Consultants should not design organisations. Executives should.

“Consultants should not design organisations”. That might sound a little strange, given that it comes from a consultant offering organisation design services. 

It isn’t just my opinion though – in her 2003 book Designing Organisations: Why it matters and ways to do it wellNaomi Stanford says: “There is little awareness that organisation design involves organisational members and cannot be delegated to consultants to deliver a design”.

Few executives have a shared, reliable, useful process for the kind of continuous redesign that goes on inside organisations. Without an intentional process, executives muddle along with the smaller design efforts and look for an external consultant to handle the bigger ones. 

Why don’t organisations develop and invest in strengthening an intentional organisation design process? One reason is that it can get complicated very quickly. WorldsView recognises 10 elements of organisation design, and each element has potential patterns, and those patterns nest together and form the overall design. It can be a lot to take in – especially if it is only being taken in for episodes of large-scale change. 

Dr Stanford identifies this as a weakness in systems knowledge – in that executives do not know enough about the processes and theories for designing effective organisations and fail to appreciate the systemic and continuous nature of it.

There are other reasons, which Dr Stanford shares from her decades of experience. I have labelled and paraphrased these as: 

  • Myopia: There is a preference to work on a design to address a specific symptom, event or opportunity rather than think systemically.  
  • Strategy-Structure break: There is a failure to understand that a good organisation design is a means for implementing strategy and can also open new strategic options.  
  • Ignorance: There is a lack of appreciation that organisations are in a process of redesign all the time.
  • Inertia: “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”. This fails to recognise the speed with which the context is constantly changing and that it may be time to jump the S curve.

We believe that executives need to develop their organisation design muscle, training on the small stuff in preparation for the large-scale stuff. The role of an organisation design consultant is to prepare the executives such that the large-scale change efforts have superb organisational leadership.

We are exploring this in our next OD Café on Wednesday 26th June – register HERE for that event. This is an opportunity for you to join the conversation and help to shape a solution that balances the strategy-design-structure process.