Continuing the themes coming out of the last Web Analytics Wednesday in Toronto – I now turn to Design Patterns in Organizational Behavior.

A great director, Matt Milan, once gave a presentation on design patterns – it revolved around some World War 1 pilot whose name I can’t remember. A design pattern is a fundamental pattern that repeats or can be used again. It’s a chunklet, if you would. In Information Architecture, a design pattern might be what we describe now as a form field with a button to the right of it that reads “search”. It’s what we now know as a search box. While the size of the box and button might vary, the general pattern of a search functionality remains the same.

So it is with Organizational Behavior. Let’s apply his concept to organizational behavior.

My take on organizational behavior is from the public policy side of things. It’s a world with its own jargon – of Lock-In and Garbage Cans, Hollow Cores and Organized Anarchies. I suppose we all see the world in paradigms, in one way or another. I don’t know anything about sociology.

Getting back to the now proverbial “can opener”, if I may, what does a good design pattern for an analytics capacity look like? That, indeed, is the cheap question. It’s worth nothing. The answer to that question is worth hundreds of millions of dollars if somebody could find the answer and execute against it.

Somewhere, at the intersection of how people are measured (or, if you would, judged), the relationships of power between people (cohort, direct report to report, competitor, faux-competitor, slave, and so on), policy (process, standards, rules, habit), culture, and training protocols (or put simply, ‘learning’) – there’s a solution.

I can name a number of design patterns.

I call one of them “The Clusterfuck”. A Clusterfuck is characterized as too many people involved in a project, with no clear, single owner, and ill defined boundaries around what each person is an expert on. A Clusterfuck typically arises when, for want of time, people are thrown at a problem. The time pressure contributes to stress, and as a result, people commonly stop talking to each other. Some people focus on what others judge to be the wrong details. Things get dropped. Of all the design patterns, I abhor the Clusterfuck.

The next design pattern, is the “Hollow Core”. A Hollow Core is caused when a vacuum is created, either for want of definition, or deliberately. There is no leviathan (a decider), and each participant in restricted from filling that void (as we’re told that nature abhors) by the link to each other. It’s a wicked problem. Most people will agree that that there’s a void. Nobody will agree who should fill it. Worse, nobody really has the authority to do so, and those who do have authority frequently can’t see them. Hollow Cores can exist within organizations for decades, running around like little primordial black holes, sucking in alarm clocks and astronauts. They’re insidious – and I fear growing up and being one of those people in authority who can’t see them. Or won’t admit that there is one.

Another design pattern is the Routinized Hierarchy. This is the bane of creative departments, but ironically, from what I’ve observed, agency creative departments seem to be the most routinized. Deliverables are well known, quantified, and it’s the quality that varies widely. Relationships are well defined, and work is typically done on time, on spec. Nobody debates the difference between a 45×45 pixel, RGB, flattened PSD and 50×50 one – it’s well known. I think they benefit from that. Decisions are made from the top – down. Maybe the grass really is green over there.

There are many design patterns in organizations. Understanding that you’re in a Clusterfuck is great. You understand the problem you’re confronted with. Being in a Hollow Core is another. Then you’re supposed to know a solution for getting out of one. (You shatter the ring that’s causing the Core. Or, my friend at the CBC would have somebody else shatter the ring. Sly kitty.)

I’m interested in hearing about any other organizational design patterns.

I won’t and don’t pretend that I have all the answers. (Nor would I announce it on a blog if I did). But let’s hear them!

One thought on “Design Patterns in Organizational Behavior

  1. Christopher, I appreciate that you are trying to define the problems that require design patterns, but I think you need to specify that a design pattern is not only a description of the problem but also a description of the solution along with startegies for achieving that solution.

    I would submit that the problem is that organizations suffer from a lack of proper organizational behavior. The forces at work are …
    the solution is to recognize the particuliar organizational behavior deficincy in your organization and adjust the people and process.
    The Clusterfuck Stategy: If your organziation has too many people with no direction …. then XXXX

    Where XXX is the 10 million dollar question. You could break each of the staretgies into their own design pattern, but it seems like they are all variations of the same problem with a similiar solution (change people/process) and therefore just different strategies of a common solution.

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