Organization Design: Form Follows Function

In 1896, the architect Louis Sullivan, the father of the modern steel skyscraper and mentor to Frank Lloyd Wright, coined the maxim “form follows function” in an article titled The Tall Office Building Artistically Considered. Sullivan’s vanguard approach broke from the prevailing approach of his day, which could be characterized as “form follows precedent.” Note Sullivan’s actual words in this excerpt from the article he wrote for the architecture journal.

Whether it be the sweeping eagle in his flight, or the open apple-blossom, the toiling work-horse, the blithe swan, the branching oak, the winding stream at its base, the drifting clouds, over all the coursing sun, form ever follows function, and this is the law. Where function does not change, form does not change. The granite rocks, the ever-brooding hills, remain for ages; the lightning lives, comes into shape, and dies, in a twinkling.

It is the pervading law of all things organic and inorganic, of all things physical and metaphysical, of all things human and all things superhuman, of all true manifestations of the head, of the heart, of the soul, that the life is recognizable in its expression, that form ever follows function. This is the law.

Human Architecture

Now, let’s consider “form follows function” in terms of human architecture.

What if “form follows function” was the guiding principle of organizational design and human capital strategy? What if the design of an organization did not just follow past precedent; instead, it followed the function or intent of the business? For example, consider a business whose strategic intent was to capture market share through engineering innovation and disruptive technology.

What if the leaders of this business (after investing time and energy in developing the new strategy) deliberately created a more flexible organizational structure, one that did away with vertically siloed functional areas in favor of a team structure that supported horizontal collaboration and experimentation? How might this accelerate the achievement of their strategic aim to be first to market with new products? Taking this even further, what if the leaders of this business began rewarding people for failing fast and encouraged errors of action vs. errors of inaction? How might this serve to align the culture with the business strategy?

In our experience, very few CEOs seize the opportunity to do this kind of design work within their companies. This is due, in large part, to a scarcity of data-driven tools that leaders and HR professionals can use to align the people plan with the business plan.

Build Your Leaders…

Now, however, such a tool exists, The PI Strategy Assessment™. This assessment equips leaders to effectively do the following on an annual basis:

  • Assess the level of alignment among senior leaders and key stakeholders to the business strategy,
  • Illuminate leaders’ level of confidence in the organization’s ability to profitably execute the strategy, and
  • Highlight behavioral fits and gaps between current members of the leadership team and the strategy being pursued by the business.

And Your Organization…

The PI Strategy Assessment is followed by a Design Workshop. The purpose of this executive session is to:

  • Help leaders clarify their business strategy so that it’s explicit, agreed upon, and expressed in people terms.
  • Identify and address gaps between the business strategy and leadership team, culture, and organization.
  • Inspire leaders to be intentional and self-aware in their organizational transformation and reduce execution risks through the talent lens.
  • Simplify through data visualization.

Human Architecture and Your Success

If you’re ready to think about the link between your human architecture and your business success, contact me. I’ll walk you through our new Strategy Assessment and Design Workshop, which are now available as part of The Predictive Index® talent optimization platform that we provide to our clients.

At ADVISA, we are so excited to continue to fulfill our mission of improving the world one leader at a time by providing talent optimization tools, training, and technology. We look forward to hearing from you!


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Looking for other ways to develop your leaders? We believe leaders and managers with higher emotional intelligence are most effective in engaging others. Take a look at a blog I shared that covers this topic, Management is a one-on-one sport.

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