White Paper

5 keys to successful organizational design

All great change is preceded by chaos.


Welcome to a world where one startup quickly and completely changes an entire industry.

Netflix knocked home-entertainment giants to their knees in under a decade.

Thanks to Airbnb and Lyft, travel and transit will never be the same.

Across every industry, technology that makes our lives easier and more automated is developed at breakneck speed. And with artificial intelligence and big data analytics rapidly maturing, we’re poised to enter yet another phase of great disruption.

Whether yours is a company that sets the pace or tries to keep up depends on those at the helm—technology leaders who embody a strategic new creed: Be bold.

Fortune befriends the bold.


That means embracing new ways of thinking and working.

Being different means creating an organization that’s flexible and takes a fresh view of team structure. Strong leaders recognize that and focus on building their teams with a skills-first mindset. That’s a team equipped to design impactful roles, make the most of an organization’s human talent and move quickly to stay ahead of their markets.

We’ve identified five keys to nimble, scalable organizational design, accelerated by the new standard of measuring technology skills.


1. Build on your strengths


Know thyself.



As Socrates, father of Western philosophy and arguably the original disruptor, said, “Know thyself.” Go ahead and acknowledge upfront that retooling your organization is a tough rock to tackle. Then, identify who you are. Pinpoint the unique role that your company holds against the competition. Define where these strengths will take you in the new world order.

Once that is clear, chances are the way you shape your teams won’t mimic any other company’s organizational structure. And that’s a good thing.

You may find that teams organized around experiences (rather than product features) will help drive your organization forward; another organization may hedge its bets on DevOps teams that join IT and development teams to collaborate in automating the infrastructure; and still another may opt for small, cross-functional teams that tackle short-term projects and objectives quickly and move on.

Regardless of your approach, a technology team should be built to accentuate the unique offerings and capabilities of the company while allowing for flexibility in order to achieve strategic goals faster and better.

2. Go beyond lines and boxes

Change is the essential process of all existence.



At the same time, building on your strengths doesn’t mean doing what you’ve always done.

Start by asking how the company’s unique strengths shape how people work and act. Balance that by asking where your company structure isn’t currently serving your business goals.

Les Sisney, author of “Organizational Physics: The Science of Growing a Business,” suggests asking the following questions to assess your organization’s readiness to move beyond charts and become more design centric – that is, better able to empower decision making at all levels of the company.

  • Are our vision and strategy aligned with the changing world? If not, what changes need to be made?
  • Does our current functional structure have good checks and balances? Is it collapsing too much under one strong personality? Are we missing any core functions for our long-range development and short-range execution? If so, where do we need to make a change?
  • Is our culture strong and vibrant, and are we being effective, even at the cost of some inefficiency? If not, what changes do we need to architect into the system?
  • Are we still hiring aligned people, and are they taking initiative to drive the business forward and design their own work processes? If not, where do we need communicate and influence a correction?

Most importantly, thinking beyond the org chart gives you the chance to move decision making throughout the company so that teams can be empowered to think AND act. This is crucial for nimble teams and even more crucial for ongoing employee engagement.

3. Know your roles

If you're trying to create a company, it's like baking a cake. You have to have all the ingredients in the right proportion.


No question: It’s expensive to find, develop and later (regretfully) let go of talent. The best time to get your org design right is before you grow your team. That’s right – expanding your team should happen after you’ve clearly defined the impact you need from new roles.

But this is a challenge; many organizations lack definition around technical roles. The process of defining roles is traditionally the responsibility of Human Resources (HR). However, HR departments struggle to update and create new roles as technology advances and business needs shift—causing frustration for the organization.

Leaders can define technical roles and develop their teams' skills using Pluralsight IQ. First, measure your team's knowledge with skill assessments. Then, see how well a team member fits in a role by viewing the collection of skills needed for success. With a clear understanding of where team members stand, leaders can design teams to have the biggest impact in the organization and effectively solve business challenges.

4. Rock your roles

People are not your most important asset. The right people are.



Equally important is the development of those hires – and all team members – throughout their entire careers. Offer them ongoing resources and training to ensure they continue to be innovative thinkers and doers.

Design roles that work the muscle of the people in them — that goes for both leaders and technology experts alike.

When you identify employee’s strengths, you can align them to the projects and teams where they’ll be the most effective. You can balance the needed skills across teams in the right proportions, per Elon Musk.

You can also identify where teams and individuals need to grow, so you can seek out the development opportunities that will serve their needs and position the company for further success.

Another way to make sure you can build upon the entire team’s strengths? Commit to giving leaders a team size that’s manageable.

5. Support a culture of learning

I am still learning.


This one is simple: To keep employees learning, work learning into every day.

If it’s true that only 34 percent of U.S. employees are engaged at work, and only half of them find meaning and fulfillment in their roles, then there’s room for improvement when considering organizational design. It’s small, continued efforts that make a difference.

Organizations that make professional development a high priority and provide a range of flexible training options mapped to business needs are the most successful at keeping their teams at peak performance and skill level.

The good news? Today’s training options today include so much more than weeklong off-site sessions and conferences that pull workers from their active projects.

Organizations can easily provide online resources to enhance technology expertise, aligning learning to key business objectives and closing skill gaps in critical areas such as cloud, mobile, security and data analytics. They can also offer technical certifications as an employee benefit to help keep skills current.

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Bringing all employees into the learning culture while keeping the IT training budget under control is a surefire method to improve employee engagement while preparing the organization for the digital age. (And read why training beats hiring in the “The Real Cost of Hiring and Turnover.”)

Our own 2016 survey conducted by CEB confirms that learning improves employee retention. When a company invests in an employee’s career through training, job satisfaction and loyalty increases naturally follow, and in a big way.

Most importantly, a robust training program translates to more engaged workers and bigger profits. Employees benefit by using their skills to make an impact on the company goals, making them more engaged at work. Businesses benefit by having happy employees who remain in their jobs and perpetuate the success of the organization.

Every career gets disrupted.


Today’s Fortune 500 list rolls over faster than ever. Today, only 12 percent of the companies that made the list in 1955 still remain. And 94 percent of the Fortune 500 list believes they’ll change more in the next five years than in the past fifty.

Another startling fact: Many of those companies didn’t even exist 15 years ago.

Maybe the company you work for is one of them.

Whatever position your organization is currently in — solidly in the Fortune 500, striving to break into the ranks or measuring your success against other factors, one thing is certain:

The hurtling pace of innovation is a new constant that impacts every business.

Of course, there’s no one-size-fits-all approach to organizational design. Yet, when managed well, it’s the kind of large-scale change that doesn’t have to lead to chaos.

Technology leaders who take the bold approach, and who are open to new ways of thinking and working can design their organizations to do more than simply stay competitive, they can build a company that leads the way into the future.

Putting employees at the center of this model is the surest way to succeed.