Organisational structure as an explicit representation of organisational core capabilities

No comments

If 4 people start an Organisation, each with unique specialist skills, then one would say each person helps their Organisation achieve the necessary goals related to their areas of expertise by doing what they do best on behalf of the other 3. Their capability directly implies the organisation’s capability. When the Organisation requires new capabilities either one of the 4 develops it or they hire a 5th with that  capability.  However, the role each of the experts play in relation to their expertise is not to be the sole performer of all the activity related to that expertise, instead it is to develop guidelines and policies for decisions as well as processes and systems for actions that  help the other 3 make decisions and execute actions without having to rely on him/her all the time.

As the organisation grows and requires new competencies, it develops or hires more capabilities and slowly each person becomes a unit or department. At this point it is easy to lose sight of the importance of expertise that underpins the unit or department but each time an organisation sets up a new unit or function or department, it is indicating a new organisational capablity  or in other words an expertise it needs. I believe even as individuals give way to departments, units or functions, the fundamental idea doesn’t change.

The experts continue to monitor the systems they have put in place and as needed, update or even change them completely as the Organisation or the context within which the organisation exists evolves enough to warrant such changes. These decisions and actions relating to changes and updates to maintain the relevance of the system put in place will always remain in the hands of the expert.

However, with the rest of the organisation now fully understanding the goals and value associated with the decisions and actions taken in each domain, future changes to the systems will 1)  benefit significantly from their input if they haven’t even already been asking for the changes after experiencing the limitations of the current systems which they can share, and 2) change adoption by the other 3 would be almost automatic given their deep participation as practitioners and actual users of the systems on a day-to-day basis. The interesting reality is that each person in the group already greatly appreciates the experience of being a user or practitioner of the tools from the other domains of expertise given they have to go through the exact same journey with the other 3 as the others have to go through with them.

So in a nutshell,

  1. Each unit, department or function has a domain of expertise, you might even say they represent a centre of expertise for the Organisation.
  2. Every unit, department or function operates in 2 ways – first as a Centre of expertise for their domain experts and second as a practitioner of the domains of all the other units, departments or functions.
  3. Each centre is not expected to make all decisions and take all actions on behalf of the rest of the Organisation, instead, each centre is responsible for articulating the domain-related organizational goals of the centre and developing systems to enable everyone else, users / practitioners, make decisions and take actions in every day situations related to that specific domain to achieve the those goals.
  4. Each centre is expected to keep their guidelines, policies, processes and systems up to date and effective against those Organisational realities and challenges that can only be overcome or addressed by  decisions and actions specific to that domain of expertise
  5. The centre fails when their guidelines, policies, processes or systems do not work and these wouldn’t work if 1) the assumptions and theories on which they were based no longer hold true or 2) the design is in conflict with the assumptions and theories on which they were supposedly based or 3) the users (practitioners) do not know how to use them, i.e. The Centre was unable to enable the practitioners to use the systems they created effectively
  6. Implementing changes and updates to the guidelines, policies, processes and systems should be easy if the current ones have been appropriately adopted by practitioners. Where the current system is proving inadequate or failing – that is, it is not being properly used by practitioners or when used, it is not effective against the challenges, then changes should focus on driving greater effectiveness in practitioner usage either by 1) improving practitioner’s ability to use the systems or 2) by simplifying the systems to reduce the level of domain-related subject matter expertise or competency required by practitioners to use the system effectively. An additional possibility could also require reviewing the system design to ensure the theories on which is it based are sound and the design is in alignment with the theories.

So a few questions to take this forward…

  1. What centres of expertise exist in your Organisation and what goals are these centres trying to achieve for the organization? – think about the organisation structure of units/departments/functions
  2. What type of decisions and actions does each centre of expertise help the organisation make in order to achieve these goals?
  3. What systems do each centre of expertise offer the rest of the Organisation to enable practitioners make these decisions and take these actions on a daily basis
  4. What theories and assumptions are the centre’s systems based on and how do they continuously monitor these assumptions and theories to ensure the system designs are not in conflict with the theories and the theories themselves are still relevant and valid?
  5. How do the centres ensure practitioners can use the systems effectively and how is this monitored?
  6. As a practitioner and user of the systems of other centers of expertise in the Organisation, how would you describe 1) the ease of use and effectiveness of the systems they produce and 2) your level of confidence making decisions and taking actions related to each centre at level that achieves that center’s goals for the Organisation?

So as an example…


Most organisations are made up of business, support and control functions or departments. The business functions represents the organisations ability to create competitive products and services and bring them to market, the control functions represent the organisations ability to manage all the risks associated with performing business and support functions to ensure the organisation remains viable and sustainable and the support functions represent the organisations ability to execute business and control decisions and activities. Each of these need to rely on current and emerging research, theories, true expertise and bodies of experience.

While body of experience currently plays a huge role in how these centres approach delivering the value described above, I believe we need to significantly increase the value placed on research, theories and true expertise as well. This balanced approach to expertise needed for each centre to truly fulfil it’s organisational competency building role will greatly increase the organisations overall sustainability.

At the moment, I get the feeling the demonstration of true expertise and active research to develop and test theories is happening mostly outside the organisation. It seems almost every one in the organisation is operating purely as a practitioner / user and often not always a very discerning or informed one. I believe Organisations that have their centres running with strong internal experts and with active practitioner-focused theory formation and research going on are likely to be significantly more competent than those that do not. More importantly, they will most likely be leading the innovation of  practices within their domains and  industry.

Leave a Reply