The Second Challenge: Over-Focus On the Individual

One challenge with organization design is the over-focus on the individual, as seen in this flowchart.

Over the past three weeks I have shared a series of posts about my new book, Strategies for Organization Design: Using the Peopletecture Model to Improve Collaboration and Performance.  In the book I describe the three enduring challenges that plague organization design:

1.   Design decisions are not linked to human behavior.

2.   Design solutions are focused primarily on the individual.

3.   Design ignores the power of horizontal networks.

Today’s focus is on the second challenge:  The interventions suggested to remedy the many trials of traditional organizational design in today’s environment are almost solely focused on the individual, with only the occasional attempt to address the group. Consider some of the corporate terms you’ve heard over the years, such as “enterprise mindset” or “collaborative culture.” These are typically offered up with little guidance on how to design the context that drives the desired individual and group behavior in the first place. There is much of the “why” at the system level—think “meaningful work” or “shared purpose”—but little of the “how.”

Positive Impacts Require Multiple Levels of Analysis

To create meaningful, positive impacts, the levels of analysis that matter are not just individual, but also group and system. Yet could you not argue that the core question of organizing is how to ensure that any individual in an organization has the right information to make the right decisions at the right time? Perhaps, but the challenge with considering interventions at the individual level in organization design is that you cannot actually change the individual. Spending time teaching interpersonal communication skills, coaching for implicit bias, and investing in leadership development could bring about some change at the individual level in some cases, but ultimately, focusing on the individual is a flawed approach to changing an organization.

Based on the years I have spent advising CEO’s and hundreds of executives and team leaders on the topic of organization design, I developed the Peopletecture model to resolve these organization design issues. I discuss this method in my new book: Strategies for Organization Design: Using the Peopletecture Model to Improve Collaboration and Performance. In the book, you’ll learn the arts of:

  • Accelerating organizational transformation in a data-driven and evidence-based manner
  • Making your organization’s work matter more to the people doing it, and
  • Using insights drawn from network science, human motivation, behavioral economics, and organization theory to drive meaningful collaboration.

I would love to hear from you so please email me at to get in touch.

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