the beauty of overlap in #organisationdesign


One of the traditional aspects of the design of an organisation is the compartmentalisation of functions. Or  the division of labour. Or the delineation of responsibilities. It is the part of the organisation design that has to do with the structure and foremost with the boundaries between the parts. To avoid vagueness, unclear accountability, the impossibility to measure, the structure needs to be well defined. The functions need to be contained and managed. One of the ways to escape ambiguity is to increase the granularity, in other words just keep adding departments, offices, specialities, functions, lines of business, sections, area’s. All clearly demarcated and contained. It adds up in numbers and complexity. It creates overhead for coordination and in its most bureaucratic form it inhibits all cooperation and divides the organisation into tide silo’s. Nothing floats by it self and all has to be steered. A dream for some, a nightmare for most.

The numerous parts.



Yet another way of thinking and design looks like this


Fewer blocks, more overlap. Add to this static model the real life dynamic of people interacting and a new picture appears.

A picture where there is less control and delineation but more ad-hoc meetings and unexpected cross pollination.  More fun and less management. More stimulations and less inhibitions. More fuzziness and less definitions. More natural, less constructed.

The variety by which an organisation thrives is rooted in inclusion (overlap) instead of exclusion (boundaries).

The picture  looks simple. There is nevertheless a need for a few very important and maybe difficult decisions, namely which basic colours  (leading divsions) to choose and how they are positioned. That sets the broad structure of responsibilities and should be designed as to lead to seamless cooperation.

In additions there are different organisation attributes to work with. Less formality and more coincidence. It requires management and leadership skills that may not exist and for sure it requires dumping a lot management stuff, but overlap is an interesting concept for organisational beauty.


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