Position Paper

A Lesson from the Past on Pioneering Organizational Structures

I have been asked recently about an organizational structure known as pioneer - settler - town planner (also referred to as PST). This structure was first used in 2005 and it is both highly experimental and relatively rare though it is gaining some modest momentum with early academic work, discussion in management related books and Government papers. As the co-inventor of this structure and the person who implemented it back in 2005, I decided to take a trip down memory lane and investigate the state of the field.

A Lesson from the Past on Pioneering Organizational Structures

The structure is based around three different attitudes (pioneers, settlers and town planners) and corresponding supportive cultures. From Figure 1 below, PST is a way of organizing a company into these three ‘tribes’: [A] to pinch the nomenclature of Spotify with ‘guilds’, [B] of aptitude (i.e. finance, engineering, marketing) with work being done by small cells or ‘squads’, [C] containing a mix of aptitudes but primarily the same attitude. PST also requires a system of theft [D] designed to mimic evolution and force the Pioneers to keep pioneering [E]. Under the structure, all three ‘tribes’ are important and work together in concert.

Figure 1

Whilst a few case studies showing benefits of PST can be found, there are not enough examples in the wild to statistically prove this and hence promote its use. Early signals are, however, positive when dealing with groups from 1,000 to 10,000 with considerable upticks in terms of revenue, efficiency and profitability. Despite the paucity of examples to strongly support the case - it would require many hundreds - there does appear to be some tentative lessons to be learned on doctrine, i.e. the principles through which we govern our organizations. More information on this structure can be found in the full position paper.


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