Design Notes

Redesigning a Justice-Committed Organization, Part Three

In Blog Three of this three-part series, we explore three key obstacles for leaders in redesigning the justice-committed organization. To do so, we present three heuristics–statements of one good thing even over another good thing–that will allow for just organizational design to take root and flourish over time. To be sure, none of these is an easy evolution to steward, yet they are essential to the alignment and momentum that justice-committed organizations so deeply deserve.

5 Minutes

by Jeanne Bell and Dan Tucker, Co-Founders

Image: personal photo of public mural, San Miguel de Allende, MX

Blog No. 6 - February 2024 (Part 3 of a 3-Part Blog Series)

In the final segment of this three-part series, we explore obstacles for leaders in redesigning a justice-committed organization. To do so, we present three heuristics–statements of one good thing even over another good thing:

  1. Strategy even over power
  2. Strategists even over strategic plans
  3. Tables even over titles

Again, in each of the heuristics above, both things are good. What we are arguing is that a thriving organizational design requires deeper attention to the first thing in each pair than organizations are typically giving.

To be sure, none of these is an easy evolution to steward, but they are essential to the cohesion and momentum that justice-committed organizations so deeply deserve.

Strategy Even Over Power

In this complicated time with many justice-committed organizations in a multi-year struggle to find internal alignment, we flinch when we hear people pronounce summarily: “it’s all about power.” True, we are, in justice-committed organizations, in a constant dynamic with power. We challenge how power is defined, derived, and deployed both inside our organizations and in the society at large. But as Epstein and Smith recently observed in Paving a Better Way: What's Driving Progressive Organizations Apart and How to Win By Coming Together

People in and around movement organizations talk about power a lot. We are less good at owning the power that we have, having a clear-eyed analysis of the power of others, and then putting our own self-interest behind what helps the organization itself build power.

-Rebecca Epstein and Mistinguette Smith

Indeed, leaders now must be clear that a power analysis is not an organizational strategy. A commitment to share power internally is also not a strategy. These things are critically important, but they are not organizational strategy; they do not answer fundamental questions of positioning, resourcing, and impact in a chosen field or movement. 

A vibrant, just organizational design that ensures equitable access to strategic conversations and decision-making is thus dependent on people embodying this guidance from Maurice Mitchell in Building Resilient Organizations:

Although it may be personally fulfilling and individually empowering to do and say the things you desire when you desire, institution- and organization-building requires the discipline to advance a collective strategy. That often means sublimating your impulse or ego for the greater good and leveraging your personal capacities for collective goals.

-Maurice Mitchell

Our work in an organizational context is to channel our power analyses into specific and compelling organizational strategies that result in a deep contribution to social change. A thriving organization is more obsessed with pursuit of its strategies than with its own power dynamics.

Reflection: As staff and board, how much time and energy do we spend on power dynamics across the organization? Is it more or less time than we spend articulating, socializing, and adapting organizational strategy together?

Strategists Even Over Strategic Plans

Finite processes that result in strategic plans (or strategic frameworks or theories of change) are invaluable in facilitating groups to update the concepts and commitments of organizational strategy, but that is, obviously, a crucial step-one. Then, good strategy is always about change. The renowned strategist, Roger Martin describes it this way:

Strategy is an exercise in making different choices than you are [making] today. Choices [are] a critical aspect of any strategy…If you follow that logic of engaging in strategy because you need or must change the current trajectory of your organization, then strategy is often an exercise in change.

-Roger Martin

Strategists are the change-leaders; the people who model, inspire, align, and hold an organizational system accountable to its strategic aspirations. These strategists may be a mix of senior staff and emergent leadership, board members who deeply understand your organizational field, and/or embedded consultants who work with an organization after a plan or framework is articulated.

Reflection: Who are our organizational strategists? Don’t think about titles right now. Instead reflect on the question, who in your organization currently demonstrates energy and aptitude for the big, intersecting questions with which your organization must grapple right now? 

Tables Even Over Titles

To empower these change-leaders, give them more than titles. Re-titling a strategist to Director of Strategy or Director of Impact–or any of the similar “horizontal” titles that are becoming more common in justice-committed organizations–is just the first signal to the organization of the change you are asking them to lead. Even more than titles, these strategists need empowered and reliable structures for engaging others in the thorny, integrated actions that change requires.

Because strategic change is always bigger than a single functional team, strategists need tables to convene: well-designed spaces for learning, aligning, and orchestrating coherent, cross-functional action. 

Reflection: After we identify necessary strategic change, where does it go to be realized in our organization? Do we have consistent, well-designed spaces for the integrative work of change to actually unfold?

Persistent misalignment is fundamentally an organizational design question, where design is not a generic or neutral process, but rather one rooted in the values and strategies of an organization. Leaders must intentionally design their organizations to center strategy even over power dynamics; elevate strategists even over episodic strategic plans; and create fluid, cross-functional spaces even over relying on functional silos to realize coherent, strategic change.


  1. Paving a Better Way: What’s Driving Progressive Organizations Apart and How to Win by Coming Together by Rebecca Epstein and Mistinguette Smith
  2. Building Resilient Organizations: Toward Joy and  Durable Power in a Time of Crisis by Maurice Mitchell
  3. Resolving the Strategy and Culture Paradox: The Roger Martin Interview by Hilton Barbour

At JustOrg Design we want to work with leaders and consultants actively engaged in the organizational design issues that we've presented in this series. Take our Readiness Reflection or Contact us.

Note: This is the third in a three-part blog series on organizational design for justice-committed organizations. In Blog One we share a critique of the traditional, vertically-siloed organizational design and offer 12 Principles of a Just Organizational Design. In Blog Two, we outline four stages of assessing and strategically refining a just organizational design.

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