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A simple structure in a complex world is stupid

In pondering whether Western thinking on organizational design is easily transferable to other countries and cultures I have to ask myself a core question: What influence does my own culture have on organizational design?  Sire (1997) prompts me to consider my own worldview or presuppositions which I hold about the basic makeup of the world around me (p 16). Considering worldview helps us to understand the challenges multinational companies have in their integration of activities that take place in different countries (Galbraith, 2000, p 3). Worldview brings complexity to the organization through cultural relativism which presupposes the preservation of a culture in its current state of thinking of how things ought to be (Sire, 1997, p 87). Organizations must therefore live in the context of structural indeterminacy which states that no single structure is the answer when dealing with complex business models that must respond to cross-border business opportunities, demands for local citizenship, and cross-border/cross-business purchasing or technology efficiencies (Galbraith, 2000, p 2-3). Galbraith (2000) argues that the star model best represented a structure for the coordination across subsidiaries ( p 9). The star model helps in the development of a ‘normative integration” in which widely dispersed subsidiaries are held together through shared norms (Galbraith, 2000, p 9). A star model is focused on an open system with a defined organizational matrix which supports interaction between the organizational strategy, structure, people, rewards and the process (Stanford, 2009, p 49, p 22). Opening up a complex organization permits the sharing of ideas, knowledge, resources and skills across many boundaries including organizational, cultural, geographical, and generational (Foster, 2011). While Western thinking has influenced organizational design in other countries and cultures, I would argue that countries and culture have pressed back through cultural relativism which has helped shape global business structures.

Unfortunately there is no one-size-fits-all approach to organizational design. We can look to Naomi Stanford (2009, p 1) who argues that Organization design is not only one of the most important elements to shaping and aligning the components of an organization toward achieving its mission, it is also rarely ever talked about amongst executives. One could argue that by the lack of communication on the matter, there is rarely an open attempt to strategically address the issue.

The influence of Western culture cannot be overlooked because it does have an impact on others, including other countries (Kelly, 2011). Culture is nothing more than the way things are done around the organization (Stanford, 2009, p 304). Perhaps the biggest influence on organizational design and culture is related to the leadership within an organization. Organizational culture starts with the hiring process (Galbraith, 2000, p 178). After 20 years of business experience and hiring individuals, I can tell you that my personal culture and experiences played a significant role in who I hired. Galbraith (2000, p 178) reminds us that new hires are trained in the organizations philosophy which is one part socialization into the culture and one part skill development. From my personal experience, I hired people who thought and acted in much the same manner I do. For those individuals who join the organization but don’t adhere to the culture, they quickly become frustrated and will likely leave the organization (Galbraith, 2000, p 178). Like it or not, the cultural lens by which leaders look through also has an effect on the organization as a whole.


Sire, James W. (1997).  The Universe Next Door.3rd Edition. Madison, WI: InterVarsity Press

Galbraith, Jay R. (2000). Designing the Global Corporation. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass

Stanford, Naomi (2009). Guide to Organisation Design. London: Profile Books, Ltd.

Foster, Philip A. (2011). “Open Source as a Leadership and Organizational Model.” Presented at the Regent University School of Global Leadership & Entrepreneurship Leading Transformational Innovation Roundtable, May 14 – 15, 2011.

Kelly, Jacob (2011). Retrieved from his posting: Blackboard Dialogues for Doctorate in Strategic Leadership, Regent University, Virginia Beach, VA.


Philip A Foster, MA is a professional leadership coach with Maximum Change Inc. Elevating leaders and their organizations to the next level since 2005. Master Certified Coach, Philip A Foster, MA and his associates facilitate effective positive change by helping organizations, leaders and individuals in high demand — design and implement strategies that maximize focus and deliver results. Specializing in Organization and Strategic Leadership.

Email | LinkedIn | Facebook | Twitter | Web | Blog | Skype: philip.a.foster | 615-216-5667

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