Organization Design: How Many Is A Crowd?


At the start of every organization design project, if I am lucky, I am asked, ‘who really should be involved in this?’ If I am unlucky, there is an assumption that building the design will only involve one or two senior leaders. Unlucky in this case, usually makes for a very long project and a less than optimal design. So when I am asked who should be involved, my answer is the following: 

“the 8-12 people that are most affected by the design should be involved in creating it.” Who those people are and the roles they play varies by organization, company, industry and situation. I usually recommend that the leader and his impacted direct reports be involved. Outside of that, consideration should be given to:

  • Impacted departments where there are significant hand-offs
  • Key impacted external or internal customers
  • Human Resources or Organization Development experts
  • Representation of impacted job roles with critical mass (ex. sales force, store managers, drivers, etc.)

It is sometimes not feasible to include all of these audiences, even when they are very relevant. Many companies are understandably not excited about involving external customers in internal matters and sometimes taking sales people out of the field to participate in organization design, while logical, is just not possible. In that case, I recommend a series of structured interviews to ensure that their perspective is taken into account when the design is built. These audiences may not have the benefit of all the discussion, but their input is still valuable on what is working, what is not, what should change and how.

More often than now, management asks if ALL of these people have to be involved. Leaders often push back on involving more than a couple people in the design. They sometimes believe that the more people you include, the more opinions there are and the less likely they may be to have his or her own ideas implemented ‘as-is.’ The other reason for push back is the perception that involving more people will greatly increase the time to design. The second reason can be overcome by using a structured approach, such as the RapidOD process. The first bares some comment. Any time you are trying to build a solution to a large complex issue, it is critical to do two things:
A) Create buy-in around the fact that there is a problem and the solution to it
B) Find a solution that works effectively without unintended consequences.

I would submit that there is simply no better way to create buy-in than to have people define the problem (and all it’s facets) and build the solution. When people are involved, they understand why it is the way it is, even in areas they might prefer be handled differently. They can explain it effectively in their own words to others and they can serve as a powerful coalition of informal support. In short, they own it and will drive it as their own. As for building an effective solution without unintended consequences, this is difficult, if not impossible, to do in a vacuum. I once worked at an organization that did organization design this way. When I mention this company, I tell people it was where I learned the most about organization design by observing the consequences of doing everything wrong. The result was that the company never came close to effective solutions and ended up reorganizing way too often. In my last 8 months there, I participated in 5 complete redesigns of one business alone. That is nothing short of insanity and is a large part of what made me seek out a better way. The fact is that a small group of leaders, no matter how much they think they know, cannot possibly anticipate every unintended consequence without involving others. I’m even willing to bet that in most large companies, there is work going on that senior leaders don’t even know about. Of course, this flies in the face of many leaders’ egos and assumptions that they understand their business better than anyone in it. And they may, considering the big picture, but the success of an organization structure is in the details. Why risk it when you can create so much buy-in, goodwill and a better solution? Do you have to give up a bit of control? Yes, but not always, and it can be minimized. It is also a small price to pay for for an organization structure that works and will grow with you over time.

Who do you think should be involved in the organizational design process?