The Electronic Discussion on
Group Facilitation
Process Expertise for Group Effectiveness
Moderator: Sandor P. Schuman



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Participative Design

From the Electronic Discussion on Group Facilitation


In the last several years, organizations and consultants have shown

increasing interest in accelerating the process for redesigning

organizations and implementing change.  One of the approaches to

accelerated redesign is Participative Design.  But, the term

participative design is not well understood.  This paper will clarify

the participative design process.


Participative design is commonly associated with a short (usually 2 days)

workshop in which representatives of the target workgroup analyze their

work system and redesign it.  The design of the workshop (developed and

advocated by Fred and Merrelyn Emery) consists of three main components.


First, participants analyze their current work systems according to six



Second, the participants analyze their workflow and design their workunit

according to  Design Principle 2". Design principle 2 is characterized by

the democratic, self-governing organizational model, in which there is

multi-skilling, responsibility for control and coordination within the

workgroup itself, payment for skills (both social and technical), and

joint responsibility for goal attainment.


Third, participants prescribe other actions needed to support their new

work system.  The activities in this section include: establishing

measurable goals and objectives for the work group, identifying

training requirements and immediate action steps, establishing career

paths or skill blocks for developing the necessary skills, and

explaining how their design will improve the scores on the six criteria

used to initially analyze the work system.


But, participative design is actually a much broader process for

redesigning organizations.  The participative design process consists of

many of the steps of a traditional socio-technical systems change process.

It includes a set of activities for preparing the organization for change.

The process requires work with senior management to clarify management

and organizational values and defining the benefits of a more

participative, self-managing work organization.  The participative design

workshop itself

is premised on the belief that management has made a clear decision to

operate under design principle 2.  The process typically includes visioning

activities, strategy clarification and the establishment of business


Search conference methods are often used in the participative

design process to establish the values, strategies, and objectives.


There are many other fundamental activities that precede the participative

design workshop.  These include developing a job protection statement,

working with any union(s) to establish joint ownership of the participative

design process, establishing a budget, obtaining resource to support the

process, creating support structures (Steering Groups, resource groups,

etc.), and creating the overall design of the process.  The resources


the process receive training in participative design.


Participative design is a unique organization change process.  The

resources supporting the process must understand the process as well as

their role in supporting the process.


The participative design process also includes preparing the leadership

for a new function in the organization.  New roles for managers and supervisors

in a design principle 2 environment are explored.  Often specific interventions

are designed for supervisors.  These interventions explore other value-added

work that supervisors and managers may perform.  They provide managers and

supervisors with a sense of security and the challenge of working on more

strategic problems.


The education and awareness activities that occur in many traditional

socio-technical systems redesignefforts are also relevant and valuable in

the participative design process.  Site visits and readings are valuable to

helping future workshop participants understand different organizational

models that are possible and successful.  Attendance at work innovation

conferences further supports these learnings.  Need for change workshops

help  unfreeze  the organization and explore innovative work designs.


The participative design process includes a series of activities which

occur after the participative design workshop itself.   Employees who did

not attend the workshop must receive information on the new design.  If

multiple design workshops are conducted, a process for integrating the

different designs must occur.  Final designs must be agreed to and

implemented.  New roles and work processes must be more fully defined.

Employees must brief people outside the workgroup, defining new points of

contacts and explaining new operating requirements or procedures.


A critical focus in implementation is the development and delivery of

training in the critical skills identified by the workshop participants.

Processes need to be created to enable efficient, timely delivery of this

training.  Additionally, new compensation systems, required to support

the transition to multi-skilling, must be developed and implemented.

Skill blocks must be developed, certification processes created, and roles

for stewarding the new pay-for-skills systems established .


The initial (Stage 1) participative design workshop focuses on the design

of the work group itself. Significant boundary redefinition and major

changes in functional roles and responsibilities (e.g., the restructuring

from a functional organization to a cross-functional product aligned

organization) are considered at a later time by a deep slice of the


(Stage 2). During the participative design workshop participants identify

suggestions for changing boundaries and changes outside their workgroups,

but these suggestions are outside the boundary  of the Stage 1 workshop.  The

resource groups and the Steering Group must acknowledge these suggestions

and ensure that they are considered during Stage 2.


During the Stage 2 phase of the participative design process, a deep slice

of the organization considers changes to the existing work group structure.

These are significant changes that cut across the organization and have

more profound impacts.  A participative design workshop and process is

conducted to develop the higher level design.  Subsequent participative

design workshops for individual work groups my then follow.


Participative design is truly an iterative, on-going design process.

The initial workshop provides workers with a methodology and a structure

for analyzing their work system and designing a more effective work group.

But as markets change, customers and competitors change, and as technology

changes, work groups must continue to adapt.  The participative design

process provides workers with a process for continually assessing their

structures and adapting to changes.


In summary, the design process is more broader than the participative

design workshop itself.  It consists of a series of change and

implementation actions that must skillfully be managed.





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