If you had to build an organization from scratch, or re-design one, you would have options about some models to follow. Here are two that I use as an organization architect: designing the organization following a ‘who-does-what’ model, or following a ‘who-knows-what’ model.
Most people build with the ‘who-does-what’ model in mind. It’s just natural. It has to do with division of labour, organization charts, efficiency and effectiveness, reporting lines and, ultimately, good governance. But I often challenge my clients to build a ‘parallel design’ with the ‘who-knows-what’ model. This model has some variances such as ‘who-needs-to-know’ and ‘who-shares-what’. The view of the organization through these alternative lenses is usually very different to the one seen through the traditional ‘who-does-what’ angle.
Both models are not incompatible but they certainly represent different worlds. The exercise I do is to try to match both models. Not to force an artificial ‘blend’ but to see where the synergies and the gaps are. It’s not an easy exercise because, very often, both models lead to very different views of what the company is about. And this is the richness and the beauty of the approach. What starts as a simple ‘what pieces to have for what and where’, progresses towards a ‘what is it that we are here for?’
If you are designing a piece of machinery, your concern will be the pieces, how they work together, where is the input and the output etc. The modern organization is much more organic than a machine, and the information highways are both very fluid and changeable. The challenge, and the discipline of looking at alternative models, is more important than ‘what’ comes out from each of them. Without the challenge, you’ll end up with the predictable, most likely mechanistic model, translated into an organization chart.
The more models I bring to the fry, the better. It may be more uncomfortable, but it does make you think. Another model, for example, is ‘who-decides-what’. This model has to do with rights and thresholds of decisions, and is very often closer to the ‘who-does-what’ model, although not necessarily.
The exercise is not theoretical. Certainly not simply a ‘design method’ or trick that I use. It goes to the core questions of identity and ‘space in the world’ of the organization. Do you want to define yourself by ‘what you do’? By ‘what you know?’ These are not theoretical questions. The ‘by both’ answer is as easy as it is unsatisfactory.
‘Organizational architecture’, as we practice it, is far more complex than putting together boxes and reporting lines. It starts with purpose. Then it tests several alternative models ‘competing with each other’. It ends up with the building of a fit-for-purpose organization. It’s a neat job. Well, I’m bound to say that.
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