Most organizations tend to get more complex over time.
New processes, roles and reporting lines are added. New steering groups and advisory boards are established. New cross-functional initiatives are launched.
All with the best of intentions. But the cumulative effect is increased complexity…
…which means that goals and KPIs start to conflict, we spend more time in internal meetings, and have trouble reaching agreement on key decisions.
This means that we, from time to time, need to make an effort to simplify. And ideally, we should also try to not to add too much complexity in the first place when we make changes.
However, I find that business gurus often come up with rather simplistic solutions to this problem (e.g., “get rid of low value added activities” [OK, what are those?]).
But it’s not simple to achieve simplicity.
We first have to understand the underlying sources of complexity, and idenfity the right intervention.
And there isn’t one, but multiple forms of complexity.
In a new working paper, I use three different systems theories and describe how they lead to three different views on organizational complexity, related to:
- The goals and functions of the organization (or of the sub-units)
- Work processes and interdependencies
- The vertical structure (management layers; reporting relationships)
I summarize the key design principles in the framework shown in the table below (This table basically summarizes most of what I know about organization design!)
My hope is that you can use this framework to identify the causes of complexity and discover potential solutions.
This is still just a working paper, so it needs to be further developed before it can be published in a journal.
But I share this as “work in progress” in case you want to take a look and perhaps give me some feedback before I finalize the paper in the Autumn.
Feel free to leave a comment below!
Image: Simplification by YuguDesign from the Noun Project