The Future of Higher Education

The Role of Organizational Design in 21st Century Organizations: The Future of Higher Education

About The Author

Karen Bolser is the Founder of The Bolser Group, LLC and has spent seven years dedicating her time and energy in advising organizations’ and its’ members regarding management and leadership strategies. Karen holds a Master’s degree in Government/Public Policy and Law from Regent University. In addition, Karen is currently completing her Doctorates degree in Consulting and Strategic Foresight from Regent University.

The role of educators and school administrators across the continents is to ensure all students have the opportunity to gain adequate access to the knowledge and skills needed to prepare them to participate in global societies and workplaces. In the last decade, this goal has become quite challenging as schools seek to accommodate students who have a variety of life circumstances such as less time, limited finances, single parent households, and students with disabilities. As higher education administrators and educators strive to accommodate the needs of students, they face tough challenges of re-designing their organizational structure to meet students’ needs. Today, there are powerful social, economic, and technological forces that higher education institutions provide to launch students’ into the future. However, as cultures, markets, and social environments are constantly changing, it is imperative that the role of organizational design in the 21st century is carefully considered in this evolving “New Age of Knowledge.” As higher education institutions seek new ways to meet students’ needs and educate across the globe, they should be aware of the advantages, a good organizational design will have on institutional goals.

Organizational design in higher education institutions is very complex, not always a narrow topic focusing on structures and hierarchies of authority. Organizational design is formulated around balancing relationships, practices, and behaviors in which organizations form their processes. It is important to draw insight on organizational design, why is it important in the 21st century, the long-term competitive advantages of organizational design, and how higher educational institution leaders’ can create a flexible and adaptable organization to meet customer/client needs.

Organizational Design and Its Importance in 21st Century Organizations

A simple definition of organizational design is reshaping processes, structures, roles, and strategies within the business. Organizational design can take on a formal or informal guided process of integrating people, information, and technology to form the organization so it will achieve its purposes and goals. However, most organizations in the U.S. have been trained to think hierarchical systems of command and control are the basis of organizational design. Some experts argue that the framework of organizational design is the foundation on which organizations base their design choices. They believe that the organizational framework consists of a series of design policies that is controllable by management and can influence employee behavior. These policies are critical for management to become experts in; so they may shape the decisions and behaviors of their organizations. As a result, many Western organizations guided by the above notion, are designed as a bureaucracy and build structures that focus on rules, policies, and procedures that exert control over organizational members and their behaviors.

Yet, in the twenty-first century, organizational trends are showing designs which facilitate leaders and mangers working together to define the needs of the organization and creating systems to effectively meet those needs. These designs consist of a systematic approach to encourage creativity and collaboration among members. This type of design is Horizontal, also known as a Flat Structure. This design has increased group collaboration, reduced cycle times, lower costs, and higher quality. At its most basic level, this trend encompasses the movement from the functional or vertical organization to an organization that is aligned along core processes that meet the needs of customers. Essentially, this organizational design eliminates middle managers and traditional hierarchy roles. Many organizational experts state that the ability to receive, process, and incorporate new information has created a global environment that is one vast organizational system with many “interconnecting” points. A Horizontal Design also creates “interdependence” within the organization allowing for the use of processes, ideas, and strategies that promote growth.

It is important to note that there are disadvantages to applying the same form of organizational design to all groups. For example, a Horizontal or Flat Design may not be appropriate for organizational units in the medical field or military. These groups require a rigid structure in order to maintain good order and discipline and accomplish a mission. First, leaders that believe all designs are applicable to every organization negate two critical components of organizational design: culture and purpose. The lack of concentration in this area is an ingredient for a turbulent transition and change within. Before choosing a design, it is imperative to observe and understand different groups such as governments, schools, churches, and businesses have different goals that produce multiple outcomes. Second, there is complexity in each organization’s culture. It is not only influenced by external factors such as politics, environment, and social classes, but is also shaped by management and members. While, all modern societies share much in common, it would be an error to dismiss cross-national differences in culture as little significance. Negating culture can cause inefficiency and lack of effectiveness for all parties involved. It is important for leaders in organizations to remember there is a need for vigilance when applying organizational designs to various structures and environments.

Organizational design is important because it identifies who will make decisions, shape outcomes, and lead the change process. In the book entitled, The Age of Unreason, Handy believes the changes being experienced by organizations and individuals in the 21st Century are vastly different from those experienced in the past. As a result, organizations have no choice but to become more flexible in a rapidly changing environment. Successful leaders focus on the organization’s future success by focusing its efforts on people, strategies, processes, and rewards. Conventional methods of leading will not work; instead, organizations need creativity and flexibility in leading. Modern organizational leaders are learning to recognize the value of organizational design.

Competitive Advantages of a Well-Designed Organization in Higher Education Institutions

A well-designed institutional structure advances a college or university’s culture producing major benefits. A highly anticipated goal for any successful college or university is the ability to create a competitive advantage where their students are sought after in the workforce. The best organizational designs for higher education institutions incorporate knowledge, experiences, individual expertise, and performance driven leaders. A well-designed higher education institution will employ unique skills and resources to implement strategies competitors might not possess. Questions an institution should ask is, “What is our niche? What do we want to be known for? How can we leverage that to capture market share and attract students?

Successful higher education institutions market uniqueness and differences in curriculum and focus energy pertaining to these areas. Therefore, it is critical for any organization, just not higher education institutions, to understand the resources they bring to the table in order to sustain competitive advantages against competitors. For organizations to have a competitive advantage, they need to be able to weather competitive and environmental storms that come from social, economical, and cultural factors. There is a need for organizations to be able to compete in today’s fierce market, especially in times of uncertainty. An organization’s design should be sustainable and able to endure during turbulent times. This will create a “boundaryless” organization where advancement is more likely to take place. Author and organizational leader Jay R. Galbraith believes the key to success will not be the number of boundaryless partnerships formed but the development of the organization’s capability and competence to advance customer and supplier relationships toward boundarylessness. A well-developed organizational design can produce several main competitive advantages. First, it maximizes effectiveness, efficiency, results, and profits. Second, it allows for creative planning strategies, products, or services. Lastly, it allows for adaptation without creating chaos.

In 21st century higher education institutions and in various organizations, there is an increase in rapid change and growth for all organizations. It is vital these organizations build designs that fit strategies in aiding in growth and competitive advantage. Many organizations must find new ways to keep management processes and services adaptable to new innovations and ever-changing environment. Building on principles of design organizations will be able to meet market demands, as well as individual demands, in a time of rapid cycle, and provide competitive advantage.

How to Create a Flexible and Adaptable Organizational Design in Higher Education

Success factors in the twenty-first century include speed, flexibility, integration, and innovation in addition to the traditional success factors of size, role, definition, specialization, and control even when these factors seems to contradict each other. Managers must create organizations with sufficient critical mass that can also move quickly and nimbly through the changing business terrain.

The design of an organization must be flexible and able to adapt to changing circumstances, both internally and externally. Leaders must be willing to adapt to new environments and structures that comes along with the design. Listed below are a few recommendations on how higher educational institution leaders can create a flexible and adaptable organization to meet everyone’s’ needs.

  1. Research Market—Understanding the significance and urgency of flexibility, adaptability, and sustainable development, know your end goal and current advantages and disadvantages. Research competitors and compare services and know prospective students demands.
  2. Strategy and Process—Determine the direction the institution would like to go and the means of responding to the flow of information. Does the institution have everything it needs to advance?
  3. Community Involvement—Rally support and help from internal academic departments, the local community, and the institution’s administrators. They can provide resources to assist the flexibility and sustainability effort.
  4. Reward System—Implement a reward system to motivate change and encourage pursuit of institutional goals.

As the educational atmosphere is rapidly changing, organizational design will be powerful in influencing social, economic, and technological forces in these environments. Well-designed higher educational structures will have an increase in competitive advantage for future success and will shape the development of current and future leaders. Good organizational design will secure flexibility and adaptability for future growth, sustainability, and success in 21st century organizations.