April  16,  2019

I recently realized our Founding Fathers were among some of the first organizational designers. The comparison stuck out to me while I’ve been learning about Constitutional Law through an online class at Yale. Don’t believe me? Indulge me for a minute or two and I’ll explain.

An organization’s structure can either enable or block change. If you want to institutionalize change and make it sustainable and successful, then your organization’s structure must facilitate the behaviors you ultimately want.

Our Founding Fathers knew this, and that’s what led them to scrap the Articles of Confederation (America’s original org design) and start over by creating the Constitution (our current org design – with some tweaks).

A case study in organizational design

What I learned in class is the founders’ first attempt at org design, the Articles of Confederation, focused too much on the organization. It did not focus enough on design and how people work together to deliver value to the customer; a common error made in organizational design.

For example, in the Articles of Confederation, each state was supposed to support a federal army for defense. But, there were not any “levers” or processes created to compel states to send money or troops. The result was many states did not contribute their fair share in America’s revolution against Britain. This nearly caused America to lose the war for independence.

Luckily, the founders recognized the flaws of their original org design. So, they started over by creating the Constitution with a laser-like focus on the processes that would deliver value to the customer. “We the people”.

A new design

The founders first focused on the country’s three key processes: the legislative process (Article I – The Legislature), the executive process (Article II – The Executive), and the judicial process (Article III – The Judiciary). Only once they identified the key processes did they add in details within each article about specific job functions. They also included other articles to better define and clarify jobs and functions.

The Constitution, unlike the Articles of Confederation, now had “levers” or processes in place that re-enforced the behaviors and actions the founders wanted from each branch and the states.

See, I told you our Founding Fathers were some of the first organizational designers! Their org structure and design have lasted more than two hundred and twenty-five years, with a few org design tweaks or amendments along the way. That’s an impressive track record!

Modern-day application

You can have the same success in creating your organization. Remember to focus on the processes and behaviors that deliver value to your customers. Define jobs after you have defined the processes; only then are you truly designing an organization that facilitates successful behavior and change. Hopefully, one that lasts as long as the original org designers created when creating our Constitution.