What’s the Right Model for Organizational Design?

A wise Northwestern professor once told us that “all models are wrong, but some models are useful.” When it comes to organizational design models, they’re a great starting point for diagnosing organizational issues and crafting solutions, but there is no standard solution for every organization or project.

The model I use most often is Galbraith’s STAR Model. While I like the simplicity of the STAR model, it does have some limitations. Like the similar McKinsey 7S model, it’s an internally focused model. However, in my opinion, it is implied that external factors are inputs to the model and that performance is an output. Culture is also missing from the STAR model. When I use this model in client work, I draw a circle around the star to show culture in the background, wrapped around the other factors. And when it comes to strategy, I think of it as an input to organizational design which the comparable Nadler-Tushman Congruence Model calls out (Falletta, 2005). Despite these limitations, I like the simplicity of the STAR model.

I’ve just recently learned about the Burke-Litwin Causal Model (Burke, 1992) and I’m curious about how it delineates work climate from culture, as part of twelve theoretical constructs. In addition to these constructs, it explicitly calls out external inputs and performance outputs. While it’s a more complex version of the STAR model, which makes it harder to recall easily or share with clients, it’s a more comprehensive model.

Another model I find interesting is Harrison’s Model, (Falletta, 2005) which looks at individual, group and organizational levels. This model looks at performance outputs related to each of those levels, in addition to personal well-being at the individual level.

While my personal “go to” is the STAR model, I’m keen to try the Burke-Litwin and Harrison models in future work.



  • Falletta, V.F. (2005). Organizational diagnostic models: A review and synthesis.
  • Burke, W. W. (1992). A causal model of organizational performance and change. Journal of Management, 18(3), 523-545.
  • Kates, A. & Galbraith, J.R. (2007). Designing your organization: Using the STAR Model to critical design challenges. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass. Chapter 1.

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