Nine Organizational Design Principles


The process of design must be compatible with its objectives. If the objective of design is a system capable of self modification, of adapting to change, and of making the most use of the creative capacities of the individual, then a constructively participative organization is needed. A necessary condition for this to occur is that people are given the opportunity to participate in the design of the jobs they are to perform.

Minimal Critical Specification

This principle has two aspects, negative and positive. The negative simply states that no more should be specified than is absolutely essential. The positive requires that we identify what is essential. While it may be necessary to be quite precise about what has to be done, it is rarely necessary to be precise about how it is to be done. It is a mistake to specify more than is needed because by doing so options are closed that could be kept open.

The Sociotechnical Criterion

This principle states that variances, if they cannot be eliminated, must be controlled as near to their point of origin as possible. Variance is any unprogrammed event; a key variance is one which critically affects outcome. Much of the elaboration of supervision, inspection, and management is the effort to control variance, typically an action which does less to prevent variance than to try to correct its consequences.

The Multifunctional Principle - Organism vs. Mechanism

The traditional form of organization relies very heavily on the redundancy of parts. It requires people to perform highly specialized, fractionated tasks. Each person is treated as a replacement part. Simple mechanisms are constructed on the same principle. Disadvantages arise when a range of responses is required from the mechanism or organization. This usually occurs if the environmental demands vary. It then becomes more adaptive and less wasteful for each element to possess more than one function. The same function can be performed in different ways by using different combinations of elements. There are several routes to the same goal--the principle sometimes described as equifinality.

Boundary Location

In any organization, departmental boundaries have to be drawn somewhere. These are usually drawn so as to group people and activities on the basis of one or more of three criteria: technology, territory, time. All of these criteria are pragmatic and defensible up to a point. But they have some disadvantages. They tend to erect boundaries which interfere with the desirable sharing of knowledge and experience.

The principle has certain corollaries. One very important one concerns the management of the boundaries between department and department, between department and the organization as a whole, and between the org. and the outside world. The more the control of activities within the department becomes the responsibility of the members, the more the role of the supervisor/manager is concentrated on the boundary activities--ensuring that the team has adequate resources to carry out its functions, coordinating activities with those of other departments, and foreseeing the changes likely to impinge upon them. This boundary maintenance role is precisely the requirement of the supervisor in a well designed system.

Information Flow

This principle states that information systems should be designed to provide information to the point where action on the basis of it will be needed. Properly directed, sophisticated information systems can supply a work team with exactly the right type and amount of feedback to enable them to learn to control the variances which occur within the scope of their spheres of responsibility and competence and to anticipate events which are likely to have a bearing on their performance.

Support Congruence

This principle states that the systems of social support should be designed so as to reinforce the behaviors which the organization structure is designed to elicit. If , for example, the organization is designed on the basis of group or team operation with team responsibility, a payment system incorporating individual members would be incongruent with these objectives.

Design and Human Values

This principle states that an objective of organizational design should be to provide a high quality of work. We recognize that quality is a subjective phenomenon and that not everyone wants to have responsibility, variety, involvement, growth, etc. The objective is to provide these for those who do want them without subjecting those who don't to the tyranny of peer control. There are six characteristics of a good job.

  1. The need for the content of a job to be reasonably demanding of the worker in terms other than sheer endurance, and yet to provide a minimum of variety (not necessarily novelty)
  2. The need to be able to learn on the job and to go on learning.
  3. The need for some minimal area of decision making that the individual can call his own.
  4. The need for some minimal degree of social support and recognition.
  5. The need for the individual to be able to relate what he does and what he produces to his social life.
  6. The need to feel that the job leads to some sort of desirable future (not necessarily promotion.


Design is a iterative process. At the end we are back to the beginning. As soon as design is implemented, its consequences indicate the need for redesign.