Why it helps to go beyond the usual suspects in Organisation Design
In the late 1990s as part of my MBA I visited a manufacturing plant in Eastern Europe that built cars for a global automotive brand. The plant was low-tech by the standards of the time, and I learned that although the particular model they made was popular all over the world, in Eastern Europe its purchase price represented a far higher proportion of people’s disposable income than in the West. As a result, people expected a higher build quality and the car, a budget model, needed to last longer than its Western cousins.
How did they manage this in a low-tech plant? The answer was that the managers fostered a highly collaborative approach to problem solving, encouraging anyone and everyone to try out new ideas for improving quality, and celebrating vocally when they came up with something that worked. The Plant Manager was a young, local man with excellent English and an infectious smile, whose biggest source of pride was that most of the ideas came from people on the production line itself.
We also learned that the plant was in danger of being closed down as the parent company looked for ever-cheaper places to build its cars. “How can this be?” we asked. The Plant Manager smiled sadly. “We’ve tried to tell them, but they can’t see the jewel that they’re holding in their hands.”
A few years later when the model was replaced, the plant was indeed closed down and manufacturing was moved further East. Labour costs went down, but it took several years to sort out quality issues at the new plant, which didn’t do the reputation of the new model any good at all…
Which brings me to Organisation Design. In our experience organisations tend to involve a fairly narrow group of people in their Organisation Design processes. While key, senior stakeholders do get brought into the discussions, along with Finance, HR and the unions, people tend to forget that even a relatively small change project impacts the wider organisational system. As a result, related functions, such as IT, are often ignored, which creates problems later on. Sometimes those who actually do the work that is being redesigned, and therefore know it best of all, are also left out in the cold, resulting in processes that don’t work properly in practice.
Of course, sometimes this approach will be taken be for very good reasons, but often the drivers behind keeping things light and narrowly focused can be the wrong ones. Are we telling ourselves that it’s all about maintaining momentum and keeping the lights on the Project Management machine green when really we’re trying to avoid the anxiety created by complexity or the potential for conflict?
As the world gets more complex and unpredictable, Mayvin can help organisations become collectively more intelligent, enabling them to take advantage of all the jewels they hold in their hands, even the ones they don’t know are there. We have a range of tools and methodologies to enable large numbers of people with different perspectives to think together, debate together, come together and move forward together. Do get in touch if you’d like to know more.