based on individual characteristics alone, but also from the support of larger sociocultural factors.'

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Designing for a growth mindset

01/31/17  2:35 AM 

I'm working periodically with a small team of people in what we loosely call a learning set – basically they set a topic, I get some discussion ideas together on it and then we spend a couple of hours together exploring it and reflecting on its organisational design implications: they've set 'the growth mindset' for our next meeting.

The way I tackle this type of challenge is to just jot down a bunch of things that spring to mind on it. In this case, I've got Carol Dweck, improv, Kagan/Lacey, Marilee Adams, play, laughter, learning organisation: it's a process a bit like opening the fridge and seeing what's in it that you can concoct a delicious meal from.

So now I'm looking at the list of discussion ingredients. Hmm – is there a delicious meal equivalent here, or will I have to go and forage for other things? I'll start with what I've got and see what happens.

The phrase 'growth mindset' was coined by psychologist Carol Dweck, in her book Mindset: Changing The Way You think To Fulfil Your Potential, first published in 2008 and just out (January 2017) in a revised edition.

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Co-located or dispersed teams?

01/24/17  1:26 AM 

There were conversations going on this week about the merits of having dispersed versus co-located team members. We are trying to decide whether to co-locate people. It's a fraught and complex issue not least because it could mean requiring people to move. It also means determining criteria for co-location, for example:

  • Is it to improve the outcomes of working on a specific project? If so, what happens when this is closed? (And how do we know we couldn't get the same outcomes from a dispersed team?)
  • Is it to encourage multi-disciplinary working? If so, how do know what multi-disciplinary mix to co-locate in a continually changing work context?
  • Is it to cluster functional or operational team members together (perhaps creating silos)? If so how will we know that this type of co-location is 'better' than multi-disciplinary?
  • Is it to indicate that we don't approve of remote/dispersed/virtual working? If so how will we explain that as many organizations are now shifting towards virtual working? (Also, does requirement to be on a specific site challenge attracting and retaining people?)
As in many conversations, views are based on emotion, opinion and personal preference with not too much (any?) discussion about actual evidence of the merits of one over the other. I started to look around for empirical research on this topic.

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The relationship between organization development, change management and organization design

01/16/17  4:28 PM 

Chapter 1 of the book I'm revising to be a third edition discussed 'what is organization design?' Ploughing on with writing chapter 2 and helped by the comments to my blog last week on Change Management or Organization Development (many thanks to those who commented) has reinforced my view that the three disciplines organization development (ODV), change management (CM) and organization design (ODS) are neither mutually exclusive, nor collectively exhaustive in their approach to organizational design, change and development. They are not a good example of the MECE principle.

However, to leave practitioners adrift in the reality of the messy confusion of the three is not particularly helpful. So, I've now reached the point of discussing the nature of the relationship between them aiming to steer a tricky course between over-simplification and what a colleague dismissed as 'existentialism'. (I think I'd strayed into either jargon or academic theorizing in the meeting where he called that out).

To simplify it a bit, consider a Venn diagram with three sets: ODV, CM, ODS. They intersect as follows: CM + ODV, ODV + ODS, ODS + CM, ODS + CM + ODV (See graphic).

This representation suggests that there is both overlap and distinction in elements of each of the sets. This makes it easier to talk about the three fields from numerous different angles e.g. discussing which theories intersect, where the same tool can be used by all three sets, what is only in one set. I can imagine a three-way discussion with a 'true believer' representing each one of the three sets debating with the two other 'true believers' on what belongs – theories, tools, approaches - in one set over another and where the common ground amongst the three sets is.

Thus, the Venn diagram representation both clarifies the scope of the three fields and brings some risks that commenters on the blog bring up (I've edited some of them a bit – I hope that's ok).

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Change management or organization development

01/09/17  4:33 PM 

Sparked by a conversation this week on change managers v organisation development practitioners, and fanned into flames by my starting to write something on this topic for the revised edition of my book (see my Ship of Theseus blog) I thought I'd rough out my thinking here and seek feedback from readers.

What seems have happened is that 'change management' is now the territory of tech and project people, while 'organisation development' is getting further linked to behavioural sciences, neuro-stuff and the field of individual and group dynamics.

This view has some evidence. Take a look at www.indeed.co.uk a jobs vacancy site. Vacancies related to 'change management' are almost all in the tech and project management space. Here's a fairly typical one that mentions both projects and IT:

  • Purchasing are in the process of a significant transformation throughout the function on a global basis, and this transformation requires strong change management across several key projects. As the Change Coordinator, you'll be responsible for planning and managing business change projects into key Purchasing business groups, ensuring process and IT projects land successfully in the business.

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    Naomi Stanford
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