Should you crowdsource the structure of your organization?

Every time I’ve witnessed the restructuring of an organization or company, the same thing happened: within minutes of the announcement, the foot soldiers gathered in the cafeteria, voiced their surprise over some of the changes and discussed why certain things simply won’t work. I’m normally one of those people.

Organizational structures are information architecture

The other day I realized that the challenges that management face when deciding an organizational structure are not very different from the problems that web managers have when creating or modifying information architecture. The structure of an organization is information architecture since that structure defines how information flows.

However, while we have tools that we use to verify whether a web site’s structure makes sense to its users, we don’t do the same when restructuring a company or organization. But we should do it and we should do it with its “users” – the staff.

So let’s change that! Let’s use online tools to improve the next restructuring process of your non-profit or international organization. I’m mainly thinking of card sorting here, more specifically of anonymous online card sorting.

Card sort your organization

The reason we are sometimes confronted with less than ideal structures is not because management is incompetent. It is because – beyond your immediate line manager – they only have a very vague idea of what exactly your job is. For them, it might not be obvious with whom you need to coordinate. That is understandable: beyond a certain size, it is impossible for senior management to know details about the responsibilities of every single employee. The problem is that the people who know, i.e. those who do the actual work, are frequently not consulted because that is considered to be too time-consuming.

That doesn’t have to be the case: You could easily create a card sorting exercise for each department and ask all staff to participate online. The result would be that Senior Management would see the organization from the ground perspective. Tools like Optimalsort let you easily collate the results so that you can see where there is broad agreement. If two-thirds of a department think that a certain function is essential for their work, then that’s probably true. Doing the exercise anonymously and only would mean that everybody’s voice counts the same and that people aren’t as likely to follow opinion leaders but share their honest point of view.

I’m sure that this approach would lead to some interesting revelations about how the organization or company really works. It would also give people a sense of ownership of the results and could achieve an understanding of the compromises that have to be made. I’ll propose it next time we are being restructured.

What do you think? Does my idea make sense? Can you crowdsource the structure of an organization? Please leave a comment and share your opinion.

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