Mayvin_Organisation Design

Organisation Design: the map must be wrong!

What can we do when our organisation design map no longer reflects the reality of the now, nor the intentions of the future? Mayvin Director Sarah Fraser explores how to navigate the shifting sands of the organisational landscape.

I am facilitating a real time evaluation of a global operating model design process. In partnership with the client, we are finding out what’s working well and helping country teams navigate the shifting organisational and external context. This will inform the organisation design of their new operating models and put into effect the strategic transformational change process.

We find ourselves wanting a visual, some sort of map that can help us all navigate this complex organisation, the opaque structures and relationships. Some ‘maps’ exist: the operating models are complete, there are documents on file, sign-off agreed. But questions remain about how useful these are now.

What we find in our work is that things have changed. Even though there are written guides and visual structural outlines of how the new organisation should work, these directions don’t quite fit the reality we see around us, or the routes people are choosing to take. By the time the design process is complete the sands have shifted and the landscape has changed, but no one wants to go back to the documents and write them again.

Bringing the map to life

Instead, teams are learning by doing: by having to develop the implementation of their design in real time and by responding to changes in the system around them.

I recall a discussion with the client in which we all fundamentally shifted our sense of the purpose of the operating models, and the way we would support others to do so. These models do not represent a fixed state that teams were aiming for, but rather a point of contact, for all those involved, in bringing it to life. This opened up new opportunities for negotiation, relevant and impactful change, response and adaptation to context, and most importantly changing relationships. It highlighted the need for an adaptive learning approach that takes into account the changing context and environment informing the design process and outcomes.

Enabling transfomational change

As we move from evaluation to recommendations for next steps, to now enable the level of transformational change demanded by the organisation and operating models, our focus is on developing capability in OD inspired, relational and responsive learning approaches. This is many miles from the original client request to develop what we could describe as the harder skills of organisation design. And yet these people change skills are absolutely what are needed in order to effect change that the operating models initiate. We continue to encourage the organisation to update their ‘map’ to help with this navigation, but with the knowledge that it will only be a map, not an accurate reflection of the territory.

Adaptive learning

In the VUCA (volatile, uncertain, complex, ambiguous) world and complex environment within which organisations are operating the solutions to guide design and implementation will not come from perfect planning or a clear picture, but starting to live and act in to these new territories in the process of design. This cannot be constrained to a theoretical process, but it is about enabling and recognising how people are already navigating, and at the same time mapping out new models and ways of working.

The critical factor here is to enable and build skills for an adaptive learning process where navigation guides can be shared, dead ends can be avoided, and shifted sands can be re-mapped.