The Nadler-Tushman Congruence Model

Aligning the Drivers of High Performance

The Nadler-Tushman Congruence Model - Aligning the Drivers of High Performance

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Make sure that the key elements of your organization are a good fit.

Imagine if you could form your dream supergroup, with the musicians you most admire.

You could have rapper Missy Elliott on vocals, rocker Eddie Van Halen on guitar, Beatle Ringo Starr on drums, and jazz master Stanley Clarke on bass.

An impressive set of musical geniuses, for sure, but how would they sound together? Chances are, they'd be a terrible "fit," and the result would be a discordant disaster!

The same idea holds true in business. When the drivers of your performance don't work well together, success suffers.

In this article, we'll look at how you can use The Congruence Model to analyze how well the key components of your team or organization interact.

What Is the Congruence Model?

The Congruence Model was developed in the early 1980s by organizational theorists David A. Nadler and Michael L. Tushman. It's a powerful tool for identifying the root causes of performance issues. It can also be used as a starting point for identifying how you might fix them.

It's based on the principle that a team or organization can only succeed when the work, the people who do it, the organizational structure, and the culture all "fit" together – or, in other words, when they are "congruent" (see figure 1, below).

Where there is incongruence, or a poor fit, between these four critical elements, problems will arise.

Figure 1 – The Nadler-Tushman Congruence Model

Congruence Model

Nadler-Tushman Congruence Model, reproduced with permission from Michael L. Tushman

For example, you may have brilliant people working for you, but if your organization's culture is not a good fit for the way they work, their brilliance won't shine through.

Likewise, you can have the latest technology and processes, but decision making will be slow and problematic if the organizational culture is bureaucratic.

The Congruence Model offers a systematic way to avoid these conflicts.


The Congruence Model is also a useful tool for thinking through how changes you make within a team or organization will impact upon other areas.

How to Use the Congruence Model

To apply the Congruence Model, look at each component and then analyze how they relate to one another.

Step One: Analyze Each Element

Work: start by looking at the critical tasks that underpin your organization's performance, from two perspectives – what work is done, and how it is processed.

Consider what skills or knowledge individual tasks require, whether they are mechanical or creative, and how the work flows. Identify approaches that work best – for example, quick, thorough, empathic, analytical, precise, or enthusiastic – and what the stresses and rewards of the work are.

People: look at who interacts to get these tasks done – bosses, peers, and external stakeholders, for example.

Identify the skills, knowledge, experience, and education that they possess. Then, explore how they like to be compensated, rewarded and recognized for their work. Also, consider how committed they are to the organzation, and what career progression expectations they have.

Organizational Structure: map your organization's structures, systems and processes. Are there distinct business units or divisions (for example, regional, functional, or product- or market-specific)? Are there different levels or ranks, or does it have a flat structure? And how distinct or rigid are the reporting lines?

Also, consider how standardized work is within your organization, and look at the rules, policies, procedures, measures, incentive schemes, and rewards that govern it.

Culture: this is often the element with the greatest influence, but the hardest one to analyze.

You can explore your organization's culture by considering the leadership style and the beliefs and values of the individuals who work there.

Think about the "unwritten rules" that define how work really gets done. (These stem from people's attitudes, beliefs, values, behavior, and so on, and from the processes and structures that you've already examined.) Look at how information flows around the organization, and whether there are any political networks in play.

Step Two: Analyze the Relationships Between the Elements

Now organize the four elements into the following six pairs, and analyze how they interrelate.

  • Work and People: is the work being done by the most able and skilled people? Does the work meet individuals' needs?
  • Work and Structure: is work done in a well-coordinated manner, given the organizational structure in place? Is that structure sufficient to meet the demands of the work being done?
  • Structure and People: does the formal organization structure allow the people to work together effectively? Does it meet people's needs? Are people's perceptions of the formal structure clear or distorted?
  • People and Culture: are the people working within a culture that best suits them? Does the culture make use of people's own resources?
  • Culture and Work: does the culture help or hinder work performance?
  • Structure and Culture: do the culture and the organizational structure complement one another, or do they compete?

As you work through these pairs, identify areas of congruence and incongruence, and consider how your organization's performance measures against its goals.

Step Three: Build and Sustain Congruence

Now, consider what steps you could take to reconfigure each element, and resolve the incompatibilities that you've identified.

As you identify solutions and move forward with them, don't forget to look at how you could strengthen the things that are already well coordinated. It's as important to reinforce and sustain what is already congruent as it is to fix what's incongruent.

According to the Congruence Model, the best strategies for fixing incongruence will be those that reflect the unique character of your team or organization, and the environment that you operate in. This is why one organization can thrive on a certain structure or type of work, while another apparently similar one struggles to make a profit.

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The Work, People, Structure, and Culture headings of the Congruence Model are just one way of analyzing how compatible different parts of your organization are.

You could, for example, adapt the framework to assess your marketing performance. Just replace Work, People, Structure, and Culture with The 4Ps of Marketing – Product, Price, Promotion, and Place, and follow the same steps as above.

Or, you could try another approach. A popular alternative model is The McKinsey 7-S Framework, which analyzes Strategy, Structure, Systems, Style/Culture, Staff, Skills, and Shared Values.

Limitations of the Congruence Model

There are several limitations to be aware of when using the Congruence Model.

Firstly, the Congruence Model is a tool for analyzing team or organizational problems, and a useful starting point for transforming performance. It's not, however, a tool for telling you how to fix those problems.

It doesn't recommend a "best" culture or "best" structure, nor any specific action plans or problem-solving techniques. You'll need individual tools to help you here. Task Allocation, for example, can help you to pair the right people with the right work. And Organization Design is an effective approach for aligning work and structure.

What the Congruence Model does do is emphasize the importance of achieving "fit" between the elements, and of organizing them in a way that supports your strategy.

Another weakness is that the model focuses mostly on the internal environment – it's often important to consider what's happening outside the team or organization. (Tools such as PEST Analysis and PMESII-PT can be useful here.)

Key Points

Organizations are effective when the four key components of performance – tasks, people, structure, and culture – fit together.

The result of these elements working in unison to support and promote high performance is an organization-wide system that functions efficiently and effectively.

Pieces out of sync with one another cause friction that has a negative impact on the entire process, which limits overall productivity.

Use the Congruence Model to look at the organizational components that contribute to your overall team or business performance, and as a starting point for creating congruence between them.

With each element working in finely tuned unison, your organization will be primed to fulfill its performance potential!

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  • Over a month ago ladyb wrote
    I read this article the other day and needed to process it for awhile because the message is so powerful. Congruence is a fundamental factor for success in almost everything I can think of. When parts don't fit together, the whole just doesn't make sense.

    I went away and thought about this and how it relates to my department - I'm not ready to think organization wide yet It is clear now that the place where I continue to have friction is a place of significant incongruence and no matter what I do to "fix" the problem, the core problem remains. I run my department very organically (an HR term meaning loosely structured and very flexible) but my company as a whole has not moved far off of a highly structured company that is defined by functional units. So while I can run my unit (the HR department) very fluidly and I can achieve great results doing it, when I need to work with resources from other functions, most of the time the work gets bogged down and the whole project is frustrating for me and my staff.

    Incongruence is the key to this problem and the solutions is much more involved than trying to work better and smarter. We need to work differently and that's going to take some doing. So now I've got a huge project in front of me, but one that I really feel strongly I'm going to spearhead. I've got to strategize my approach to management team but I'm sure that if I am well prepared and have a solid plan, we can achieve a congruent structure and become much more productive in the long run.

    Great article!