Mayvin_Organisation Design perspective_Peter Lawrence

Designing to Dream: a perspective on Organisation Design

Mayvin Associate Consultant Peter Lawrence uses the lens of poetry and metaphor to reflect on an important, often forgotten, business reason to embark on an Organisation Design process: releasing potential.


The Seed Shop by Muriel Stewart

Here in a quiet and dusty room they lie,
Faded as crumbled stone or shifting sand,
Forlorn as ashes, shrivelled, scentless, dry —
Meadows and gardens running through my hand.

In this brown husk a dale of hawthorn dreams,
A cedar in this narrow cell is thrust
That will drink deeply of a century’s streams,
These lilies shall make summer on my dust.

Here in their safe and simple house of death,
Sealed in their shells a million roses leap;
Here I can blow a garden with my breath,
And in my hand a forest lies asleep.


At a recent meeting with my Civil Service OD colleagues, we began
to share our thoughts on what the field of OD meant for us.

Various metaphors were offered. The one which caused me think
was when a colleague shared the view of OD being something
like a garden. Full of life, unpredictability and potential.

I share a similar interest with Robert Greenleaf (no pun intended)
who wrote the book Servant Leadership, in which he describes
himself as being a “student of organisation, how things get
done and a pursuer of wisdom.”

My background is in Organisation Design, helping clients align
activities to deliver the desired optimum outcome. Sometimes,
to help clients understand the design concept, to highlight that
it’s all about informed choices, metaphors are used for building
a house or designing a car. Metaphors have limitations and the
house or car image can give the wrong impression, that when
building organisations we are working with lifeless forms. We
know that organisations are full of life, unpredictability and

I am convinced that a sequential approach is needed when facing
design challenges. Many of my early conversations begin with
the perceived need to restructure without first exploring the
questions of why, why now and what we want our organisation
to do.

Using the garden metaphor, I thought it may be helpful to see the
sequential stages, not as a mechanistic step by step processes,
but as seasons during which planned activities take place,
during which time we give space for the unintended and
unexpected to take root and grow.

As I thought further about the garden metaphor I was reminded of a
poem, The Seed Shop by Muriel Stuart.

She describes a seed shop in which vast amounts of unfilled
potential lie hidden in the dark and dusty room. Life waiting
and dreaming that maybe one day it will be given the
opportunity to grow.

In our current climate, there is a growing desire to change the shape
or size of organisations. The reasons for doing so can include
such issues as reducing cost, improving customer experience
or digital transformation.

Can I add another?
Releasing potential. More than grids and boxes.
Taking the opportunity to align how things get done that
creates the environment for the faded and forlorn to come to
life. To recognise that in my hand, a forest lies asleep.

Organisation Design is disruptive and does not come without cost.
If we decide that we do indeed need to restructure, why not
take the opportunity to dream a little about the often hidden
potential within the dusty rooms?

Not so much a restructure more a Resurgem. Just a seed thought!