Organization Design with Toys

Yesterday, my class discussed Sony case. The case covers how the traditional organization structure that Sony had with product silos led to its failure to respond to digital challenges. Instead of discussing the case, I ask the students to build 3D representations of Sony to explore the problems deeper. Then, we discussed how Frank Gehry uses his projects as a way of organiz-ing, drawing on “From Organization Design to Organization Design-ing“. Based on the ideas from the discussion, they modified their models to develop concrete suggestions for Sony. Here’s a brief summary of their works.

Group 1: From Walls to Spaghetti


This group was trying to depict the “walls” separating different product groups and redundant knowledge resources (represented in different colors of Play Doe). They discussed the possibility of “back-channel” rogue communication attempts among engineers which are often thwarted by the management (you can see a small black tube through a wall in the back). The senior management sits on the top of the wall, not really connected to the day-to-day reality of each product groups.


Their revised model resembles Spaghetti organization. But, in fact, it is more like a matrix structure with a couple of twists. Each chunk of Play Does in different colors represents a community of knowledge. Each circle represents a convergent projects. Different color lines represent design visions that pull certain members out of their own home base (communities of knowledge) to join these projects. They felt that the firm still needs some type of central unit that coordinates these de-centralized efforts, which is represented with the Play Doe can in the middle. They identified that a key challenge here is preventing the central coordination unit becomes the innovation Nazi, enforcing the central vision. Yet, at the same time, separate project teams need some type of resemblance in order to maintain the sense of identity as a firm. Also, they kept the bended construction paper after removing the wall — noting that the scars from old structure will likely remain.

Group 2: From Vertically Integrated Silos to Core Integrative Platform


This group represented each product group within a small circle. The tall structure in the middle of each circle represents a vertically integrated product structure that is managed within the narrow band. What is not shown here (because I took the picture before they finalize it) is that the location of senior management. The group built a high tower in the middle of these circles to place all the senior management. Again, similar to Group 1, that was meant to represent the isolation of central management from the grounded realities of each product group.


Their revised model shows a series of convergent product built on a shared platform (represented by a large flat panel). The three circles in the middle represents three core integrative capabilities that they identified (they did not specify those capabilities). These elements represent the core of the organizational structure – that remains stable. The periphery structures with different products are dynamic teams are brought together for specific innovation opportunities. These ideas are crowdsourced within the firm. The strength of their models was that they tried to represent both product and organization structures simultaneously, trying to explore relationships between the two.

Group 3: From a Maze to Whirlwind of Innovation


This group represented the old structure with a maze. This was meant to represent a micro-level experience of an individual engineer who had a break-through idea. He or she might want to have a conversation with another engineer from different product group, but finding the right person feels like an impossible task. Each product group again has redundant resources. Senior management is gathered in an isolated location (HQ).


The modified vision again was represented from a ground-level view from an individual engineer’s perspective. Here, each Play Doe can represents a community of expertise. The firm has established an integrative design process by which individual ideas can be swirled into a whirlwind of innovation that is propelled by a design vision. The product (represented as a lump of Play Doe of mixed colors) shows a complex mixture of different knowledge resources (both in and outside of the firm). Unlike the other two groups, they focused on a micro structure of the new organization design.

Professor | Writer | Teacher Digital Innovation, Design, Organizational Genetics Case Western Reserve University

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