By MANIE BOSMAN
The phrase of “form follows function” was coined by American sculptor Horatio Greenough and made famous by architect Louis Sullivan. Generally associated with architecture and industrial design, the phrase refers to the design principle that the shape of a building or structure should be determined by its function or purpose.1 When applied to the design or composition of organizations, the term states in essence that an organization’s function (its primary purpose, goals, strategy) should determine its form or structure.
This approach is particularly important in the current situation where organizations have to continuously adapt their strategy and capabilities to keep up with rapidly changing markets. To be successful in our highly volatile globalized environment companies therefore ideally need to become flexible organisms that can continually cultivate new strategies and adapt to new market realities, and then modify all aspects of the organization so that they are congruent with the new goals and strategies.2 With this approach organizational change could follow a three-step process:
- Step one is to implement systems to ensure you continuously keep abreast of changes in the market;
- Step two is to be willing and able to continuously develop new strategies to address changes in the marketplace (when changes in function/strategy is based on undisputable facts showing the need to adapt, it becomes easier to get people to ‘buy in’ and support the process); and
- Step three is to bring the organization’s structure, systems and operational methods in line with the new strategies.
Of course this is a simplification of an often very complicated and multi-faceted process. However, the key here is the fact that when form is determined by function – and not vice versa as is often the case in bureaucratic or hierarchical structures – organizations gain in functionality and in their ability to adapt to constant change.
1. Craven, Jackie (2008). Louis Sullivan, America's first modern architect. About.com. Retrieved March 2009 from https://architecture.about.com/od/greatarchitects/p/sullivan.htm .
2. Overholt, Miles H. (1997). Flexible organizations: Using organizational design as a competitive advantage. HR. Human Resource Planning, 20 (1). P22-32