• Toby Sinclair

10+ Organizational Design Questions to Increase Adaptiveness

Organizational Design can be one of the most challenging aspects of a leaders role. It’s common that these efforts result in “reorgs” copied from other organisations (aka Spotify). Most of the time these changes make no significant difference to the organisation’s capability.

Uncovering a better way of approaching organisation design has been somewhat of a personal journey recently.

One step on this journey was sharing the 12 Organisation Design Principles that embrace Complexity. The output from several hours of learning from thinkers and experimenters during this panel discussion.

The frame of reference for my own journey: How can organisation design increase adaptiveness?

I no longer use the term “agile” as it’s often related to Scrum and process. Instead, Adaptiveness is a quality of an organisational system, something that can help increase business success. In particular, increasing Adaptive Capacity can help improve business responsiveness to a changing environment.

Using questions to guide organisational design

As a coach, I apply Socratic questioning to most problem solving, using questions that gain greater insights.

“If you ask the wrong question, of course, you get the wrong answer. We find in design it's much more important and difficult to ask the right question. Once you do that, the right answer becomes obvious.” - Amory Lovins

This article contains a set of questions that can help guide organisational design efforts.

Far from an exhaustive list, the questions can help guide personal reflection but are best used in a facilitated conversation with leaders and teams.

The list is influenced by several different concepts, ideas and frameworks that help increase organisational adaptiveness. Many of these are listed in my Ultimate List of Organisation Design Resources in particular:

Organisation Design Questions to increase Adaptiveness

Why do this:

1. What is your purpose in doing this design work? (Ref Wardley Mapping)

2. What is the system scope you want to explore (Whole Company/Division/Team)? (Ref DDD)

Customers and Value:

3. Who are the customers/people seeking value from you? And what do they need? (Ref Wardley Mapping)

4. What parts are required to deliver the value end-to-end to meet the customer needs (Ref Wardley Mapping)?

5. At what evolutionary stage is each part of that Value Chain? (Ref Wardley Mapping)

Current Conditions:

6. What are the current team boundaries and interaction modes? (Ref Team Topologies)

7. Assuming you want to increase the organisation disposition towards flow and adaptability, what are the current constraints? (Ref Theory of Constraints)

Identifying Adjustments:

8. What are the ideal stream team boundaries to minimise communication between teams? (Ref DDD, Conway’s Law)

9. What parts, add extra cognitive load to stream teams and could exist in a platform “as a service”? (Ref Team Topologies)

10. What parts are highly complicated and require a specialist team? (Ref Team Topologies)

11. What need is there for any “Enablement” teams to further enable flow and adaptability? (Ref Team Topologies)

12. What is the desired interaction mode between the various teams? (Ref Team Topologies)


13. What experiments will help test the newly identified team boundaries and interaction modes? (Ref Cynefin)

14. Looking ahead, how will the parts evolve and how will this influence the organisation design? (Ref Wardley Mapping)

15. What indicators will give you feedback that the organisation design needs to change? (Ref Team Topologies)

What questions would you add, change or remove?

Comment below or let me know on Twitter

You can learn more in the Ultimate List of Organisation Design Resources for Adaptiveness.

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©2020 by Toby Sinclair.