Your Organisation Viewed as a Collection of Capabilities

March 27, 2021

Image: Deadman Ranch Ancient Buildings, Public Domain on

(This post is second in a series. Part one, “Is Your Organisation Broken?” sets the scene for this post’s proposal of a new way to look at organisations.)

UPDATE (Sat, 22nd January, 2022) - Changed “service” to “capability” and added another: “Org Design” to the table. UPDATE (Sat, 29th May, 2021) - Added another service: “Membership” to the table.

I’ve wondered for a long time if there’s value in looking at all organisations through a lens which treats employees as consumers of capabilities the organisation provides, and then asks “how does the way you organise provide these capabilities?”

This might seem a bit meta, so here’s two examples. The multinational conglomerate Acme Corp follows a “traditional” model of organisations in that it is hierarchical, and bureaucratic. This model offers capabilities such as “work allocation” and “decision making” and in both cases (at least officially) these capabilities are provided via a “performed by a named individual at the appropriate level of management who follows a documented process” approach.

Meanwhile the small startup Mom & Pop Soda Shop Inc follows a “trust” model in that anyone is expected to spot things which need to be done, and are permitted to do them. This model comprises the same capabilities (“work allocation” and “decision making”) but here both are provided via a “all employees are empowered to do the right thing ad hoc and whenever required” mechanism.

How different organisations provide these “internal” capabilities will clearly vary greatly, but I think (bear with me) that there is a finite set of capabilities that all organisations provide purely by dint of their being an organisation. Sometimes an organisation will provide one or more of these capabilities explicitly, and other times it will provide some of them implicitly (or even by accident). Furthermore, some capabilities will be provided officially, and others unofficially. Sometimes both types will be at play at once, one most likely working more efficiently than another.

Finally, please note that this breakdown says nothing about the quality or fit of any of the capability implementations in a given organisation. The capabilities as delivered might be terrible, or they might be excellent. They might conflict with or contradict one another.

With this in mind we can get to the capabilities themselves. I am no org-design expert (I’ve just read a lot, and consulted in a lot of places, and like to nerd-out and find how other folks organisations work) but I hope that the items on this list are both collectively exhaustive and mutually exclusive. Finally I’ve tried to put them in order of importance. It is likely that in all organisations the first two capabilities are explicit. Only in larger organisations might later / all other capabilities be so.

I’ve tried to use a representative way of representing this which names the capability, gives the need it meets, the outcome it provides, and the value it delivers.

Capability Need Outcome Value
Membership Who is part of (and who isn’t part of) the organisation Members are sought, join and leave The right people are involved in the organisation.

Skill / resource allocation

Right people with the right tasks and required resources to perform them

Tasks and resources allocated.
Tasks performed

Quality outputs.
Personal sense of purpose


Timely and accurate information required to perform a task

Information at the right place at the right time

Efficient and productive organisation

(Long term) direction

Strategy/vision/mission/goals based on sensing world outside the organisation

Alignment and focus of effort (decision criteria)

Organisational purpose


Good decisions made efficiently and effectively

Timely decisions rapidly made

Progress aligned with direction.
Efficient use of people’s efforts


Groups of people (and resources) doing the right thing at the right time.
Keep in sync with others

Co-ordinated activities and allocation of resources

Reduction in waiting / blocking


Clarity on what the organisation values and what it will (and won’t) tolerate

No “rogue” (i.e. contrary to the constitution) elements

Clear checks and balances


Recognition for my skills and contribution (my value to the organisation)

Salary, job title, etc.

Sense of self-worth

Conflict management

People held to account for their actions (or lack of them)

Alignment to “rules of the game” and social norms.
Conflict resolution

Increased collaboration.
More efficient delivery of organisational goals


Personal development, additional / improved skills

Better skills available within the organisation
Feeling of personal satisfaction

Greater organisational productivity. Increased loyalty to the organisation

Org design

Skills and insights in the membership deployed effectivel and efficiently

Org achieves its goals as closely as possible

Org structure is an enabler / multipler

That’s it for now. In my following posts I want to look at various organisations and organisational styles and see how these capabilities might map onto them. The next one takes these capabilities as a lens and looks at a descripton of the “Silicon Valley Autonomous-Engineer Model” with all its pros and cons.

Your Organisation Viewed as a Collection of Capabilities - March 27, 2021 - {"name"=>"Andrew Harmel-Law", "github"=>"andrewharmellaw", "twitter"=>"al94781"}