Thinker and oldOrganization Design, as a holistic competence area is fairly unexplored. Designing an organization is a complex undertaking. You may find books and trainings in process management, organization structure theories, target setting, project management, agile development, etc. Each of one of these competence areas can be used to create tangible building blocks in an organization design. It may be targets, processes, roles, decision points, etc. These tangible building blocks should be viewed as elements in a system.

The design of an organization cannot be understood by exploring single elements in isolation. Increased capabilities in an isolated element will not improve organizational efficiency, whatever level of perfection the element has achieved. All elements have to be optimized in relation to surrounding elements. And the sum of all such design elements of an organization has to interact with surrounding environment. We have to develop the organization as an open system. Only when we do this, we may achieve both internal efficiency and external effectivity. This is the way to build sustainable business success.

Why has so little practically useful new science been published lately? I have discussed this with friends and colleagues, working at universities and different companies. I have searched in libraries and on the internet. There are a lot of management literature, but not much is new. The fundamental models that defines our mindset are old. Not many have a system approach. If they have, they either describe the organization design at a very general level or focus one element of the organization design. The most commonly referenced theories or models I have found are:

  • Management by objectives, 1954, Peter Druker
  • Star model, mid 1960’s, Jay Galbraith
  • McKinsey 7-S Model, 1980, Tom Peters
  • Process Re-Engineering, 1990, Michael Hammer
  • Business Balanced Scorecard, 1992, Robert Kaplan & David Norton
  • Business Model Canvas, 2004, Alexander Osterwalder

The idea that an organization is an open system is not new in any aspect. The idea that all design elements has to work together is not new. But why can I not find modern system theories on organization design? Theories based on in depth studies and having a holistic perspective on how to build an organization. Where are the research? What are the latest theories? Where are the researchers?

2 thoughts on “Where are research in design of organizations?

  1. Jan, I actually believe there is a huge literature on organization design, but perhaps not very well organized and not very accessible. For this reason the literature is not very well known or utilized.

    But it exists: I have collected literally hundreds of articles that deal with organizational design issues.

    These are from different sub-fields, everything from legal theory to psychology and engineering (for example, to take the latter field: There are hundreds of articles on plant organization, the organization of software teams, the organization of engineering firms and infrastructure projects, and also general design and systems theory from an engineering perspective).

    If you are a member of EODF, a place to start is here (only for members): http://eodf.eu/knowledge-base/

    Here is another list (but only with books, not articles): http://organizationdesignforum.org/resources/book-picks/

    Regards,
    Nicolay

    1. Thanks for your feedback, Nicolay.

      True, it is hard to find information as there is a whole lot of places to search. I agree with you that there are a huge amount of litterature. I briefly checked the list you provided from Organization Design Forum. The book by Stanford is one of my favorites (I have to admit I have not read your book yet… 🙁 ). But the Stanford book is as well an example of a very general model on the concrete building blocks of an organization. She gives a very good overview of different “reference models”, example Galbraiths (who as well have a book in the list you provide). But Stanford do not come down to the practical level.

      Let me compare with a house. Assume the design of a Organization is a house. A house with roof, walls, windows, etc. There are lot of litterature related to the architecture of the house. It describes that it is important to have lots of space inside the house or let the light come in or to save energy. This is the high level descriptions, like Stanfords. Other litterature is about for instance the bathroom. How do we secure that the water do not come into the walls, etc. Or litterature about the kitchen, or the roof, etc. The analogy for Organization Design is litteratures about Balanced Scorecards (targets), or about processes, or about Organization structures, etc.

      What I lack is the research and findings related to more tangable building blocks, put into a system. If one want to design and build a house you need to understand how all parts work together. From architecture down to nails. That is what an Organization Designer need to understand and have tools for.

      I think we have the concrete building blocks right in front of us. But we need to allign them as elements in a system and better understand how they interact in order to make an organization effective and efficient. And we need to teach managers (and Organization Designers).

      …. and I have to read your book…… 🙂

      /Jan

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