Rather than bury you in a pile of consultant-speak, here’s a simple definition. An operating model is a high-level framework for a team. It is based on the work to be done, not the people who will be doing the work. The people are addressed during design of the org structure.

Here’s an analogy: think about building a new house. An architect begins the process by drawing the exterior elevations and interior rooms. She defines the overall structure at a high level, with her blueprint showing how the kitchen, bedrooms, bathrooms and living spaces flow together. From this, an interior designer steps in to help choose the furniture and fixtures that will best match the architect’s space and the homeowner’s expectations.

In this analogy, the architect creates a home’s equivalent of a team’s operating model, while the interior designer creates its equivalent of the org structure. It’s a collaborative and iterative process, but it doesn’t start with the furniture – it starts with the structure.

When teams start by organizing around existing talent, that will lead to suboptimal performance unless the talent in place is uniformly strong.