Emerging Organizational Design Practices to Create Agility.

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Steve Kofford, PhD
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Wowledge Expert Team
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This guide is part of a progression set comprised of Core, Advanced, and Emerging Organizational Design practices.

What it is

Emerging organizational design practices focus less on traditional hierarchical organizational structures and more on creating systems that facilitate innovation and adaptability. These systems emphasize informal networks, team-based structures, and collaboration within and across organizational boundaries. Core to this is the identification of networks that exist outside of the formal functional, departmental, geographic, and business unit-centric structures. In such networks, members of different teams engage with others to share insights, ideas, and data that can help one or the other complete a task, design an innovation, or co-create new work methods. Such networks are created when relationships are established outside or adjacent to the formal workflows, such as through social, joint projects, or mentorship-based relations that exist or are created. Leveraging such networks for improved innovation or value-creation calls for outside-the-box thinking, formal cross-fertilization opportunity creation, and network analysis. Organizational design practices based on such systems require precise identification techniques that enable the capture of these naturally occurring and informal structures. The call for a cultural commitment to openness and integrating people, projects, and emerging technologies, including artificial intelligence (AI), enables collaboration and allows the organization to focus on high-value activities.

These practices bring internal and external resources to create (most often) short-term structures with a purpose and focus on specific business needs. Business agility is the primary rationale for these fluid organizational structures supported by associated talent programs and processes. They engage external resources in conjunction with internal staff, and methodologies are determined based on formal criteria. Leveraging external talent for needed expertise or idea generation is a critical aspect of these practices. Formalized assessments of what is required and how resources will be used are necessary for such structuring. Introducing new technologies spreads the ability to resolve long-standing challenges and issues to the forefront. While many are emerging and new, those such as artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) offer the promise of increased efficiencies and pattern recognition that traditional human-centered thinking alone cannot generate (thus their use in medical, pharmacological, and technological industries).

Why use it

Organizations face an increasingly unpredictable and complex environment. More than ever, organizations need to be flexible and adapt quickly to changing conditions. Implementing emerging practices emphasizing openness, innovation, new technologies, and teams-based structures can help organizations thrive in today’s business environment. The opportunities are endless, with a commitment to cross-functional work teams that are brought together based on a mix of skills and experiences needed to generate solutions to high-profile and strategic issues and challenges. Creating such teams brings together a wide range of skills, knowledge bases, areas of expertise, and application/use case experiences. By assembling work teams based upon non-traditional (e.g., multi-functional) skill and capability mixes at scale, a culture of sharing atypical work methodologies and processes drive cross-fertilization of skills and substantial innovation.


Freeing critical talent from the traditional boundaries of functional or employer relationships and workflows offers the promise of more flexible, agile, and innovative work processes and outcomes while creating a more stimulating, invigorating, and innovative work life for workers. The promise of greater organizational agility and resourcing in the face of rapidly changing markets is seen as a critical and strategic competitive differentiator across industries. Formally adopting cross-functional work structures and processes can drive enhanced sharing of previously function-centric knowledge and capabilities. For example, bringing together a manufacturing engineering-based team with a financial modeling expert, a human-centered design professional, and a learning & development facilitator who can leverage unique insights into human behavior capabilities and financial impacts with process and equipment redesign.  The potential for improved outcomes is enormous. In a similar light, leveraging new technologies to identify opportunities for job redesign through automation and enhanced worker processing is becoming an ongoing initiative as new capabilities are developed and released. Such capabilities exp[and the opportunities for increased effectiveness and efficiencies can directly impact how work is accomplished (and ultimately staffed).

Practices at this level

Facilitating networks inside and outside the organization to foster informal collaboration.

Analyze informal informational and influence networks and leverage them to enable flexibility and responsiveness to a changing environment.

Implementing agile teams to respond to dynamic market environments.

Structuring and implementing agile, team-based structures that are self-organizing and quickly receive and respond to bottom-up feedback.

Identifying partnership opportunities with external stakeholders to enable collaboration across organizational boundaries.

Developing external collaboration relationships with partner organizations and individuals to augment, fill or replace business-critical skill sets and capabilities.

Assessing how emerging technologies can shift the organization towards innovative frontiers.

Evaluating artificial intelligence and related technologies' abilities to impact major work processes and resulting organization redesign decision-making.

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