Most people who hear "Organizational Design" automatically envision little interconnected boxes, each containing a name and job title. And they wouldn't be wrong. What's not as widely known, though, is that this map of "who's who" in an organization is so much more. So let's begin by covering the basics:

What is Organizational Design?

Organizational design can be generally defined as the architecture under which a company's procedures, structure and systems align to fit current business goals and realities. This design is communicated through a diagram called an Org Chart showing who reports to whom, usually grouped by function, business unit, department or any combination of thereof.

While organizational design plays a large role in determining a business's success, the potential to get it wrong is equally big. Common pitfalls include building unnecessary layers of management, creating needless roles or setting up cross-departmental processes that are non-collaborative.

Why is Organizational Design important?

Organizational design determines how well an organization will function, utilize its resources and respond to change. Creative groups are especially susceptible to fragmentation and odd dispersion across an organization. Though they are regularly lumped into marketing channels or communication departments, creative groups serve a much wider audience and frequently play a role in executing a company's strategic vision.

Before we can understand how to best position creative teams in an Org Chart, it's vital to establish some guiding principles. Though official rules for organizational design vary, at the very least, the following five guidelines should be taken into account:

  • Determine whether the current organizational composition is adding value to the organization. Org structures should support overall strategy and goals while avoiding redundant work and wasted effort. Excessive layers slow down communication and change-related growth.
  • Develop processes by which the work gets done. Defining processes will help pinpoint inefficiencies in the system, spot where redundancies are occurring and help identify where departments are working against each other. Also, in order to promote teamwork, consider relationships across departments to help streamline communication.
  • Establish how work and tasks are grouped. Ideally, tasks would be grouped by function that would help determine the roles needed in an organization. The reality is that some tasks are shared across functions, so ensuring cooperative cross-departmental processes are in place can help avoid confusion and establish accountability.
  • Assign appropriate resources to roles. Identifying the skillset required to execute functions will help match resources to roles according to their strengths, maximizing effectiveness and productivity.
  • Apply governance and control. Making sure an organization's structure maintains integrity is key to achieving its goals, but allowing it to evolve as a company grows is just as important. Periodic evaluation and adjustments are necessary to any system.

  • When it comes to deciding where creative resources fall into the organizational picture, things can get confusing. Different departments usually require specialized content. Yet there's plenty of shared content that is utilized throughout the company (such as content for sales, operations, branding, human resources, training, etc.) The "right" placements of creative personnel are as unique as a business's goals, so trying to define an organizational structure that will work across the board is not a realistic objective. Still, common alignments do occur. An example would be creative teams who support business lines or products that utilize marketing channels like email, print ad or social media. These teams may report to either the Creative Director or a Communications Manager. Other times, a creative resource--such as a web designer or copywriter--will report directly to, and serve only, a single business unit.

    A familiar theme across companies is the attempt to centralize creative departments that originally sprang from various branches of the organization in order to report up to a single boss. Applying the guiding principles mentioned earlier will help consolidate the various groups. Conversely, those same principals can effectively help decentralize creative units so they can operate independently and report up a chain of command that makes most sense for the business.

    Within the phrase "Organizational Structure" lays the presumption that there are individual components arranged (organized) to form a unit (structure). An extension of that implication is that the individual units should be optimized towards specific goals. Yes, common organizational structures exist--mainly because they seem to work a lot of the time. But for those companies who aren't satisfied with a one-size-fits-all approach, abiding by principles will help cover all their organizational bases.


    Cella consultant Marisa Scorsone has extensive experience supporting designing and implementing improved processes and SOPs for in-house creative agencies. She feels strongly that for processes to be most effective, they must be supported by a strong organizational structure with qualified talent, clearly defined roles and responsibilities, and technology (as appropriate). Marisa is an industry expert in the selection, customization and implementation of marketing applications and operational procedures--successfully integrating the two so that technology and company best practices have a synergistic relationship, rather than an opposing one.