“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.
You will absorb useful org design nuggets by osmosis if you sign up to the following newsletters.
- NOBL, an org design consultancy
- The Ready, an org design consultancy
- Naomi Stanford, organisation design and development, brilliant on evidence-base and a view from outside the user-centred design bubble [June 2020 update] I still recommend Naomi’s work, but I do believe OD&D is poorly equipped to critically engage with how power and white supremacy show up in organisations
- Richard D. Bartlett’s newsletter is good for a macro view of where organisations might be headed. Themes: “decentralised organisations, bottom-up politics, self-management, participatory culture, mutual aid networks, co-ops, autism, adult development, anarchism, interpersonal power dynamics, political metamodernism, collapse, and spreadsheets”
- Better Allies, five simple actions each week to create a more inclusive workplace
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:
- I come back to Janet Hughes’ vision of a digital organisation again and again. Clear with tangible examples
- [June 2020 update] This sounds obvious, but organisations are part of society and part of systems. So what kind of society and systems do we want? Collaborate CIC’s vision for a collaborate society includes the principles of collaborative organisations, a useful framing for the 21st century
- Teams are how things are delivered (or fail to be delivered) in organisations. I like this comprehensive piece from Christina Wodtke about building high performing teams
- [June 2020 update] I’ve been reading more about adult developmental psychology, and this post by Dara Blumenthal, PhD helpfully connects performance, psychological safety and adult development: “To foster cultures of trust and psychological safety we need to co-create developmental systems of practice”
- 7 implications of seeing organisations as complex systems by Sonja Blignaut
“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
- If you’re into emergence, read Transformative Learning: Building the Foundation for Next Stage Organizations by Sahana Chattopadhyay.