The People Puzzle: Fitting Talent to Design

A good organization design process will result in a robust blueprint for success; alignment around that blueprint; and a solid understanding of the work required to enact it. In our work with organizations, we see time and again that following such a process will result in great outcomes.

However, while having such a process is essential, it does not guarantee success. At the end of the day it’s the people in the organization who actually implement the design. Even the most brilliant organization design can fail with the wrong team in place, so it’s important to make sure that the right people get into the right places to be successful.

There’s No Such Thing as a One Size Fits All Team

After the work has been done to create the optimal organization design, the further work of putting together the right team to implement it is critical. It is therefore essential for leaders to take the time to assess whether the right talent is in the right places to optimize the organization. While we often compare organizations to a Rubik’s cube, designing a team is more like putting together a puzzle.

Part of the process of matching the best talent to the right roles in an organization design involves taking a realistic look at each individual’s capabilities.  Just as in athletics where some people will perform well in almost any sport, some talent is just good overall talent. Someone who fits this profile will probably do well no matter where you put them. Others are specialists. They can really play a particular role well, but asking them to stretch themselves beyond their defined “genius zone” probably won’t result in winning scores. 

When the structure of an organization changes, it’s like trying to fit existing shapes into a new frame. Some people may fit just fine nearly anywhere in the new structure. Others may be perfect for one spot in the puzzle but create gaps or friction if they’re placed in the wrong spot. And, there may be some people who just don’t fit into the new frame at all.

A Tale of Misplaced Talent

A few years back we worked with a company that was highly motivated to make some important changes to their organization. We did some extensive organization design work with them, and helped them come up with an excellent design blueprint. However, we knew that talent would be a critical factor in implementing this design.

We told them, “The approach we need to take here is to make sure you get the best people in the right roles.” They agreed, and we spent some time with them discussing how best to match people to roles.

Unfortunately, in the period that followed our work with them, this intention fell by the wayside. Instead of carefully matching talent to role, they ended up redistributing all their current people—some of whom were extremely talented, others less so—into the new organization structure. There was not a lot of effort spent in figuring out the optimal place or role for each person to play. As a result, this organization found itself unable to realize the changes they had planned.

About a year after they worked with us, we heard that they weren’t getting the results they wanted. This company’s effort to retain all their existing talent, while well-intended, ended up delaying their progress. Once we worked with them to match the right people to the right roles, they began to experience the success they desired.

A Well Curated Team is Key to Success

Just having a good organization design, while critically important, will not automatically result in success. A good design needs good people to implement it. Leaders need to remember that people are best served when they are put in a position where they can excel. An inappropriate match can adversely affect the entire organization, but matching the right talent to the right roles will position an organization to achieve its intended outcomes.