I nerd out on improving organizations

An early IBM org chart circa 1917

My passion for Organizational Design and Development can be traced back to before I knew it was a thing. Whether as a student leader at University or a young military officer, or a young tech and professional services entrepreneur and change manager, I’ve been on the OD path from the start. The reason? It’s really hard for individuals to make major changes in a complex world. Even in a corporate context, individual performance does not exist. Value creation emerges in the space between people. OD can help create that space.

“Individual performance does not exist. Value creation emerges in the space between people.”

My first consulting roles were focused on the human side of large-scale corporate transformations and IT infrastructure primarily in the Banking and Finance sector but I also engaged with clients in the technology, construction, and public sectors.

After those early days, I took my passion for OD overseas (from Australia). I was keen to travel, change the world, and learn more about how organizations achieve their goals in different parts of the world. During this time, I advised a range of public sector, intergovernmental, and international organizations who were focused on:

  • Defense and security
  • Policing
  • Census and Elections
  • Transport
  • Construction
  • Infrastructure
  • Reconstruction
  • International humanitarian aid
  • International development

However, it was clear there was something not quite right about the organizational “operating systems” I encountered. In the face of sometimes crazy levels of uncertainty and complexity, the 60+ year old public sector bureaucracies and hierarchies were showing their age. What was once set up for “zero defects” to usher in an age of transparency, accountability, stabilty and modernity were now organizations that struggled to change and adapt, and most importantly, deliver, in an VUCA world. It was clear that new ways of organizing were needed…

Fortunately rapidly improvement technology capabilities and a new generation of knowledge workers, unsatisfied with their parent’s ways of doing things, incubated new approaches, new ways of organizing and new ways of doing things. Agility and adaption was the new linear, organic was the new machine, diversity was the new uniform cookie-cutter, and knowledge was the new hammer and sickle.

Spotify.com among others experimented with how it could do things differently to increase collaboration and knowledge sharing. The aim was to breakdown the traditional hierachies that crushed the souls of their best and brightest.

Spotify org chart circa 2012

However, the new ways of doing things were great but the leaders and managers struggled to adapt themselves. Valve, a software company, famously had their employee handbook leaked in 2012. They were held up as a shining example of a ‘no boss’ culture. But the aura faded once numerous ex-staff started to take to social media to describe a management culture of Neo-feudalism and fear.

The third sector and social movements were also not immune to the problems of structurelessness, which can be used as a smokescreen for the strong or the lucky to establish unquestioned hegemony over others.

The question was what could the public sector learn from all of this? The push for ‘flatness’ can be tempting. In place of rules, regulation and evidence, many public agencies have started to look for “passion”, “enthusiasm” and “flexibility”. But one doesn’t have to look very far to see how the absense of organization can lead to disasterous results. For instance, the military and political misadventures of the early 21st century were often due to the passion and enthusiasm of elected officials trumping the formal rules and expertise offered by civil servants and military personnel.

The question was what could the public sector learn from all of this?

Today, I enjoy helping national federal, state and local governments, united nations agencies and international development banks become more thriving, adaptive, human organizations that can fully tap into the potential within them. My clients usually ask me to help them in these areas:

  • Public sector strategy & strategy development
  • Strategic initiatives management / strategy execution / program mgt
  • Organizational design & development
  • Business development, resource mobilization & proposal development
  • Value and impact / results management
  • Performance / continuous improvement
  • Business process management

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