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Experience Report: Org Topologies in HR

Org Topologies: A brilliant frame to clash "expectations" with "conditioning" and to let them explode. Let me explain.

Once upon a time...

There was a Y0 group in the realm of HR. A land where decision power lies beyond their domain. Their courageous manager believed that the team could thrive and perform better.

She acknowledged internal and external limitations, just enough to believe "the team" to be of A1 nature, when given time to map them onto the Org Topologies.

When it comes to expectations towards them, she naturally assumed they would act as if they were A2. Desired collaboration, knowledge exchange, and approaching challenges together as if those were features. She wanted "the team" to generate brilliant ideas as a result of working together as a group.

Her and the company's aspiration was to elevate "the team" to B3 status. To gain full empowerment in shaping the recruitment process and campaigns in the company. To take the lead in strategic talent pool planning. To shape actions of today that would become the company's reality tomorrow.

In the meantime…

All the measurements were aimed at Y0. All KPIs were focused on throughput, and all tasks required a single skilled individual to perform them. These tasks were designed for execution, not for collaborative problem-solving, and there was no room or desire to change that.

Communication was directed at Y0. Expectations were set for individuals. Messages were channeled to individuals. Tasks were divided for individuals to execute, with no room or appetite for change.

The career path was aimed at Y0. Annual paths, goals, and assessments were centered on personal objectives. The one-on-ones, the reviews, and ultimately, the grades were built solely around individual performance.

Collaboration was discouraged. Techniques like swarming or pairing were branded as wasteful in the pursuit of achieving KPIs. Customer collaboration and knowledge transfer were limited to a minimum to allow more time for individual work to meet quotas. Following the plan was paramount, while prototyping, experimenting, and the pursuit of innovation were acceptable only if they could yield immediate benefits.


The team remained at Y0 as conditioned. They were a group of skilled professionals sitting in a shared workspace. Competencies and work areas were cleanly separated. With few occasional meetings, they quickly returned to their tasks. The team focused on a consistent flow of individual tasks, optimized for high proficiency and low collaboration, much like a well-oiled engine.

The problem didn't lie with the team but with the manager and company expectations.

Let's venture into the woods…

All the conditions that surrounded these professionals led them to believe they should act as Y0, like solitary bobcats hunting alone. They had been hired this way, measured this way, communicated to this way, provided with a corporate development path shaped this way, and delivery techniques-wise incentivized to behave this way every single day.

Expecting this group to transform into a pride of lions or a wolf pack, into an A2 or even into a B3 type of team, simply by stating it as a managerial expectation, without introducing any changes to the Organizational Structure, was irrational. It was as effective as having a face-to-face coaching session with a hungry grizzly bear about the benefits of becoming a vegan—it just wasn't going to happen.

Clashing expectations with conditioning…

Org Topologies provides a brilliant framework to set the stage for such discussions. Engaging organizations in journey like the one described above:

  • Acknowledging that the team is currently a Y0

  • Recognizing that the manager actually perceives them as A2

  • Understanding what the board's aspiration to elevate them to B3 really means

  • Recognizing that the upstream dynamics, KPIs, career paths, and practices that promote Y0

  • Observing the confusion when all the above come together

  • Initiating a rewarding coaching quest to bridge the disparity, unlock human potential, and enable individuals to excel.

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