This word did not start with the intention of building an organic framework and kicked off with an article listing all the organizational models
I had been reading of. Over time it evolved into something larger as I explored other elements beyond pure organizational structure. It grow as a creature going into directions I wasn’t sure I had planned from the beginning. My main effort has been to try to explain that each of these building blocks is present in every organization, even if there’s not a written document defining it, or a decision taken to implement it.
The birth of the Intentional Organization
In parallel, I consolidated a side view of what I defined as Intentional Organisation
, whereby the elements are assembled according to an architected plan, so that coherence and consistency
are clearly planned. The reasoning is the following: when an organization is built, we often limit ourselves to defining the prescribed elements (for example the statutes mandated by law to incorporate a firm) without clearly designing the rest, and taking the other elements as “natural artifacts”, akin to the first human beings that found shelter into natural caves.
This lead me to realize that most organizations today are still similar to the caves inhabited thousands of years ago. They are “fit for purpose
”, providing basic shelter to their inhabitants. But provide a fairly rigid environment. Yes, there are cases of entire cities evolving from basic caves, such as Matera
in Italy, or Uchisar
in Turkey. Caves have been modified by the human presence by excavating the rocks and adding protection to seal the entrances. Yet these have enormous limits in terms of size, protection, flexibility, growth.
Many founders still accept those limits, without questioning the needs of consistency that their organization needs in terms of design. Some elements become more visible, Strategy
notably. But do not allow exploitation of the full potential of intentionality applied to design and organizational architecture.
Yes, in many ways many elements emerge
in this context with their own features, consolidating traits and building identities
is one of those. But when limited by natural constraints, also emerging features are severely limited in the innovation support they can provide.
This is exactly what we are seeing today in this pandemic context. Lock-downs have forced organizations to experiment with alternative operating models that privilege remote working. But in many cases, this has equated to giving a laptop, a Zoom account and off you go. Very few managers understood that what was happening was not just a technology adoption experiment, but rather a revolution based on the reinvention of the meaning of work.
The Discourse of Work as Job
had been the cornerstone of organizations for the past centuries, since at least the last couple of industrial revolutions. It provided a safe environment through a set of familiar rules for bureaucracy
to grow undisputed as the blueprint for modern organizations.
It built the cave in which firms have been assembled without questioning any of the underlying assumptions. A golden cage rather than a springboard for development.
As the lock-down protracted, many issues have become more evident today. Questions around resilience
have popped out and in many instances, we sought to look at alternative ways
to rethink organizations outside the assumption of colocated work. Yet, as we put this in perspective, it’s easy to spot other organizational phenomena that have started affecting the traditional, one-size-fits-all tayloristic model. Purposeful organizations
have started to show that value can be created beyond profit for shareholders. Platform organizations
have started challenging the boundaries of traditional contracts. Distributed Decision Making
has challenged assumptions of hierarchy. Agile Software Development
reinvented relationships with customers. Distributed Organizations
have shown that work can be done anywhere.
These are just a few examples, and I’m sure each of you can immediately think of a few names of companies beyond each example. Yet, as the organizational design community has celebrated many of these innovative solutions, we still see that an “old normal” still exist. Companies are still, for the most part, built the old, traditional way. Why?
The roots of successful transformations
I’m starting to form a hypothesis. All the success stories we have seen, have something in common. One entrepreneur or an entrepreneur-minded leader has been crafting their organization into something new. They have been intentional about this. They have the vision to achieve, and they know their firms will not get there unless the organization is built for purpose.
Traditional, public companies are missing this ignition power. The seed of intentionality is not part of management DNA today. Not just for a reactionary resistance to change. But more because of the tremendous effort needed to re-architect the fabric itself of an organization.
Is it just a Leadership problem then? The answer can only be a partial yes. Because the problem with Leadership is that it still assumes a division between leaders and followers in the understanding of too many.
How to address real transformation?
The biggest achievement of this work has been, from my point of view, the articulation of a series of questions that can help prioritize actions. But first, we need to acknowledge that this is a real transformation, not a process of cosmetic change. We need to accept we are endeavoring into a far-reaching adventure that will challenge many of the assumptions we all have.
What is our definition of Good? By clearly articulating our Definition of Value through an intentional Purpose we establish the foundation for our transformation.
How do we know it will last? Understanding the Ecosystem in which we act, and intentionally designing the relationships we care for, means establishing a sustainable organization for a long-lasting future.
What makes us Unique? Clarifying our Value Proposition in terms of Business Model is key to articulating our system from within and its external relationships expressed through the question of
How do we create Value? which allows us to tune in our Operating Model in terms of Value-Delivery Chain, not only in financial terms but according to how we defined Value.
How do we get things done? becomes then a new critical question in terms of Definition of Work that challenges the assumptions of the organization of work through proper Organization Model aligned in terms of consistency with the elements described.
How do we make it work? becomes a foundational question that cannot be delegated to an emerging process. Culture needs to be also intentionally designed in terms of consistency from purpose to daily execution.
What are our Priorities? is the practical planning of activities and exploitation of opportunities in terms of choices that only a Learning Strategy can help form.
How do we stitch it all together? remains the final question whereby true Leadership is of continuous intentional design of all the elements above.
These 8 questions are not, by all sorts, a checklist that can be done once and for all. They are rather the recipe of a continuous evolving circle of sensemaking, meaning, and experimentation. They provide the Flow that is needed for an organization to survive and thrive both internally and within its ecosystem.
I think that year 2022 will be an important year for many organizations to act in terms of changing their own ambition. I’m ready to support this. And you?
What started as a post on organizational models quickly unfolded into a study of organizations following three questions.
- What are the key components of an organization?
- How do these form: as a result of emergence, or rather intentionally?
- What is the nature of work that sits at the core of an organization?
The result is a rough idea that sees the core of the current discussions on organizations too much focused on financial and transactional value, rather than on the needed centrality of work and relational values.
I will continue to explore this idea further in the future, and will always welcome your ideas and feedback also as we approach a new year!
Thank you for your attention so far!