tricordant team


Nick Richmond


In organisation design metaphors are powerful devices. I find metaphors helpful to check understanding, to stimulate new ideas in workshops or even to reinforce a particular point.

In a global charity we used the metaphor of  the “action of breathing” to explore and agree what agility meant to them. This lead to the metaphor of air traffic control and an airport to describe how the organisation would operate.

During a Star Trek episode I was watching last week the crew were entertaining each other with Japanese haiku. A Japanese haiku is a three line poem with seventeen syllables written in a 5/7/5 syllable count, with nature the typical subject matter. A funny example about pet behaviour is:

Wanna go outside.

Oh NO! Help! I got outside!

Let me back inside!

I saw Japanese Haiku as a great metaphor for slim structures, here’s a couple of thoughts.

To develop a Japanese haiku you need a razor sharp focus, as you only have seventeen syllables to work with. In the same way when designing slim structures you need a razor sharp strategy to design for. This means difficult choices have to be made and not everyone will be happy. In one case because of the COVID crisis a multibillion dollar company in the energy industry may be forced to sell off a “cash cow” subsidiary to finance the group’s survival and growth.

Japanese haiku have a set of rules which include the maximum number of syllables allowed and the format of a 5/7/5 syllable count.

In the same way you need to create a set of “design rules” for your slim structures. These, and here’s another metaphor, are like the boundaries of your “sandpit.” Within these boundaries all designs created are potential options which may deliver your strategy, each with pros and cons.

In organisation design lingo these “rules” are called design criteria. Drawing from your razor-sharp strategy design criteria go on to describe the features of your future organisation, that you believe will make the biggest contribution to delivering your strategy.


One simple example may be:

Rationale (why)

‘In order to…’

Design Outcome (what)

‘…the design must’

Implications (how)

‘…and may feature…’ (prioritised)

Meet the needs of our customers Include a structure focussed around value Organisational layers which clearly add value


The design criteria are then used to score your design options to identify your preferred design, inform detailed design decisions and assure the design as it is being implemented.

How have metaphors helped you in your work?

I’ve developed an eBook entitled, “The 5 keys to designing slim structures”. So if you’re thinking of downsizing, realigning after a cost cutting exercise or maybe refocussing on your more profitable areas then check it out here.

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