Organization design and new ways of working: additional resources

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Emerging forms of organizational design

How to choose a model of self-organization that works for you

The OS Canvas

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Further reading

Emerging forms of organizational design

  • Heterarchy
  • Situational Hierarchy
  • Dual Operating System
  • Autonomous Business Units System
  • Circle Structure
  • Zeus Model
  • Agile by design (example: Spotify)

Credit and more information: What are the emerging forms of organizational design? by Lee Bryant, Shiftbase Research.

How to choose a model of self-organization that works for you

How to choose a model of self-organization that works for you, by Aaron Dignan, in Medium

Exposition: How to choose a model of self-organization that works for you, by Aaron Dignan, The Ready², on Medium.

The OS Canvas

Version 1.0, by The Ready

The OS Canvas, version 1.0, by The Ready

This is not a mutually exclusive or comprehensively exhaustive (MECE) framework. From a systems thinking perspective, reducing an organization to its independent parts is a mistake. Rather, these are overlapping and interconnected fields that our research tells us are in a state of flux.

Each field asks us to consider certain aspects of our organization more deeply than we typically would. For example, what is authority, how should it be distributed, and how does that manifest (or not) in your culture? The canvas forces us to confront the delta between our assumptions, our beliefs, and our reality.

Source: Aaron Dignan, Co-founder, The Ready (see Note 2)
Read more about The OS Canvas

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Wirearchy, a term coined by Jon Husband in 1999, is defined as dynamic flows of power and authority based on knowledge, trust, credibility and a focus on generating economic and social value, enabled by interconnected people and technology.

The four pillars of wirearchy are:

  • Knowledge, which is freely shared.
  • Trust, which emerges through transparency and authenticity
  • Credibility, which is earned through collective intelligence and developed through active questioning of all assumptions, including our own.
  • Value-creation, which is enabled through collaboration and cooperation, including the furthest possible distribution of authority.

Source: Book Review: Wirearchy, by Jan Höglund (citing JH).

See also:

Push Hierarchy? Pull Hierarchy? Holacracy? Holarchy? Heterarchy? Wirearchy? by Jon Husband

Wikipedia: Wirearchy

Your Organization Is Already A Wirearchy, by Jon Husband


We have to face the fact that any change program that doesn’t address the architectural rigidities and ideological prejudices of bureaucracy won’t, in fact, change much at all. We need to remind ourselves that bureaucracy was an invention, and that whatever replaces it will also be an invention—a cluster of radically new management principles and processes that will help us take advantage of scale without becoming sclerotic, that will maximize efficiency without suffocating innovation, that will boost discipline without extinguishing freedom. We can cure the core incompetencies of the corporation—but only with a bold and concerted effort to pull bureaucracy up by its roots.

Source: Bureaucracy Must Die, by Gary Hamel, in Harvard Business Review.

Until we challenge our foundational beliefs, we won’t be able to build organizations that are substantially more capable than the ones we have today. We will fail to build organizations that are as nimble as change itself. We will fail to make innovation an instinctual and intrinsic capability. We will fail to inspire extraordinary contributions from our colleagues and employees.

Most organizations are still feudal at their core, with a raft of institutionalized distinctions between thinkers and doers—between the executive class and everyone else. And most leaders still over-value alignment and conformance and under-value heterodoxy and heresy. Until this changes, our organizations will be substantially less capable than they might be.

Source: The Core Incompetencies of the Corporation, by Gary Hamel, in Harvard Business Review.

Top-level managers in many of today’s leading corporations are losing control of their companies. The problem is not that they have misjudged the demands created by an increasingly complex environment and an accelerating rate of environmental change, nor even that they have failed to develop strategies appropriate to the new challenges. The problem is that their companies are organizationally incapable of carrying out the sophisticated strategies they have developed. Over the past 20 years, strategic thinking has far outdistanced organizational capabilities.

Source: Matrix Management: Not a Structure, a Frame of Mind, by Christopher A. Bartlett and Sumantra Ghoshal, Harvard Business Review, July – August 1990 Issue.

Even if you don’t call him or her a manager, there always has to be someone at the top. Even in a workplace where all employees are equal, there’s always someone who naturally steps up to lead a team or project. A workplace without manager-type positions is nearly impossible. Turning manager into a bad word in the workplace doesn’t change the fact that there still needs to be someone who is the face of the company, who answers questions, and who signs the paychecks.

Source: When Did Manager Become A Bad Word? by Jacob Morgan, on The Future Organization.

In order for things to change, individuals need to become aware of their current operating system: what it is, why it is, and how it does (or doesn’t) fall short. For this process we often confront a team with these 7 questions:

  1. How does everyone know what to do?
  2. What are the rules?
  3. How do individuals and teams make decisions?
  4. How is authority distributed?
  5. What happens when someone has an idea?
  6. How are conflicts resolved?
  7. How does the system learn and change over time?

As the team answers these questions we ask, “What assumptions are present in these answers? What do these answers say about your culture? Do you like your answers? Are your answers consistent from person to person? Do you have answers at all?”

Source: The biggest obstacle to the future of work, by Aaron Dignan², on Medium.

12 keys to the workplace of the future

  1. Initiative.
  2. Tolerance for ambiguity.
  3. Consciousness.
  4. Contribution mindset.
  5. Low power-distance sensitivity.
  6. Natural leadership.
  7. Connectivity.
  8. Noncognitive skills.
  9. Nurturing networks.
  10. Nurturing the learning organization.
  11. Capitalizing on the power of weak ties.
  12. Locus of control.
Read more: 12 keys to the workplace of the future, by Doug Kirkpatrick, author of Beyond Empowerment: The Age of the Self-Managed Organization, on Morning Star Self-management Institute website.

Individual effectiveness will ultimately dictate organizational results whether the governance system of choice is holacracy, teleocracy, sociocracy, workplace democracy, ROWE, agile management, horizontal management, self-management, wiki management, radical management, lattice management or any other approach.

Source: 12 keys to the workplace of the future, by Doug Kirkpatrick, author of Beyond Empowerment: The Age of the Self-Managed Organization, on Morning Star Self-management Institute website.

We sit at the precipice of a completely new world. Unknown and unknowable. From exponential technologies that will transform our economy, to generational differences that reveal new ways of working and organizing, the changes that are coming are seismic and sudden. Dramatic and brave work must be done to reinvent nearly every institution and process that touches our lives.

Source: TheReady.com².

The Building Blocks of Self Management

  1. Autonomy of execution.
  2. No “people managers.”
  3. Autonomy of role selection.
  4. No explicit mechanism for setting enterprise-level strategy and objectives.
Source: The Building Blocks of Self Management, by Niko Canner, Incandescent, on Medium.

The Building Blocks of Self-Management

  1. Commit to a clear collective Purpose. A true and compelling purpose becomes the ultimate trump-card that everyone can use to break through bureaucracy and inaction and move the company forward.
  2. Digitize your org to tap your network and blow up the hierarchy. Having our organization expressed in this transparent way builds trust and empowers team members because our commitments to each other are explicit and open.
  3. Distribute authority and embrace total self-management. In a truly self-managed organization, each member is trusted to use their best judgement to determine the best path forward in service of the team’s collective purpose¹.
  4. Never stop iterating. The need to continually test and learn is not limited to the discipline of software engineering. Bring this same agile approach to all aspects of your work and your organization itself.
  5. Work in public. Any document you’re creating or information you’re sharing should at a minimum be accessible to all members of the organization and ideally be directly shared with the entire organization (and beyond).
Source: Unlocking the Benefits of Self-Management Without Going All In on Holacracy, by Mike Arauz, co-founder of August², on First Round Review.
¹ My understanding is that the team’s collective purpose is the enterprise’s purpose in miniature.
Holacracy’s constitution captures many productive, good rules for self-governance, but it’s too long to be useful. At August², we’re starting with this four-sentence alternative:

Governance is recorded as either Roles or Policies. All of it is changeable with data on a cycle-by-cycle cadence, at open, facilitated Governance Meetings. Policies apply to teams that create them, and to any sub-teams. Everything else is up to your best judgement.

Source and more info: Our Starter Governance Kernel, by Clay Parker Jones, August², on Medium.

The concept of no bosses, no mentors, and no managers is a fairly new one, so it’s not yet well understood by many people. Be prepared for questions from employees, like:

  • How will promotions and pay raises work?
  • How will dismissals work?
  • How will conflicts between teams work? Who will be the decision maker?
  • What about information flows and project management in general? How will all that get handled?
  • Who will onboard employees and be responsible for their mentorship?
  • Who will I go to to answer any concerns or issues I may have?
Source: Myths of companies with no management, by Romy Misra, in Fast Company (with minor edit by JML).

For functional purposes, networks have two salient characteristics: clustering and path length. Clustering refers to the degree to which a network is made up of tightly knit groups while path lengths is a measure of distance—the average number of links separating any two nodes in the network.

We often hear about the need to “break down silos” to create a networked organization, but this too is a misnomer. Silos are functional groups and they need a high degree of clustering to work effectively and efficiently. The real problem in most organizations is that path lengths are too great and information travels too slowly, resulting in a failure to adapt.

Source: What Makes an Organization “Networked”? by Greg Satell, in Harvard Business Review.

Ironically, one thing that seems to kill off the move to self-management is bureaucracy—an organizational blight that self-management is designed to tame. Many of the executives who’ve traveled to Morning Star, for instance, go back to their companies excited about what they’ve seen. But rather than act, “they have to do reports and presentations, and then they have to do more reports and presentations,” Green says. Eventually, the momentum dies.

Source: If Self-Management Is Such a Great Idea, Why Aren’t More Companies Doing It? by Rick Wartzman, in Forbes

In theory, organizations are meant to enable us — to make us faster, stronger and more effective than we’d be on our own. And yet today, in listening to my clients, it feels as if the exact opposite is true — as if the organization is actually getting in their way. The symptoms of this are many and may sound familiar: Siloed teams with misaligned incentives; bureaucratic processes governed by inflexible policies; paralyzed decision-making strewn across way too many meetings. The list goes on.

Source: 8 Symptoms Of Organizations On The Cusp Of Change, by Mark Raheja, co-founder of August², on Medium.


Responsive Organizations

A talk given by Mike Arauz, co-founder of August, February 2016

Download presentation slides—pdf document

Further reading

The $3 Trillion Prize for Busting Bureaucracy (and how to claim it)—pdf document by Gary Hamel, London Business School and The Management Lab, and Michele Zanini, The Management Lab

4 Things You Should Know About Networked Organizations, by Greg Satell

The 6 Building Blocks of Organizational Structure, by Erik Devaney, on HubSpot blog | The author describes six forms of top-down organizational structure. Useful for comparison purposes.

8 Reasons Flat Organizations Don’t Work, According to a Turnaround CEO, by Minda Zetlin, on Inc.

8 Symptoms Of Organizations On The Cusp Of Change, by Mark Raheja, co‑founder, August², on Medium

10 Principles of Organization Design, by Gary L. Neilson (Strategy&), Jaime Estupiñán (Strategy&), and Bhushan Sethi (PwC Advisory Services), in strategy+business

The 10 principles:

1. Declare amnesty for the past.
2. Design with “DNA.”
3. Fix the structure last, not first.
4. Make the most of top talent.
5. Focus on what you can control.
6. Promote accountability.
7. Benchmark sparingly, if at all.
8. Let the “lines and boxes” fit your company’s purpose.
9. Accentuate the informal.
10. Build on your strengths.

A Beginner’s Guide to Org Design: The 8 Words We Encounter The Most, by Oday Kamal, The Ready², on Medium

Beyond hierarchy & holacracy: Truly responsive organizations love authority, by Tom Nixon, on Medium

The biggest obstacle to the future of work, by Aaron Dignan, The Ready², on Medium

The Building Blocks of Self Management, by Niko Canner, Incandescent, on Medium

Building High-Performance, High-Trust Organizations: Decentralization 2.0, a book by Gerrit Broekstra, Professor Emeritus of Organization Behavior at the Nyenrode Business University, the Netherlands. View selected pages on Google Books

Bureaucracy Must Die, by Gary Hamel, in Harvard Business Review

The Core Incompetencies of the Corporation, by Gary Hamel, in Harvard Business Review

Democratizing work through participative design, by Merrelyn Emery, on New Unionism blog

Don’t Let Outdated Management Structures Kill Your Company, by Vineet Nayar, founder, Sampark Foundation, and former CEO, HCL Technologies, in Harvard Business Review

The Feeling of Organization, by Dara Blumenthal and Nathan Snyder, Nature of Work²

Gary Hamel’s $3 Trillion Prize For Killing Bureaucracy—Steve Denning’s Gary Hamel interview published in Forbes

Getting organizational design right, by Steven Aronowitz, Aaron De Smet and Deirdre McGinty, in McKinsey Quarterly

See also: 9 Golden Rules for Re-designing Organizations? — Chris Worley’s LinkedIn response to this article

Good Organizational Design is Destructive, by Sam Spurlin, The Ready², on Medium

Hierarchies in Perpetual Beta, by Harold Jarche, on Medium: “The future of work is in temporary, negotiated hierarchies connected through human and digital networks”

Hierarchy is Good. Hierarchy is Essential. And Less Isn’t Always Better,
by Bob Sutton, Stanford Professor and co-author, with Huggy Rao, of Scaling Up Excellence

Hierarchy is Overrated, by Tim Kastelle, in Harvard Business Review

How Self-Managed Companies Help People Learn on the Job, by Ethan Bernstein, Niko Canner and Charlotte Dobbs, in Harvard Business Review

How to choose a model of self-organization that works for you, by Aaron Dignan, The Ready², on Medium

How to Make Corporate Hierarchy More Likable, by Phanish Puranam, INSEAD Professor of Strategy and Organisation Design, and Eucman Lee, Assistant Professor, Nanyang Technological University

If Self-Management Is Such a Great Idea, Why Aren’t More Companies Doing It? by Rick Wartzman, in Forbes

Is the meaning of work about to change? by Rick Goings, Chairman & CEO, Tupperware, on World Economic Forum website

The Last Re-Org You’ll Ever Do, by Aaron Dignan, The Ready²,on Medium

The Leaderless Organization, by Greg Satell

Stanley McChrystal: What The Army Can Teach You About Leadership, by Dan Schawbel, in Forbes

Misperceptions of Self-Management, by Frederic Laloux, on Morning Star Self-management Institute website

Myths of companies with no management, by Romy Misra, in Fast Company

The New Model for Scaling a Company, by Clay Parker Jones, co-founder, August²

The Office Hierarchy Is Officially Dead, by Rebecca Greenfield, on BloomburgBusiness

The OpenSpace Agility Glossary, by Dan Mezick

The Operating Model That Is Eating The World, by Aaron Dignan, founder, The Ready², on Medium

The Org Chart Is Dead. By Aaron Dignan, founder, The Ready², on Medium

The Organization is Broken. How do we fix it? by Clay Parker Jones, co‑founder, August², on Medium

Organize for Complexity, a book by Niels Pflaeging

Organizing for the future, by McKinsey’s Aaron De Smet, Susan Lund, and William Schaninger, in McKinsey Quarterly, January 2016 | “Platform-based talent markets help put the emphasis in human-capital management back where it belongs—on humans.”

People Want Power Because They Want Autonomy, by Julie Beck, on The Atlantic (reporting on a study conducted by researchers from University of Cologne, University of Groningen, and Columbia University)

The problem with future of work discussions, by Ted Bauer, on The Context of Things

The Problem with Organization Design, by Dara Blumenthal and Nathan Snyder, both at Nature of Work², on Medium, in six parts:

Part 1—The Root of the Problem

Part 2—Getting Before and Beyond The Firm

Part 3—Laboring While Human

Part 4—The Need for Deliberately Developmental Organizations

Part 5—Human Centric Management

Part 6—The Nature of Work

Reinventing Management, Part 1: What Color Is Your Organization? and Part 2: What Happens When No One Is In Charge? by Rod Collins, Director of Innovation, Optimity Advisors, on Huffington Post

Resolving the awkward paradox in Frederic Laloux’s Reinventing Organizations, by Tom Nixon, on Medium

Team of Teams: New Rules of Engagement for a Complex World, a book by Stanley A. McChrystal, a retired United States Army general who led the Joint Special Operations Command in Iraq during the Persian Gulf Wars and was top Commander of American forces in Afghanistan

Top-Down Solutions Like Holacracy Won’t Fix Bureaucracy, by Gary Hamel and Michele Zanini, Management Innovation Exchange, in Harvard Business Review

Type 2 Organizations, by Clay Parker Jones, August², on Medium

Type 2 Organization—a working definition by Clay Parker Jones

A decision system built to break down big decisions and jobs into smaller pieces that can be processed much more rapidly, replacing the illusion of top-down control over the future with realtime, active control over the present. It’s an organization where very few decisions are made for others, but many more decisions are being made in the open.

Unlocking the Benefits of Self-Management Without Going All In on Holacracy, by Mike Arauz, co-founder, August², on First Round Review

What Happened When We Ditched Our Flat Org Chart, by Chris Savage, co-founder and CEO of @wistia, on Medium / ReadThink

What Makes an Organization “Networked”? by Greg Satell, in Harvard Business Review

What we got wrong about self-management: embracing natural hierarchy at work, by Leo Widrich, Buffer

Why is it so hard to change how we manage ourselves? by Rebecca Greenfield, Bloomberg, in Chicago Tribune—a critical look at Holacracy and other ‘alt-management’ approaches

Why more companies are looking at alternative management structures, and why you should too, by Belle Beth Cooper

Why we cannot learn a damn thing from Semco, or Toyota, by Niels Pflaeging, author of Organize for Complexity. How to get life back into work to build the high-performance organization, on LinkedIn

Why We Still Need Bosses, by Steve Tobak, on Fortune

Why Workers Can Suffer in Bossless Companies Like GitHub, by Klint Finley, on Wired

Note 2: Undercurrent, an early adopter of Holacracy, was a pioneering organizational design and strategy firm founded by Josh Spear, Rob Schuham and Aaron Dignan. The firm folded in August 2015 after being acquired by Quirky the previous April.

Read more in Undercurrent: An autopsy of a once-hot agency’s demise, by Shareen Pathak.

On closure, several former Undercurrent people formed their own consulting firms, notably August, The Ready, NOBL Collective (pronounced no-bell), and Live Grey.

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