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A team designing their ways of working

An organisation design primer

“I’d like to know more about organisation design, is there anything you could send me?” — Curious designers and digital folk

People ask me this question fairly frequently. I have an “org design primer” email that I send to curious people, but thought it might be more useful if I chucked it into a public post.

Organisation design is a jumble of disciplines and capabilities, which, depending on who you talk to, includes some of the following: organisational development, learning and development, systems design, user-centred design, agile working, digital transformation, culture design, organisational psychology, leadership and team coaching, HR and Operations.

The sources below reflect that jumble (and my own idiosyncratic biases), but if you’re curious about the broad spread of org design, I think they’re good places to start.

Newsletters

You will absorb useful org design nuggets by osmosis if you sign up to the following newsletters.

  • NOBL, an org design consultancy

Introductory articles

I like this article from The Ready about what organisations actually are. It includes an “Operating System canvas” which is a useful framing tool. For a deeper dive, read Brave New Work by Aaron Dignan. A clear read which knits together the best of many of the disciplines and approaches above.

[June 2020 update] This article by Tema Okun is a fantastic articulation of how white supremacy culture shows up in organisations. Read more here. You might notice that the patterns Tema writes about are intimately connected to how capitalist culture shows up in organisations…

Some clear articulations of what “good” organisations might look like:

“In complex systems we really need to embrace provisionality and be open to adapting our plans and designs as new paths emerge. Remaining open to emergence, and holding plans lightly, remain one of the biggest challenges to overcome in organisations used to command and control.” — Sonja Blignaut

Please let me know if you know of any good sources!

Written by

Designer. I help social impact organisations become more adaptive and human-centred. Associate at Shift www.shiftdesign.org.uk. Formerly @FutureGov

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