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Research in Journal Of Organization Design, 2012–2018

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Abstract

Articles published in the Journal of Organization Design (JOD) from its inception in 2012 until mid-2018 are reviewed and summarized according to their type: research, point of view, translational, case study, research primer, and Organization Zoo. Using multiple assessment criteria, JOD’s contributions to the field of organization design are identified. Important topics for future research on organization design are suggested.

This paper encompasses research published in the Journal of Organization Design from its initial volume in 2012 until June 2018. I begin by restating JOD’s original aims and research domain. Then, I summarize the research according to JOD’s article categories: research, point of view, translational, case study, research primer, and Organization Zoo. Lastly, I assess JOD’s contributions to the field of organization design and suggest topics for future research.

Aims and research domain

JOD was established as an open access journal by the Organizational Design Community (www.orgdesigncomm.com) in 2011 and published its first volume in 2012. The overall aim of JOD was inspired by Herbert Simon’s (1969) comments on design in his influential book, The Sciences of the Artificial: “The natural sciences are concerned with how things are. Design, on the other hand, is concerned with how things ought to be. Design is changing existing situations into preferred ones.” Accordingly, JOD seeks papers that focus on the future (how organizations ought to be) and pertain to practice (how organizations can be re-designed and changed).

In the inaugural issue, the founding chief editors invited a group of prominent academics and practitioners to provide statements about the future of organization design (see Table 1). Collectively, those statements defined JOD’s research domain and highlighted its relevant research methodologies:

  • Expand the traditional focus on individual firms to include multi-firm networks, platforms, communities, and ecosystems

  • Examine the implications of new enabling technologies for the design and management of organizations

  • Increase involvement in the design process both internally and externally

  • Expand organization design theory to include key components of effective designs such as agility and shared situation awareness

  • Use research methods appropriate for exploring the future such as simulations, experiments, and prototyping.

Table 1 Statements about the future of organization design (2012: vol. 1, issue 1)

Subsequent JOD issues and volumes contained articles in multiple formats, consistent with the chief editors’ belief that authors should be offered a variety of ways to present their ideas, research findings, and prescriptions for practice. The original formats were research, point of view, translational, case study, and urgent issues. The urgent issues format was eliminated early on as it did not attract sufficient submissions to maintain it as a separate category. Similarly, JOD Live (videos) was discontinued after a few postings. Beginning in 2015, two new categories were introduced: research primer and the Organization Zoo series. All articles published in JOD’s existing formats are reviewed below. (Periodically, the chief editors published editorial statements; those statements are not reviewed here.)

Research articles

During 2012–2018, JOD published 34 research articles. The contributions of these articles to organization design theory and practice are summarized in Table 2. Some general observations can be made about the research articles on organization design. First, the majority of the articles are conceptual: of the 34 articles, 26 are conceptual and eight are empirical (noted with asterisks in Table 2). Second, all the articles focus on theory, but most offer practical implications or recommendations as well. Third, nine articles explore the future of organizations while 25 deal with past situations.

Table 2 Contributions of research articles

Point of view articles

A point of view article adopts a particular perspective and applies it to a design problem or organizational situation. For example, Levitt and Eriksson (2016) adopt the perspective of public-private partnerships and develop a governance model of infrastructure service delivery. During 2012–2018, JOD published 19 point of view articles. These articles are summarized in Table 3 according to the perspective taken and the contribution to organization design theory or practice.

Table 3 Contributions of point of view articles

Point of view articles are difficult to evaluate in terms of their contribution to the theory or practice of organization design. As indicated in Table 3, many different perspectives are represented, and none of the articles presents empirical data. Therefore, whatever its message, the typical point of view article is subjective and its contribution lies in the eyes of the beholder. Ten of the 19 articles are related to theory and nine are related to practice.

Translational articles

A translational article takes an existing concept or theory and derives its theoretical or practical implications for organization design. For example, Teece and Linden (2017) apply the concept of business model to the digital environment and derive its implications for the design of digitized organizations. During 2012–2018, JOD published seven translational articles. These articles are summarized in Table 4 according to the translational item and its implications for the theory or practice of organization design.

Table 4 Contributions of translational articles

The true measure of whether a translational article has made a contribution to the field of organization design lies in the subsequent use of the translated concept or theory to improve the design or management of organizations. Arguably, it may be too early to see any of these translational articles being used either in theory building or in practice.

Case studies

A case study article is based on the experiences of a single organization, and this versatile format can be used to introduce a new concept, refine an existing theory or concept, demonstrate an application, describe a new organization design, present an unusual or complex design problem in need of analysis, and so on. During 2012–2018, JOD published 11 case studies (see Table 5).

Table 5 Contributions of case studies

The specific contributions of the 11 case studies are shown in the table. Each of the cases makes a unique contribution, reaffirming the versatility and value of the case study format. Three case studies focused on the future, and eight analyzed phenomena that occurred in the past. All 11 case studies presented practical implications or recommendations.

Research primers

A research primer introduces readers to a specific research stream or literature and articulates implications for organization design theory and practice. The first research primer, on multimarket competition, was published in 2015, and three more primers, on divestitures, evolutionary psychology, and post-merger integration, have been published since then. The contributions of the four primers are summarized in Table 6.

Table 6 Contributions of research primers

All four primers offer insights into organization design in the Simon (1969) sense: how organizations “ought to be” and how they can be changed from “existing situations into preferred ones.” The primer on multimarket competition alerts us to the fact that nominally independent firms are connected by multiple points of contact in the marketplace, and their respective designs must address the tensions that result. Divestiture involves the removal of one or more businesses from the portfolio of a diversified firm, and the firm must be redesigned for a reduced scope of operations. The evolutionary psychology primer argues that many existing organizations are too complex for their members to cope psychologically, and it challenges organizational researchers and designers to find ways to transform those existing situations into preferred ones. The primer on post-merger integration discusses how an acquiring firm and a target firm ought to combine their resources and how the two organizations can be designed into one.

Organization Zoo

The Organization Zoo focuses on outliers: new, unusual, or rare species of organizations. Each Organization Zoo article addresses a single organization, analyzing its features and behavior in the interest of understanding it. After the case is introduced, expert commentators offer their views, and a richer, more colorful picture of the organization emerges. To date, the Organization Zoo series contains two articles: Valve Corporation and GitHub. These articles are summarized in Table 7.

Table 7 Contributions of the Organization Zoo

The main value of cases in the Organization Zoo series is the discussion and debate they engender. Each of these two cases is especially interesting in various ways. Both Valve and GitHub are “boss-less” organizations in the sense that they rely on self-organizing rather than hierarchical mechanisms for control and coordination. After operating for 7 years without a hierarchy, GitHub, for several reasons, decided to install one. Expert commentators are invited to analyze such moves as well as other organizational features and managerial processes. The total package of a Zoo case and its commentaries is a rich mix of theory, practice, and opinions about organization design.

JOD’s contributions to the field of organization design

JOD is the only peer-reviewed academic journal focused entirely on organization design. Its very existence, therefore, constitutes a contribution to the field. In addition, JOD’s contribution is notable in that it seeks to add to our knowledge about both theory and practice. JOD is an open access journal, so the ideas, concepts, studies, and recommendations it provides are freely available to everyone.

JOD has also made contributions to the field of organization design as envisioned by Simon (1969)—that is, a focus on how organizations ought to be and how they can be changed from their existing forms into preferred ones. Of the more than 100 articles published in JOD to date, 12 reflect a focus on the future and 23 examine how organizations can be redesigned and changed. Although these numbers are not large, JOD appears to be on its way to developing the normative science that the field of organization design requires.

Lastly, JOD’s contributions to the field can be assessed using the statements about the future of organization design that were published in the first issue.

  1. 1.

    Expand the traditional focus on individual firms to include multi-firm networks, platforms, communities, and ecosystems. JOD has published a number of articles about “supra-firm” forms of organizing such as global action networks, supply chains, extended enterprises, platforms, user-driven innovation processes, collaborative communities, business ecosystems, and the modularization of industries.

  2. 2.

    Examine the implications of new enabling technologies for the design and management of organizations. Articles published in JOD have examined the following enabling technologies and their implications for organization design: virtual team design, crisis response, visual representation of decision flows, big data analytics, crowdsourcing, technology of foolishness, digital technologies, and nudge management.

  3. 3.

    Increase involvement in the design process both internally and externally. There have been only a few articles published in JOD that focus on the design process. Increased internal involvement has been advocated through autonomous teams, virtual design teams, and a futures group. The most thorough description of increased external involvement in the design process is the case study of Ascension Health.

  4. 4.

    Expand organization design theory to include key components of effective designs such as agility and shared situation awareness. Several articles have suggested that new variables be added to organization design theory or have emphasized the importance of certain factors in existing or emerging designs, including resilience, power laws, responsiveness, design thinking, big data, and delegation. In each of those articles, the variable or factor has been discussed but not integrated into a broader theory of design.

  5. 5.

    Use research methods for exploring the future such as simulations, experiments, and prototyping. Of all the articles published in JOD, only two involve simulation and one involves prototyping. There are no articles involving experiments. Clearly, articles based on these three recommended methods for exploring the future are lacking in JOD.

Future research topics

Because JOD is a journal focused exclusively on advancing the theory and practice of organization design, any design-related paper that, in the judgment of peer reviewers, adds to the scientific record is a contribution to the field. Now in its seventh year of publication, JOD has published more than 100 articles. This is a much larger body of knowledge on organization design than would otherwise be available without JOD.

Looking forward, and viewing JOD from the standpoint of a former chief editor, I would like to see JOD make greater strides in honoring Simon’s (1969) original vision of design. That vision had two underlying thoughts: (1) a focus on the future, or what organizations could and should be, and (2) a practical concern with how designers (along with managers and change-agents) can turn existing situations into preferred ones. Research topics reflecting an orientation towards the future should include the sources and shapes of new organizational forms, the implications of emerging technologies for the design and management of organizations, the nature and effectiveness of collaboration both within and across organizations, and an expanded theory of organization design that incorporates important variables such as agility and shared situation awareness. Topics of re-design and change should include the role of design thinking in change management, internal and external stakeholder involvement in the design process, and case studies demonstrating the application and results of change process models.

It would be especially heartening to see more articles in JOD that employ research methodologies well suited to organization design, namely simulations, experiments, and prototyping. In designing modern organizations, where human and digital actors increasingly collaborate with one another, there are abundant opportunities to conduct research studies that combine concepts and methods of simulation, machine learning, augmented reality, and video games.

Conclusions

JOD is the only academic journal focused exclusively on the topic of organization design. It seeks to bridge the gap between scholars and practitioners, and it offers authors multiple formats to publish their work. Now in its seventh year of publication, JOD is firmly established in the organizational sciences. Going forward, hopefully JOD will put even greater emphasis on the future of organizations and the improvement of management practice.

References

  1. Levitt RE, Eriksson K (2016) Developing a governance model for PPP infrastructure for service delivery based on lessons from eastern Australia. J Org Design 5:7

  2. Simon HA (1969) The sciences of the artificial. MIT Press, Cambridge

  3. Teece DJ, Linden G (2017) Business models, value capture, and the digital enterprise. J Org Design 6:8

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Availability of data and materials

The data for this article come from the Journal of Organization Design and are freely available.

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I prepared the manuscript by myself. I have read and approved the final version of the manuscript.

Correspondence to Charles C. Snow.

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Snow, C.C. Research in Journal Of Organization Design, 2012–2018. J Org Design 7, 9 (2018) doi:10.1186/s41469-018-0033-6

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Keywords

  • Organization design
  • Organization design theory and research
  • Organization design practice