What watchmaking taught us about organizations – Part 1

Understanding “what time it is” within the organization.

Story category: Organization

Story tags: Organization, Creative thinking


We obviously love craftsmanship, and our love for craftsmanship goes beyond wood. Some of us have a personal interest in watchmaking, and that interest has taught us a lot about organizations. Here are some of the things that watchmaking has taught us about organization, improvement, and achievement.

Power source


Something is needed to power the movement. In watches power comes from the main spring, in organizations it’s done through the mission, vision, values, but also how management motivates people to spark intrinsic motivation. Just as watch movements need a mechanism for winding up the main spring when it runs out of stored energy, so too does the organizational source of power.


Wheel train


The wheel train transmits the power from the mainspring to the escapement and creates rhythm: seconds, minutes, and hours. In the organization this is the cadence at which the organization functions and transmits information and accountability between different levels and stakeholders. At strategic level the cadence is comparable to the movement of the hour wheel with its longer time horizon, operational level with the minute wheel, and at the tactical edge things move fastest and represents the wheel which drives the second hand. The passing of seconds leads to the formation of minutes, just as actions taken lead to results on operational level, which in turn become strategic hours. Because we view the organization in this way, we always know what time it is within our organization and try to be very careful with time as a resource.


Escapement & Balance wheel


The escapement regulates the release of energy and prevents the main spring to unwind all at once. Within organizations this is arranged through plans, execution, and controls which channels the organizational energy in a focused manner; it doses the organizational energy, maximizes its impact, and minimizes unproductive discharges of energy.




In mechanical watches, anything other than telling the time in seconds, minutes, and hours (the core business of a watch), is called a complication. Complications are for example functions like chronographs and functions that display days, dates, moon phases, etc. Complications increase the complexity of watches enormously, and this also goes for the number of parts that must be “fitted” into something that has to be able to be worn comfortably around a wrist. Complications in watchmaking test the limits of system level engineering as the complication is embedded in the watch and powered by the same source as the time telling part of the watch. In business (due to decentralized interests, decision making, and silo-forming) there is often a less clear embedding of complications within the system-as-a-whole, as well as the precise engineering of the complication itself. The “watchmaker insight” helps us to approach organizational development in a much more mindful and systemic manner. 

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