Mayvin_Organisation Development Design People Change

Living and breathing organisation design

Mayvin associate Peter Lawrence on the fertile territory between a full blown restructure and organisational apathy


“I am not sure what the problem is, but a restructure may help”

That is the statement that often greets me during the first client conversation. For whatever reason, the need to restructure has emerged and now I am asked to help.  My reflection to the client is that a planned reorganisation is both disruptive and time consuming but it can make a significant difference for the whole organisation.

I also take time to explain that if we take the “do nothing” option which may be easier and cheaper in the short term, the organisation will continue to design itself! We must remember that the organisation is not a static lifeless form, but a community of people who will daily make choices based on the information available to them at the time.

This is wonderfully illustrated by work done by Dr Valerie Garrow and Dr Sharon Varney in The Palace, Perspectives on Organisation Design, based upon work done by David Stephenson. It tells the story of a palace that over the years has been added to, fuelled by the opportunities and behaviours of its inhabitants. It becomes a labyrinth of corridors and rooms which proves difficult to navigate with no one living there fully understanding how it came to be so.

When I read the story I became aware that it was describing many, if not most, of the organisations I have worked in. So the original question posed by Mayvin’s Martin Saville in a great blog, “to design or not to design,” obscures the underlying reality that design will continue to happen. Our intervention is the opportunity to make the future change both intentional and intelligent.

By “intentional” I mean that we design on purpose. We have a sequential planned approach that embraces the needs of the whole organisation, and will deliver the “palace” we want to live and carry out our business in.  The intelligent aspect is that we make use of all available data, which includes how people feel, across the whole organisation, creating a really useful engagement opportunity.

So the next time a client decides that a reorganisation is not needed (which may be the best option!) let us practitioners help by offering the insight that design does not only happen as part of a planned project, but also in the daily choices people make.