Organization Design Trends for Practitioners in 2018

Last November 9-10, I had the privilege of attending (and presenting at) the 13th Annual Organization Design Conference in New York City. This conference is designed for executives and practitioners from any discipline responsible for large-scale transformation efforts, and it is always interesting to attend because it is the best event of its kind in the field of organization design. With over a hundred senior practitioners of organization design as well as other business leaders interested in implementing organization change in attendance, participation offers an excellent way to put one’s finger on the pulse of current industry trends.

Each year when I attend this event, I like to look for trending themes in the concerns of fellow thought leaders and practitioners. This year, a number of themes became evident over the course of the two-day conference. Here are some of the ones that stood out:

Trend #1: Thirst for Tools

As long as I’ve been in this field, I’ve observed a marked need for and interest in breakthrough or cutting edge tools for effective organizational design and implementing organization change. In light of this, when we were asked to facilitate the pre-conference workshop for this conference on November 8th, we chose to address the topic of tools. Our workshop was titled Designing Organizations that Work: Tools and Techniques, and judging by the level of participation, this topic continues to be an area of interest in the field.

We spent the day covering organization design tools and discussing the application of organization design concepts and principles in a variety of settings. Participants included leaders and companies from all over the world, in all areas from services to products to financial to nonprofit. Everyone was concerned with finding and learning to apply the right tools and frameworks to facilitate the strategic organization design discussions in their organizations.

Trend #2: Healthy Skepticism

Throughout the event, current trends and topics like Agile and digital transformation were hot topics of conversation. While a lot of people believe there will be significant impact from those trends in organizations, there is also a certain amount of skepticism that some of those trends may be more talked about than they are actually driving change currently.

While a few skeptics voiced negative opinions about these topics, seeing them as disruptive, more common was a sense of cautious interest: waiting to see how they will play out, or how quickly and to what extent they will become standard approaches in the marketplace.  I believe the trends are real and will continue to grow in the coming years, but until the impacts of the trends are felt more tangibly in most organizations, it will be easy to take a wait and see stance.

Trend #3: Implementing Organization Change

While not a new trend by any means, the topic of change management cannot get decoupled from the topic of organization design. Challenges to implementing organization change are a perennial topic of concern in the organization design field. There is no way around that reality; it’s a big part of what we address when we talk about organization design and its effectiveness. This year’s conference was no exception: almost every presentation included a robust element pertaining to the topic of how to effectively navigate complex organization change while finding the right organization design configurations that will allow organizations to win.

Trend #4: Building Capability

A final topic around which there was a great deal of interest is how to build organization design capability within an organization. There was a general acknowledgement that there is indeed a distinct skill set needed to practice in the organization design space. In addition to seeking appropriate tools as mentioned above, people were asking key questions around how to effectively set their organizations up to build internal capability. Questions around talent selection, team building, methodology build out, and technology utilization were common, along with concerns about how to leverage current resources to best advantage.  As a preview, look in the coming weeks for our new Executive Guide on how to build a winning organization transformation center of expertise.

As we head into 2018, we anticipate these areas to remain leading topics of interest in the organization design field. Do you agree? What organization design trends have you noticed lately? We welcome your comments below.

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