the beauty of human scale in #organisationdesign

One of the questions in the design of an organisation is size. Simply put: what is the right size for an organisation? This simple question is seldom asked. Most ideas about size circle around the word bigger. Growth is definitely a holy grail for management and leadership. And the measure for this growth is mostly in monetary terms.

This preoccupation with growth in fiscal parameters, provides little guidance in other dimensions of designing and shaping an organi-sation. And money is just a virtual entity, unless you stack all the notes and coins in your vault. The design of an organisation, its structure, interaction and dynamics,does however require some measures. From the big picture to the nitty-gritty of day-to-day business. Not only the size of the whole organisation matters, also the number and size of the parts and the connections. The nice and interesting thing about organisational design is that the number of parameters and dimensions to work with, is nearly endless. From the number of people (persons or fte’s) to the number of innovative ideas that are exchanged. From the scope of geographical entities to the dimension of responsibilities of managers. From the size of a team to the number of suppliers.

Important guidance in deciding which parameters matter most, is the nature of the organisation. For a bank, different things matter in sizing than for a mobile operator. The dimensions of a hospital differ in many aspects from an express service. When consciously considering what matters, there is always logical and meaningful sizing input to be found. Thinking beyond the boundaries of the industry can provide new and additional parameters.

But what is the right size? Considering that organisations are about people, any right size should have some relevance to the human scale. Too big for a human being leads to disconnection and alienation, too small kills ambitions and limits the space for meaningful acting.

Le Corbusier tried to put a figure to the human scale.

The question is whether Le Corbusier set off in the right direction. The beauty of the human scale for sizing an organisation is the absence of exactness. The subjectivity of the human scale is what makes the difference. It is the size that people can connect with, it is the size that provides meaning, it is the size that challenges and provides safety.

Some might ask: Does this inexactness not lead to indecisiveness? Does this vagueness not imply the end of any large international organisation? The answer is no, because humans can deal with subjectivity, that is what makes us human. No, because it is in the human nature to expand horizons. Curiosity makes all the difference. The beauty of the human scale is that it is balanced between large and small, that it provides both bigness and smallness at the same time.

And yes, it requires leadership that goes way beyond the percentage of growth in shareholder value and requires subtile judgement. But it does lead to more  beautiful organisations.

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