HRHeadStart #11: Airbnb's Org Structure; The Problem With Best Practices
The Talent Agenda
Earlier on, I had written about Jay Galbraith's STAR model for organization design. There are different ways to organize. A functional structure groups similar tasks into functions like sales, marketing, finance, operations, HR etc. A products-based structure groups teams focused on specific products that the company offers. A customer-based structure groups teams to serve certain segments of customers. A geographic structure organizes teams around markets. Or we could have matrix structures that combine multiple factors and is often the norm in large organizations. When it comes to organization design, there is no single best practice. All choices will have pros and cons and the job of the designer is to use different elements of the STAR model to minimize the negatives of any given structural design. Check out this broad-ranging interview with Brian Chesky (CEO of Airbnb), where, among a number of insights, he also shares how he thought about the organization structure of the company as their business went through drastic changes through the pandemic.
We have to admit - we love "best practices". They are perhaps the easiest way to sell an idea and convince stakeholders that what you are proposing makes sense. It might work for you, your boss, your boss' boss and so on, but it may not still work for the organization and its employees. At best, best practices are crutches on the path to mediocrity. After all, if everyone follows the best practice, we all become average! So, if you aspire to shine as a HR professional, shoot for "best fit" and not best practice. It is all about what will work best in your organization's unique context.
A Productive Workout
If you would like to dive deeper into organization design, here is a case study on Syngenta, a leading plant science company. While it's dated, it has some great materials to evaluate a company's situation and think about the type of organization structure that would be suitable. Work on it alone or with a friend and feel free to exchange notes with me by hitting "reply" to this email.
Ideas are cheap. Execution is hard. What can you start doing today, for which you will be grateful one year from now?