What is Organizational Design anyway?
When my mother asked me this question last week, it occurred to me that the term might need a bit of unpacking. Organizational design was first developed in the 1960’s and has since gained stature as a way of understanding and helping organizations see themselves more clearly. The work has proven to be quite effective, which is why many business schools now offer degrees in organizational design. The best definition I have found is from The Organization Design Forum -
“Organizational Design is a systematic approach that configures and aligns structures, processes, culture, leadership, people practices and metrics to enable organizations to achieve missions and strategies.”
I describe it from a more visual perspective.
Imagine your organization - be it a business, non-profit, government agency, foundation, neighborhood association, school or church. Picture it as a tall healthy tree. It has a wide canopy of leaves, flowers and fruit which represent your products, programs and services. It has a sturdy trunk and branches that represent your infrastructure such as finance, human resources, and marketing. And it has a root structure that grounds the tree and provides access to the nutrients it needs to live.
While organizational design encompasses the entire tree, I start with the five root elements: systems and culture, leadership development, facilitation, teambuilding, and strategic planning. And like the roots of a tree, these elements are below the surface, difficult to measure, and often ignored until there is a problem. But by paying more attention to these root elements, one can achieve clarity and alignment of purpose, vision, direction, roles and responsibilities and communication so an organization can move forward in a productive way and measure progress.
Here is an example of how organizational design was utilized to improve the health and productivity of one community based organization:
The Japanese Community Youth Council (JCYC), a 40-year old San Francisco organization, had doubled in size to nearly 200 people, raising concerns that it might be losing touch with its founding principles. Working first with the board and then with staff we developed an organizational values statement. Then I met with each of the ten programs to see how these values were reflected in their day-to-day activities. I also worked with the leadership to insure that the organization’s policies and practices were aligned with the values. Finally, I formed cross-functional teams to develop activities and campaigns to integrate the values throughout the organization.
JCYC board and staff have now embraced and integrated their values. Upon entering their new facility, each of their values is proudly displayed on posters in their foyer. The cross-functional teams have mounted campaigns such as: developing a comprehensive composting and recycling program (promoting integrity); creating mentorships between their programs serving older youth and the preschools (promoting community); and coordinating organization-wide food and clothing drives (promoting compassion). The leadership reports that their organizational health is much stronger now that the board, staff and their constituents see a real link from their day-to-day activities (treetops) to the fulfillment of their mission, vision and values (roots).
Jon Osaki, JCYC’s Executive Director, describes it this way:
“Prior to working with Kevin, we did not put a lot of thought into our organizational values and how that serves as the foundation of our work. Not only did he help us articulate our core values, but they have become a fundamental aspect of our organizational culture.”
What’s more, this initiative did not require major new expenses or changes in the way they work. By turning the soil and adding some context, we ensured clarity and alignment from the roots to the treetop. That’s Organizational Design.
I think my mother would approve of that.
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