The first challenge is developing a systems perspective and understanding of dynamic systems. We’ve been talking about this for over 50 years, and yet we still don’t teach it in most business schools. We train people in business schools in different disciplines. So much so that the professors, who are really good at their individual disciplines, often know the other people, researchers, and academics, in their discipline, around the world better than they know their colleagues down the hall in another department or discipline. We don’t organize business schools in systems; we organize them in silos by discipline (marketing, finance, etc.). We organize the curriculum, the research, and teaching around those same silos. So we produce a siloed education in business schools and then we expect people to figure out how to put it together later as a system. We’ve been talking about this for a while and everybody shakes their head in agreement, but we haven’t made much progress to remedy the situation. So learning about dynamic systems and how the organization is a dynamic system is the first challenge. I think if you can’t get to that you don’t have a basis for design because you really do need that understanding as a jumping-off point of good design.
The second challenge that most executives face is their own ego. Collaboration is so important to good organization design. There’s no one single person who’s experienced enough to have all the answers to a good organization design or a piece of the organization design. Consequently, collaboration is critical to good organization design. The leaders who are good organization designers have an ego that’s at an intermediate position between arrogant and so humble that they’re meek and mild. This intermediate position means they advocate for their ideas and they have an agenda, but they don’t think they had all the answers and they involve people to help them develop solutions. So the technical challenge of systems is probably easiest, and the ego challenge is probably a little more difficult to address. The last challenge may be the most difficult to address.
The third challenge is curiosity. If the leaders aren’t curious about better ways to design and run the organization, then they probably didn’t make it this far in this podcast. So people listening to this podcast are probably curious, so they’re wondering why that may be a challenge. But there’s just a heck of a lot of people running organizations and occupying organizations that aren’t that curious about better ways to run the organization, and they just want to get the work done and get out of here. If you’re not curious and you’re not interested in new and innovative ways that you might be able to design the organization in a unique way, you’re going to be very limited in the creativity and innovation you can bring to management and the organization design. And, I would contend that we need a lot of creativity and innovation in management and organization design.
I think the need for that is only going to get greater. It’s useful to think of the organization as your little petri dish where you’re conducting experiments and seeing what works and what doesn’t work because so much of what works in business is context-dependent and not generalizable. In fact, from a strategy perspective, we’re not hoping for organization design and culture that’s generalizable, otherwise, people will be able to copy it easily. We’re really looking for unique designs that fit our people, our purpose, our strategy, and the type of work we do. So you need a custom design.