Archive

Monthly Archives: October 2011

In organizations just like in other designed artifacts, there is a level of the overall picture and the wider context, of the big ideas and great shapes. The elements that are drawn with big strokes and thick crayons. It is the level that sets the pace. It is about the big structures and the basic granularity. It is about the scale of  the big ideas about how the artifact and the organisation interacts with its environment (closed, open, direct, indirect, leading, following, static, dynamic). On this level the  believes and values are articulated and  translated in principle guidelines about structure and interaction.

At the same time there is the enormous importance of the detail. The details that can break or enhance the big lines. The details that on their own scale embody meaning. The level of detail in the labour contracts, the size of teams, the level of autonomy, the way meetings are held, the manner decisions are made, the involvement of co-workers in the hiring process, the food in the cafeteria, all these elements tell their story and add up the big picture.

There always is a relationship between the grand scale and the small-scale. Whether that relationship is balanced and whether the scales positively interact, is one of the important issues of great design. And to make matters even more complex there are numerous levels in between the overall picture and the detailed view. Detailed elements form another elements on a different scale and level, intentionally or incidentally.

Switching between the various scales and leveraging the interaction of scale is an interesting and rewarding exercise and is an integral and even essential part of design. Scale is not absolute, scale is relative. Big things are small and small can be very big. Organisation that do not embody that playfulness, become predictive and boring. Great design maneuvers through all the levels of scale in a meaningful way.

.

.

.

.

the paradox of scale!

Advertisements

In 1859 Ildefons Cerda designed the urban grid that covers large parts of Barcelona. Baron Haussmann set out the design rules for Paris. Designs that shaped extensive parts of large cities, with the intention to make them better, more liveable and maybe also more manageable. We can still admire the genius of these designs in those cities today. But who designed mega-cities like London, Tokyo, Lagos, Shanghai, Sao Paulo? Is it still possible to design something of that enormity and complexity? Do 10 million plus people cities set the limit of design?

And is the answer to these questions relevant for thinking about the design of the structure and interactions in organisations?

The answer depends on what you regard as design. Obviously it is impossible for one team to do the overall and all-inclusive design for very big cities. The design and planning limits itself to ground rules and defining entities, such as usage, footprints and hight of edifices, roads, large public infrastructures (like public transport, water, electricity, recreation and parks) and landmarks. The basic essentials for the large-scale urban environment are designed and built or enforced. But at the same time there is room and a need for private initiative and local solutions. Both the quality of overall structure and the diversity of neighbourhood specific characteristics, make the mega-city on an individual scale liveable.

The rules for the design are more about what to design and what not to design and on what level these design decisions are taken. The design and the governance structure are deeply interlinked. The philosophy and the practice of design are full of paradoxes on this nearly superhuman scale. How these paradoxes of vision, freedom, humanity, economics, centralism, enforcement and quality (of life) are solved, determines the liveability and sustainability of a very large city. And there is no other way. It requires great design skills and creativity to make a difference in this mishmash of forces and build enduring beauty, against all odds.

And the parallels with organisation design are obvious. Ideas on what to design and what not to design, defining ground rules, local initiative and vision and creativity are key ingredients for an enduring beauty in organisations, not soloist star designers or bigger than life corporate leaders.

.

.

.

“In der Beschränkung zeigt sich erst der Meister” and a Master Mies van der Rohe was. Mies inspired, and still does, many  designers with his credo ‘less is more’. Essential design, leaving out the things that do not matter, elegance, strong forms are key words in a design where genius has made complexity simple. Results of less are not only a feast for the eye and the mind, it also makes economic and environmental sense to leave out the waste.

But Mies was not a management thinker or guru, and that is a pity when it comes to organisation design. In building organizations the meaning of less is more has never landed as it did in design. It might be frequently quoted , but it is seldom applied. The reasons be it is hard work and some of the consequences may be hard to live with.

The sophistication of management is more often measured by the extension of job descriptions with accompanying complex remuneration schemes, the complexity of organisation charts with dotted lines, the thickness of the deck of strategy sheets or the level of detail in the service level agreements, than that is measured by clarity and conciseness. Making choices, defining what really matters, constraining elaborations, deepening understanding, imagining what not yet exists, does take time and is indeed not effortless.

Yet simple responsibilities that mirror the basic value creation of an organisation, the one page document that states the relationship with the stakeholders, the four word strategy, the three-minute trailer-like video about values and transparent decision processes, to name a few examples of less in organisation design, do not reduce the sophistication of an organisation, but increases it. And there is a considerable chance that people experience beauty instead of blur.

.

.

.

.

It takes a great amount of skills and lots of determination to design a beautiful organisation. The mix of the unfamiliarity of the concept, the deeper thinking and awareness that is required and the still undiscovered forms of organizations, make it not the easiest task ahead.

This blog is about the challenge, the promise and the hope to provide some good ideas that help in this process of creating better and more beautiful organisations. Inspiration comes form various sources and translating them to the realm of organisation design is a rewarding exercise. It helps to discover new perspectives and supports the creative design process.

But there is more to it than the concepts and ideas. In all organizations there is an actual structure and there are current practices and interaction. Organisations have their own dynamic. It is this actual working of the organisation, that is also a source for inspiration. There are bright spots in every organisation, where there is something special, something that has an element of beauty . It could be the ways people meet and take decisions or the common ingenuity and determination to solve problems. These actual situation in the working environment are inspirational and sources for enhancements and improvement. Looking for them is a must.

When thinking about beauty in organisation and designing new forms, it is in the end how the people that constitute the organisation bring it into practice. That is the proof of the pudding. And not only the proof, but it is also the source of satisfaction for the designers. It is not the design, but what it does to people that counts. How it is enjoyed, how it inspires, how it helps people shine, is the real beauty.

So, the beauty is not only very much more than a concept – it is the actual experience of the people that encounter it-, that actual experience is also a source for creating more beauty.

.

.

.

.

Look for the beauty.

For architect the section is a very useful way for spatial thinking and creating interesting solution. Although rendered 3d images provide great impressions of the design, the section is where it big decisions are made, where the dimension of space is added, where the true experiences are thought out.

In organisation design the traditional tool is the organisation chart, a rather one-dimensional representation of mostly hierarchical structures. There are also alternative graphs, like matrices or networks, that represent other elements of an organisation. What is truly missing in the graphical vocabulary of organisation design is the section, a view of the internal workings and the elements that constitute the so important additional dimensions. Dimensions like the social and intellectual relationships. Elements like the underlying business logic and value creation. Dynamics like movements and transformations.

Only drawing the plan not only leaves too much space open for false interpretations, it  also reduces the options for exiting new relationships and interaction between organisational elements. The handicap of the missing section needs to be helped. And although there may not yet be a clear and accepted way to draw and express that third dimension in organisation design, that is no excuse not to try.

.

.

.