The Palace: Perspectives on Organisation Design - new report

HR Network news

1 Oct 2013

Network News Issue 3

Valerie Garrow, Principal Associate Fellow

This new report from IES takes a fresh look at organisation design (ODS) from several different perspectives. Too often design is seen as a question of who is on the Board and how the organisation chart will look following a re-structure. Most evidence, however, suggests that re-structuring alone has limited success. At a time of ‘institutional failure’ where governance structures have been found wanting, organisation design is a hot topic.

The story of the Palace illustrates how an organisation gradually becomes unfit for purpose as it seeks to ward off the nimble enemy at the gates. Rival barons, thick internal walls and subsidence caused by shifting sands mean that despite various interventions, the Palace remains a relic of another era.

Thinking from the design sciences has encouraged us to consider what organisations of the future might look and feel like. What kind of workplace will attract talented people and how will they foster productive relationships both internally and externally?

In a complex and highly connected world, where virtual working across multiple time zones and cultures is commonplace, the sense of where and when work is done is more fluid. It is more about ‘organising’ than ‘organisation’. Some social movements successfully harness this ‘craft of organising’ to mobilise people on a large scale around a set of shared values. The challenge for organisation designers is similarly one of ‘connectivity’; how to bring the right people, skills and knowledge together to facilitate high performance and innovation.

A further imperative for ODS is to balance the need to manage risk and demonstrate accountability with the autonomy and freedom required to experiment without fear of failure. In times of crisis, there is a tendency is to centralise, standardise and control, encouraging a culture of blame rather than transparency. More organic forms of organisation rely more heavily on shared vision and values, high employee engagement and good leadership to build a high performance culture.

The report recognises the importance of transition as people let go of the past. How have their voices been heard and how have they been involved in co-creating the future? Sometimes, as in the Palace, people simply self-organise to negate the impact of change and re-instate the status quo. People involved in designing living systems must work with ambiguity and emergence as they navigate complex networks of relationships, different agendas and aims, power and politics, rivalries and emotions. These are the things that the organisation charts tell us little about!