The TOP Structure Guide


Many organizations are stuck in short-term cycles, sacrificing long-term sustainability in favor of speed and quantity in delivery. Although the delivery of value funds operations, an over-emphasis on short-term value depletes an organization's capability to produce future value.

Appropriately balancing delivery, maintaining and optimizing current capability, as well as shaping future capabilites is a systemic challenge that requires collaboration across all organizational functions.

The TOP Structure addresses this challenge by making visible that which was always there, bringing together the different perspectives, and iteratively improving both current capabilites and the ability to shape future capability.

The TOP Structure provides a model-neutral, scale-free approach that everyone can immediately apply. It guides the process of setting up a successful foundation for continuous adaptation and sheds light on areas for immediate action.

It therefore synergizes with any operating model or organizational framework. The TOP structure doesn't require a "transformation," although it could trigger or guide change initiatives.

Purpose of the TOP Guide

The TOP Guide is a simplified "Getting Started" guide for the TOP Structure. It provides an easy-to-use overview with practical instructions that allow users to get value from the TOP Structure within a short time and without delving into theory. After getting started, the TOP Structure can be enhanced by combining the instructions in the Guide with the theory of the TOP Patterns.

The instructions provided in the TOP Guide support an easy launch and quick results. The Guide doesn't propose a "final state," as the only constant in a TOP Structure is constant change. While core principles remain applicable, specific rules presented in the Guide itself are open to inspection and adaptation as an organization advances in their ability to collaboratively build capabilities.

Target Audience

The TOP Structure is designed specifically to assist businesses grappling with internal conflict, coordination inefficiencies, or less-than-ideal solutions or divergent interests across stakeholder groups, departments, or teams.

The TOP Structure Guide introduces a step-by-step, systematic approach for enhancing a company's workflow. This reduces negative impacts and fosters a more effective system of work.

This guide serves as a resource for people at all levels of an organization - from employees to middle managers and senior executives. It's a starting point for anyone interested in fostering a more adaptable and efficient work environment.


The TOP Structure provides a straightforward, minimally invasive and effective framework for operating and optimizing a contemporary company. It is defined by three components:

  • the TOP Cycle as the foundation for the TOP Structure.
  • the TOP Coalition formed by the roles executing the TOP Structure.
  • the TOP Events guiding the implementation of the TOP Cycle.
Whereas these components define any TOP Structure, the implementation of these components varies widely across organizations.

TOP Background

The TOP Structure harnesses proven key principles from neofunctionalism and multilateralism, such as:

  • Cross-cutting Collaboration to promote decision-making and optimization that bypasses silos, fostering effective cooperation among diverse stakeholders with different perspectives.
  • Collective problem-solving to tackle issues that cross entity boundaries (such as teams, departments, or business units) and cannot be effectively resolved by a single entity.
  • Spillover promoting change by creating synergy and benefit sharing, rather than imposition.
  • Technocracy leveraging the momentum and automatic processes in change management once a series of events has been set in motion.

Integrating the TOP Structure

The TOP Structure seamlessly integrates with existing structures, refining what's already in place instead of adding to it. To aid in understanding how this can be achieved, the TOP Guide outlines the minimum necessary structure, responsibilities and events.

Underpinning the TOP Structure is a network of organizational patterns, most of which are implied rather than explicitly detailed in the TOP Guide. To learn more about these patterns, visit the TOP Pattern library.

The Competence Spectrum

The competence spectrum

At the heart of a TOP Structure is the Competence Spectrum. Every TOP Structure will have some competencies supporting the TOP Goal, some that are not relevant, and others that are incompatible with the TOP Goal.

"Competencies" in a TOP Structure, refers to skills, knowledge, practices and processes existing within the organization. People develop and utilize these competencies. The removal of incompatible competencies frees people to adopt more helpful competencies. The TOP Structure needs to adequately consider all facets of the competence spectrum. Hence, the first step on using the Competence spectrum is examining which competences are mission critical for the TOP Goal.
The competence spectrum has two circles:

Human competency

The outer circle represents the foundation - human factors. It determines "What" any "Why" things are done. Every company has its own ways of what is deemed professional, and which behaviours people exhibit.
  • People are central to every TOP Structure, as the TOP Structure serves people to achieve their goals.
    • Relationships connect people, both inside and across competencies.
    • Practices are specific ways of working used in and around the TOP Structure.
  • Culture is the intangible shape of the organizational system.
    • Habits are practices and behaviours regularly, and often subconsciously, applied in the organization.
    • Beliefs are concepts held about why or why not things apply.

Functional competency

The inner circle represents functional factors, focusing on "How" things are done. In many organizations, skills are mapped to roles, which are in turn mapped to departments. The TOP Structure discourages this approach, as it leads to hard boundaries and handovers which affect performance. Each competency is a focus area, and as the content of the work changes, other focus areas become important. The colors on the spectrum are chosen deliberately to indicate that competencies blend.

There are three core competencies that also form the name of the TOP acronym:

  • Technology focuses on building, simplifying and operating technical systems, both those used within the organization and those sold to customers.
  • Organization focuses on the people, collaboration, knowledge and the shape of the organizational system itself.
  • Product focuses on how the company produces value on the market.

These core competencies are the basis for the combined competencies:

  • Architecture looks at the organizational aspect of technology by providing appropriate structure, processes and standards.
  • Design combines product and technology, generating solutions by examining intent, purpose and form of ideas and requests.
  • Business combines organizational and product aspects by providing the economic foundation for the TOP Structure - marketing and selling the product, making it available to the users and supporting them throughout their use, finance and legal to ensure that the TOP Structure is funded, profitable and steers clear of regulatory hazards.
  • Quality combines all of the domains, ensuring that information, processes and products are all fit for purpose.

Forming a complete TOP Structure in a larger organization appears to be a daunting task, yet the even in large, siloed organizations, only a small amount of people is necessary. A maximum of 7 people could cover all aspects of a TOP Structure. If a significantly larger group of people are required, then a TOP Structure at higher levels of abstraction needs to reduce complexity and handovers first. Operative TOP Structures require all competencies to reach their TOP Goal autonomously.

In small companies, a handful of people cover all competencies. A TOP Structure doesn't require introducing additional roles. Instead, a TOP Structure would provide clarity on how the competencies are covered, and whether there are critical gaps that require learning or refocussing.

The Cycle

The TOP Cycle

The TOP Structure operates on the TOP Cycle, which incorporates six core patterns that are consistently applied:

  1. Set TOP Goals: Define the goal for a TOP Structure.
  2. Network: Bring people together to achieve the TOP Goal.
  3. Take action: Streamline efforts to make achieving the TOP Goal easier.
  4. Communicate: Establish communication cues to improve collaboration.
  5. Adapt: Learn from actions and adjust strategies accordingly.
  6. Use similarity: Use commonalities to enhance optimization impact.

While the patterns in the TOP Cycle can intersect and may occur simultaneously, they are initially applied sequentially to optimize the learning process.

Whereas many change models have a dedicated 'change' phase, the TOP Cycle emphasizes continuous action. Every activity within the cycle is translated into immediate action.

Setting a TOP Goal

The TOP Goals quadrants

The initial step of the TOP Cycle is to define the primary objectives (TOP Goals) for implementing the TOP Structure. Commonly, TOP Goals center around improving quality, quantity, speed, or value, increasing or reducing something, or addressing a risk. Other types of goals may also be set.

The TOP Goal quadrants provide basic guidance for goal-setting sessions. Other methods of defining TOP Goals may be better suited in specific contexts.

TOP Goals are significant, independent, and solution-neutral. Whereas measurable goals facilitate data-driven decision-making, TOP Goals primarily emphasize intent rather than numbers.

Some typical TOP Goals could include:

  • Minimal delay between development and customer feedback.
  • High satisfaction among developers and users.
  • Growing, profitable customer base.

Since TOP Goals can sometimes conflict or create unseen restrictions, it's crucial to explicitly state and prioritize them for successful application of the TOP Structure. Success is measured based on progress towards defined the highest ranking TOP Goals. Often, simultaneous progress towards multiple TOP Goals can be achieved by making the appropriate changes.

Three TOP Goals

Each core domain in a TOP Structure has vital goals, and they collectively aim to advance the company. The domains define a:
  • Technology Goal for the desired future state of technology.
  • Product Goal for the direction of products or services.
  • Organizational Goal for the future capability of the organization.

Each domain goal articulates overarching aspirations for the organization from a certain perspective. For instance, a technology goal could be "sustainable operations" (Quality -> Issue Prevention), a product goal might aim to "increase market penetration" (Money -> Boost ROI), and an organizational goal could be "efficient meetings" (Scope -> Eliminate Waste).

Domain goals can't be ranked against each other; they all need to be achieved. The TOP Coalition collaborates to accomplish all three TOP domain goals. In cases of apparent conflict between goals, the TOP Coalition determines how to turn a 'Wicked Problem' into a win-win scenario.

While it's possible to allocate no capacity to a certain goal, the trade-off will be a form of debt that will need to be addressed later, often incurring a "cost of neglect." The required capacity for each goal during a given period can vary based on the goal's impact and complexity. The TOP Coalition decides on adequate capacity shares for each goal during a specific period, while maintaining a flexible buffer to handle unexpected events.

Bringing people together

Once the TOP Goal is defined, a RIPE coalition forms to work towards this goal. This coalition requires the necessary means to achieve their goal:

  • Representation of critical perspectives,
  • Influence over relevant stakeholders,
  • Power to decide and implement necessary changes, and
  • Expertise to do the right things.

A TOP Coalition remains as small as possible for efficacy. If more than eight individuals are needed, this might indicate inappropriate abstraction levels. Under normal conditions, a maximum of seven individuals suffices to cover all relevant TOP competencies.

The TOP Coalition determines the strategies and locations for actions aimed at achieving the TOP Goal. Coalition members share responsibility based on their roles within the coalition, their work distribution, and how they measure the effectiveness of their actions.

TOP Coalitions task themselves as temporarily with achieving the TOP Goal, and strive to minimize the period of their engagement.

Multiple TOP Coalitions can operate concurrently at different abstraction levels, for example working across several operational teams, another within management, and another at the overall organizational system. All these coalitions align on compatible TOP Goals, potentially refined into a sub-goals based on their level of abstraction. When multiple coalitions coexist, they need to synchronize their efforts, ideally spanning all abstraction levels.

Optimize energy

Energy distribution

The TOP Coalition works towards achieving the TOP Goal, necessitating efficient energy utilization. The Coalition strives for improvement of their energy usage via a three-step process:

  1. Free energy: Reduce the contributor's workload to free up capacity. This could involve:
    • Eliminating Low-Value efforts or uncritical work.
    • Reducing Rework caused by flowback.
    • Delegation to less burdened individuals.
    This step may already lead to substantial improvements that align with the TOP Goal.
  2. Making organizational energy visible: Identify and eliminate sources of negative energy to free up resources. Typical sources include:
    • Overburden, such as stress from accumulated work.
    • Cognitive load, from multitasking, context-switching, and leftover tasks.
    • Lingering conflict like unresolved process or interpersonal issues.
    Released Energy saved can be redirected towards positive efforts.
  3. Improve energy usage: Where organizational energy is used ineffectively, the TOP Coalition leverages the expertise of a select few experts closest to the issue. Proposed improvements must have clear goals, scope, and investments, along with observable success criteria that allow determining whether the energy distribution has improved.
  4. Change the system: The TOP Coalition, set up to make changes, acts autonomously or in collaboration with supporting experts and their networks. If excessive support or time is required for change, the proposed change is too large and needs to be refined.

Optimize Signals

Efficient communication saves time and energy, and the most effective form of it is through agreed signals, which all recipients understand instantly. This method can eliminate unnecessary meetings and documentation efforts. The TOP Coalition agrees on simple signals to minimize coordination events, optimally derived automatically from the process itself.

Effective signals meet the Information CRAFT criteria:

  • Current signals incorporate the latest information on the subject.
  • Relevant signals meet the information needs of the recipient.
  • Available signals are accessible when and where required.
  • Followed signals influence decisions and actions.
  • True signals are based on facts and intent.

Initially, Success signals track the effectiveness of changes. They can be discontinued later to prevent noise. Exception signals indicate when action is necessary.

The TOP Coalition prioritizes improving existing signals that don't meet the Information CRAFT standards before introducing new ones.


After concluding a set of actions, the TOP Coalition evaluates progress in relation to the initial TOP Goal. The outcome can be achieving the goal, making progress, no progress, or experiencing a setback.

The TOP Coalition determines their condition in respect to the TOP Goal:

  • Goal Achieved: The coalition has fulfilled its mission.
  • Progress: If the progress aligns with the TOP Goal, further action is needed. Small, consistent advances are preferred over ambitious plans that may or may not work. With large TOP Goals, new sub-goals may arise as progress is made.
  • No progress: The coalition needs to reassess the effectiveness of their actions.
  • Setbacks: The coalition needs to identify and address the root cause.

Regardless of outcome, the TOP coalition has to determine which next course of action to take:

  • Continue with the current TOP Goal: The coalition decides that the TOP Goal is still valid and crucial.
  • Modify the TOP Goal: Based on new learnings, the coalition adjusts the goal and continues pursuing it.
  • Choose a new TOP Goal: Learnings indicate that a different TOP Goal is now more valuable.
  • Disband: If the TOP Goal becomes obsolete, coalition members move on to form other coalitions pursuing new TOP Goals.

Taking advantage of similarity

The Self-Similarity Principle

The principle of Self-Similarity is fundamental to the TOP Structure, allowing the organization to benefit from successful changes across different contexts based on pattern similarities, and also avoiding the repetition of unsuccessful changes.

The following steps guide the application of this principle:

  1. Clarify Characteristics: Define the attributes that encompass the pattern and identify its boundaries.
  2. Acknowledge Limitations: Every pattern has a context, scope and limitations. Do not force a pattern where there is insufficient similarity.
  3. Identify Similarities: Identify other areas of the organization where a similar change could be applied.
  4. Translate Learnings: Understand how the change and learnings can be adapted and applied in those similar contexts.
  5. Identify Patterns at Different Levels: Some patterns may apply at lower levels within the organization, while others may repeat at the same level in different areas, and some patterns may even be found at higher levels.
  6. Share the Pattern: Make the successful pattern available for others in the organization to use.
  7. Reapply the Pattern: Apply successful patterns in similar contexts within the coalition's network while raising awareness about unsuccessful patterns.

TOP Coalitions generating significant benefits from a discovered pattern support others in the application of their success patterns before moving on to lower prioritized goals.

By following these steps, the TOP Structure can maximize the benefit of changes throughout the organization, leveraging pattern similarity to maximize impact while minimizing overhead.

TOP Coalition

The TOP Cycle is executed by a TOP Coalition. Existing relationships will guide the selection of individuals within the coalition who can best represent and influence the wider organization.

A single person can hold multiple roles within a coalition. All members of a TOP Coalition are expected to actively participate in and contribute towards the coalition's TOP Goal. The designated roles within the coalition foster collaboration and ensure that all viewpoints are taken into account. Any member of the TOP Coalition can carry out any action.

There can be multiple concurrent TOP Coalitions, each dedicated to achieving a TOP Goal. Coalitions are temporary and purpose-specific. It's crucial to ensure consistency of TOP Goals across all coalitions for optimal collaboration and outcomes.

TOP Coalition Roles

An illustration of the roles in a TOP Coalition

The roles and responsibilities outlined in this section are designed to jumpstart a TOP Structure. These roles are temporary, ideally filled by individuals whose current roles align with these responsibilities. Together, these roles constitute a TOP Coalition which encapsulates as much of the immediate networks as possible without expanding in size, while covering all TOP Competencies.

A TOP Structure requires no additional roles, and since the TOP Structure integrates into strategy and daily operations, no additional people are required to adopt a TOP Structure. However, organizations may initially find it helpful to adopt some specific roles in order to get started with the TOP Structure.

TOP Facilitator

The Facilitator Role
The Facilitator aids the coalition in implementing TOP principles and practices, identifies key patterns and antipatterns, and guides the coalition through the TOP Cycle. In their role, they focus on establishing and fostering the success of the TOP Coalition. They do this by:
  • Forming the TOP Coalition
  • Facilitating the TOP Cycle and the TOP Events
  • Maintaining accountability
  • Creating visibility of progress and outcomes

Organizational Members

The Organizational Member Role
These members focus on the TOP Organizational Competencies, namely collaboration, learning, and adaptability, both at the individual level and within the organizational system. They contribute to the coalition by providing insights and aligning on:
  • Organizational Goals
  • Connecting People
  • Facilitating process change
  • Monitoring Impediments
  • Driving Organizational Change

Technical Members

The Technical Member Role
These members focus on the TOP Technical Competencies including engineering, automation, and operation of technology. They contribute to the coalition by providing insights and aligning on:
  • Technical Goals
  • Establishing and guiding Technical Communities
  • Supporting and strengthen Engineering Practice
  • Managing and reducing technical debt
  • Driving technological change

Product Members

The Product Member Role
These members focus on advancing the TOP Product Competencies: Direction, positioning, and discovery of products, services and solutions. They contribute to the coalition by providing insights and aligning on:
  • Product Goals
  • Product Priorities
  • Maintaining the Product Roadmap
  • Freeing delivery capacity to proceed on coalition work

Management Sponsor

The Management Sponsor Role
This individual is the primary management supporter for the adoption of the TOP Structure within the TOP Coalition. Their main role is to provide management's perspective on the organization's current state and to remove management obstacles hindering the achievement of the TOP Goal. They must dedicate sufficient time to participate in TOP activities. In their role, they focus on communicating the management perspective and aligning the coalition objectives and outcomes with the surrounding mangement context. They do this by:
  • Acting as a Power Sponsor
  • Communicating the Strategic Vision
  • Validating the Business Case
  • Ensuring Funding
  • Providing sufficient Staffing
  • Communicating with other managers

Other domains

If a TOP Goal is highly specific and the organization is so fragmented that additional members from a special domain are required, these members are included in the TOP Coalition. The Coalition then examines the influence of the organization's existing structure on the TOP Goal.

TOP Structure Events

The TOP Structure itself is minimal, and keeps specific events at a minimum. Ideally, existing meetings can be utilized or reorganized to achieve the purpose of TOP events. Only where no comparable event exists, a TOP Event is introduced. In general, TOP events aim at reducing the need for meetings. Where this isn't the case, this can trigger reflection and adaptation: Some meetings may be superfluous or ineffective.

This chapter provides specific guidance for setting up and running TOP Events aligned with the TOP Cycle, although specific adoptions could vary in nature. All TOP Events are for all members of the TOP Coalition and initially, start with an orientation to clarify intent, agenda and expected outcomes.

Within a TOP cycle, TOP Events are aligned sequentially. Multiple events could be combined into a single session, as long as there are sufficient breaks inbetween.

Goal Setting Event

The TOP Goal Setting Event establishes a clear understanding of potential shared objectives for any TOP Coalitionto facilitate purpose-driven collaboration involving multiple parties.

The primary outcome of this event is a common understanding of feasible coalition goals, their interrelationships, and an agreement on their priorities. The event is deemed successful when a set of TOP Goals is agreed upon. It can be repeated cyclically as necessary. These TOP Goals then become the basis of a potential coalition.

Example guidance for conducting this event can be found here.

Formation Event

To achieve the TOP Goal, one or more TOP Coalitions are formed. They plan, conduct and validate their mission. The event is successful when the coalition is clear on their way of working. It recurs when members of a coalition change.

Example guidance for conducting this event can be found here.

Mission Launch Event

Every TOP Coalition needs to have a common understanding on their mission and the actions they will take in order to effectively conduct changes contributing to their TOP Goal.

Example guidance for conducting this event can be found here.

Coalition Sync

At frequent intervals, the entire coalition gathers to align on contributions, upcoming challenges, next steps and collaboration opportunities. Synchronization needs to occur at least weekly. New coalitions might require daily synchronization until the coalition is sufficiently bonded in their relationships and mutual understanding.

Example guidance for conducting this event can be found here.

Adaption Event

When the TOP Coalition has conducted their agreed actions, they will recap whether in their environment:
  • the actions have provided the intended progress towards the goal,
  • a change of plan is necessary to make progress
  • side effects occurred that need to be addressed

Example guidance for conducting this event can be found here.

Scale Across Event

Upon relevant progress or significant learnings, the TOP Coalition shares their learnings across their network, so that others can also benefit.

Example guidance for conducting this event can be found here.

Closing remarks

A TOP Structure is built up by TOP Coalitions, and the pace at which TOP Coalitions act and generate results determines how adaptive a TOP Structure will be. There is no "blueprint" for a TOP Structure, as the goals and patterns discovered by TOP Coalitions determine the optimal state for the organization. The effectiveness of a TOP Structure depends on how well TOP Coalitions are formed, the network they can cover, and the effectiveness at which they can make critical changes.

The minimum amount of TOP Coalitions required for a TOP Structure is one, although any number of coalitions can work in parallel in different areas of the organization to achieve the TOP Goal. It's critical, though, that the goals of different coalitions are congruent and all contribute to one overall TOP Goal.

The work of TOP Coalitions results in reformed networks with enhanced flow and better energy allocation. The ultimate outcome of the TOP Structure is an organization that can achieve better outcomes, faster and with less effort.


Creative Commons License BY-SA Intelygence GmbH (2023)

The TOP Guide is free to use with attribution, even in commercial settings.
You may base derivate works on the TOP Guide, given that you preserve attribution.
To receive or provide official TOP Structure services, contact us.
TOP Resources outside the Guide are not covered by this license. Contact us if you wish to disseminate them.


The TOP Guide as well as any other supportive material on the TOP Structure page, are provided free of charge. Users themselves are responsible for the outcome of the use of the TOP Structure.
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