Weisbord's Six-Box Model

A Starting Point for Diagnosing Organizational Issues

Weisbord's Six-Box Model - A Starting Point for Diagnosing Organizational Issues

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Fine tune your business.

Is your organization well designed, and does it operate effectively? Or is there a gap between "what is" and "what should be"?

Too often, gaps like these aren't identified until they're huge, and that's why leaders and managers should frequently assess their organization – or team – for potential improvement opportunities.

The hard part of this is figuring out where to focus your attention. There are so many factors that contribute to successful operations, and knowing what to investigate and spend your time analyzing is half the battle.

This is where Marvin Weisbord's Six-Box Model helps. Introduced in his article "Organizational Diagnosis: Six Places to Look for Trouble With or Without a Theory", his tool gives you six good places to start looking for improvement in your business. By paying attention to these key areas, you can start generating options for creating a stronger organization.

The Six-Box Model

Weisbord argued that, to be successful, the organization has to work effectively and be internally consistent in six key areas:

  • Purposes – The mission and goals of the organization.
  • Structure – The way that work is organized.
  • Relationships – The way that people interact.
  • Rewards – How intrinsic and extrinsic rewards are linked to work.
  • Leadership – The type of leadership, and how well it keeps business elements aligned.
  • Supporting mechanisms – Planning, controlling, budgeting, and other systems that help the organization meet its goals.

Each of these areas is affected by inputs from the external environment – things like money, machines, and ideas. The outputs are the products and services that the firm produces. Figure 1 shows how these elements fit together.

Weisbord's Six-Box Model Diagram

Weisbord suggested a variety of questions in each area to help people use the model. Answering these questions helps you think about how the organization operates currently, how well each area supports the other areas, and what the organization can do to improve.

Below, we look at each box in more detail.

  • Purposes – Here you assess the business that you're in, and decide what you're trying to accomplish. Ask questions like:
    • Do we have a clear mission and vision?
    • How well do we use these to establish goals?
    • How clearly do people understand the goals?
    • To what extent do we agree on our goals?
    • How much have workers participated in goal setting?
    • How can we frame our goals to increase commitment and buy-in?
    • How well do our goals fit our capabilities and core competencies?
    • How much difference is there between what we say we do and what we really do?
  • Structure – Here you assess how work and people are organized. Questions include:
    • How well does our organizational design fit our purpose?
    • What organizational configurations are best for our purpose?
    • How well does our structure support effective communication?
    • What differences are there between formal structure and informal structure? In other words, what are the differences between what's supposed to be done and what's really done?
    • Do we have appropriate accountability in both the formal and informal structures?
  • Relationships – Here you assess how people relate to one another throughout the organization.
    • How important is the team development process?
    • How well do people relate and communicate with one another?
    • How well do people relate and communicate between departments and units?
    • How much do people collaborate?
    • How well are people matched to the roles they perform? (See our article on Belbin's Team Roles for tips on this.)
    • Does the level of interdependence support the purpose and structure of the organization?
    • How much conflict is there?
    • How effective are conflict resolution processes within the organization?
  • Rewards – Here you ensure that people are properly incentivized for doing what needs to be done. (For specific strategies on providing effective and motivating rewards, see our article on Rewarding Your Team.) Ask questions like these:
    • How well do formal rewards reflect what the organization wants to accomplish?
    • Are informal rewards working effectively? (See our article on The Psychological Contract for more insight into this important part of reward and motivation.)
    • What actions and results really get rewarded?
    • To what extent do people consider rewards to be valuable?
    • How timely are rewards?
    • Are rewards distributed equitably?
    • What causes a worker to be punished?
    • Do rewards support the organization's vision and goals?
  • Leadership – Here, you're looking at how well the boxes fit together and support one another. This is the central position in the diagram. Here, the leader is expected to maintain the right balance between all six key organizational elements. Questions include:
    • Do leaders understand the mission and vision?
    • Do we routinely monitor that our stated purpose is still valid?
    • Do leaders reflect the organization's purpose in departmental goals?
    • How well do leaders represent organizational values and practice ethical leadership?
    • How much do leaders lead, as opposed to managing?
    • How are leaders chosen?
    • How effective are leaders at dealing with internal conflict?
    • Does the primary leadership style support the appropriate direction of the other five boxes?
  • Supporting mechanisms – Assess the adequacy of coordinating technologies. (Here, Swim Lane Diagrams are great for mapping out all of the systems you currently use, and for evaluating their effectiveness.) Questions include:
    • Do we have planning, budgeting, and controlling systems in place, and do we actively monitor them?
    • How well do policies and procedures support our purpose?
    • Is the communication process sufficient and effective?
    • Is there a mechanism for measuring and evaluating performance?
    • Do we use a training and development process to align worker skill and performance with expectations? (Tools like the GROW model, the competency framework, and coaching for team
      will help you develop effective performance systems.)

With respect to the outside environment (the other element of figure 1), you generally have no control over this. However, you can use tools such as PEST Analysis and Porter's Five Forces to understand it better.

Using the Six-Box Model as a Strategic Tool

Weisbord's model doesn't claim to be a revolutionary or elaborate framework for looking at strategic options. However, it's a simple and straightforward way to start the process. And, like other well-established strategic models – such as McKinsey's 7S framework, Miles and Snow's Organizational Strategy, and Nadler and Tushman's Congruence Model – the Six-Box Model emphasizes the importance of internal consistency and mutually supportive systems.

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All of these models emerged in the late 1970s and early 1980s, and, while they take different approaches, the message is the same: if you create consistency with your mission, environment, and internal processes, you'll improve your chances of success.

Figure 2 shows how these other three strategic tools relate to Weisbord's six elements.

Figure 2: Weisbord's Model Compared with Other Strategic Tools

Weisbord McKinsey 7S Miles and Snow Nadler and Tushman
Purpose Strategy Shared Values Strategy Strategy
Structure Structure Skills Structure Structure
Relationships Staff   People
Leadership Style   Culture
Supporting Mechanisms Systems   Culture
Outside Environment   Environment  

Key Points

Weisbord's Six-Box Model helps you to simplify organizational analysis and ensure that structures and processes within your organization are operating well. Many of the major issues that may be facing your organization are likely to be included in one of the six boxes, which makes this a practical and useful tool.

This model emphasizes the need for internal consistency, and it acknowledges the role of the external environment. As such, it's a logical and practical tool that helps you determine if you're performing as well as you could.