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Book excerpt: Communication structures of an organization


Beyond the Org Chart

So if org charts are not an accurate representation of organizational structures, what is? Niels Pflaeging, author of Organize for Complexity, identifies not one but three different organizational structures in every organization:

  1. Formal structure (the org chart) — facilitates compliance
  2. Informal structure — the “realm of influence” between individuals
  3. Value creation structure — how work actually gets done based on inter-personal and inter-team reputation

Pflaeging suggests that the key to successful knowledge work organizations is in the interactions between the informal structure and the value creation structure (that is, the interactions between people and teams). Other authors have proposed similar characterizations, such as Frédéric Laloux in Reinventing Organizations or Brian Robertson’s Holacracy approach.

The Team Topologies approach acknowledges the importance of informal and value creation structures as defined Over the last several decades, there have been many new approaches to organizing businesses, but usually the new design remains a static view of the organization that does not take into consideration the real behaviors and structures that emerge after reorganization. For instance, the “matrix management” approach that started in the 1990s — and became quite popular over the next couple of decades — tried to address the inherent complexity of highly uncertain, highly skilled work For workers, re-orgs, like introducing matrix management, can bring a lot of fear and worry. Often, it’s seen as a time and effort drain that is more likely to set the business back rather than move it forward. And once the next technological or methodological revolution hits, the business undertakes yet another re-org, breaking down established forms of communication and splitting up teams that were just starting to get their mojo.

It is increasingly clear that relying on a single, static organizational structure, like the org chart or matrix management, is untenable for effective outcomes with modern software systems. Instead of a single structure, what is needed is a model that is adaptable to the current situation — one that takes into consideration how teams grow and interact with each other. Team Topologies provides the (r)evolutionary approach required to keep teams, processes, and technology aligned for all kinds of organizations.

In her excellent 2015 book, Guide to Organisation Design: Creating High- Performing and Adaptable Enterprises, Naomi Stanford lists five rules of thumb for designing organizations:

  1. Design when there is a compelling reason.
  2. Develop options for deciding on a design.
  3. Choose the right time to design.
  4. Look for clues that things are out of alignment.
  5. Stay alert to the future.

As we continue to move through this book, we will explore how to address these five heuristics for organization design.


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