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7 Steps to Straightforward Organizational Design

Geoff Schaadt

Every organization - regardless of size, age, complexity, or mission - will at some point face a changing landscape that will result in new and unique challenges.  Some organizations will be structured in such a way that they can easily adapt to the new realities and requirements of their situation.  Most won't.

No organization is static.

Organizations will, from time to time, require re-design, re-alignment, or re-habilitation.

This is where the many challenges of Organization Design Complex formula small-225x149become apparent.  Organizations are made up of people, and where people are involved the results will be complex and messy.  Modern managers have enough mess and complexity to handle in their day-to-day existence; they aren't on the lookout for more.  Sadly, we can't bring simplicity to their organization without also removing all of the people.

We also can't provide a comprehensive organizational design course in the context of a company blog. 

What we can offer are some guideposts to help you, the manager, keep the goal in sight as you work through the complexities of this process.

The 7 Fundamentals

  1. Involve employees and key stakeholders in the design process:

    Use the management team as the consultative group to work through acceptable options.
  2. Form follows function:

    Focus on identifying the core functions.  Everything else is likely a waste of time and energy.  Efficient structures will emerge.
  3. Integration versus differentiation:

    Identify logical clusters of related functions and activities - strike a balance between service delivery and functional expert roles.
  4. Trade off between hierarchical versus flat structures:

    Focus on effective horizontal management practices while framing boundary spanning mechanisms.
  5. Identify clear roles and responsibilities:

    The result will be increased functional leadership capacity and subject matter expert knowledge.
  6. Embrace flexibility and an ability to adapt with change:

    Recognize that both formal and informal networks will always result - acknowledge this and integrate in a networked organizational structure.
  7. Provide for employee career development:

    The intent is not to organize around individuals.  However, the recruitment and retention challenge must be recognized, and opportunities for career development and professional growth must be provided to all.

So, here are seven basic tenets - should there be eight, nine, or ten?  More?  I'm interested in your feedback; would you remove or modify any of these?  Would you like to add others?  Let us know in the comments.


Good post Geoff, you flag some good things to bear in mind. While customer focus could certainly be applicable to a few of the points, I wonder if it’s worthy of being stated explicitly?

I’ve seen many organizations that are designed around themselves, as opposed to around their customers. Technology companies are great at designing boxes around cool technologies they’ve invented, with little consideration for how their customers will actually interact with them (think too many buttons!)

It’s a trap some organizations fall into as well.

Look forward to reading more posts!

By Matt Sims on 2010/09/29

Great point Matt.  In my thinking that would fall primarily under #2 - but it is a critical component that might be best served with it’s own bullet…

8. Serve the client, not yourself:

Processes that serve the specific requirements of the customer will clarify priorities for both employees and managers.  Culture will coalesce around these priorities.

By Geoff Schaadt on 2010/09/29

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About this Article

Posted by Geoff Schaadt
Posted on September 28, 2010

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Categories: change management, organizational development