Using “Duck alignment” to Make Organizational Changes

Henry Hsu

Head of Engineering at Trade Coffee



"Quite frequently in my company, we reorganize our teams as projects change. It's fairly easy to make these decisions in a vacuum, creating all sorts of conflict: a team not having the right expertise, not being the right size, team members disengaging, and so on."

Actions taken

"Having seen how decisions affecting me had been made in the past, I wanted to try a different approach. I recalled reading about duck alignment at one point and was inspired to give it a go. The task at hand was to figure out which people wanted to work on which projects, of which there were two. I spent 30 minutes on my own coming up with a few scenarios, slotting names I felt worked in each scenario. It was nothing final or worth sharing, but helped me organize my thoughts and at least have a launch pad for discussion. In my 1-1's, I started discussing this organization change with my team. I showed them the picture I was thinking and made it clear that I was soliciting their feedback to update the picture. I would oftentimes get edits, or new information. 'I prefer to work on X', 'I prefer to work with Y', 'I can see how me being on Z helps me in my development'. We would wrap up the meetings on the note that I will continue this exercise and circle back. I also noted that if there were conflicting preferences, I would do the tie-breaking. But I would not make any final decisions until we'd gone through the whole exercise at least once. With the next person I talked to, we would start with an updated version of the picture. After two weeks of going through this process, I had everyone's feedback, performed any tie-breaking, and ended up with a picture that had everyone's buy-in. I could communicate the plan and feel confident that there would be no surprises."

Lessons learned

"Going through this exercise was a valuable experience. I learned how smoothly organizational changes could be executed. The team appreciated the transparency in the decision-making, that their needs/wants were being taken into consideration and were happier executing on their eventual project.

It is certainly a heavy-handed tool for most decisions. But for decisions which impact a team member's day-to-day for more than a month, I find it is a no-brainer to use this approach."

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Henry Hsu

Head of Engineering at Trade Coffee

CommunicationOrganizational StrategyDecision MakingFeedback TechniquesLeadership RolesTeam & Project Management

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