I'm always interested to visit and find out about organisations, especially good ones that you can learn from. I had a great opportunity yesterday to visit a very successful business, indeed one at the top of its game. What 's even better is that I'm a small part of the organisation, The Times. I write a monthly 'Nature Notebook' and the Times team invited the 4 regular nature columnists to their new offices on London Bridge Road.

I confess to having been a Times reader for pretty much all my life. It was the paper at home through my childhood and as a family we've read the Times daily for the last 25 years. So a guided tour around the new open plan offices was, for me, a bit like being one of the children being shown around Willie Wonka's sweet factory.  The 360 degree views out over London added to that sense of wonder.

As an organisation The Times is a successful newspaper - this week winning Newspaper of the Year and a haul of other heavyweight awards. Andrew Norfolk won two awards for his work uncovering the child sex abuse issues in Rotherham and Matthew Parris was recognised as top political correspondent. The brilliant Peter Brookes (who does the other Nature Notes diagonally opposite my column) won cartoonist of the year. Peter works in a greenhouse-like studio in the Times offices.

So, from an organisational point of view, what's the secret of The Times success?  Here are my 5 observations.

1. The paper has a detailed, up to date understanding of who reads it, what sort of people they are and what they think of the paper.  The customer's views are paramount and the only bit of editorial guidance I've had has been to recognise the expert, intelligent and probing nature of my readers and hector and patronise them at my peril.

2. Leadership. Everyone I met knew what the Editor John Witherow thought of their bit of the paper and what he wanted.  He's a visible and effective leader. It's an old cliche, but without good leadership, good organisations can't be brilliant and poor organisations can't get out of trouble.

3. The Times employs capable people (OK, so that's a bit of an understatement given the number of brilliant people I met yesterday) and let's them get on with their jobs giving them considerable freedom to explore and develop.  People who don't know the paper slip into the sloppy criticisms of it, not recognising that its columnists have a vast range of opinions and are able to express them. If you doubt that, read Matthew Parris' recent angry, compassionate and informed piece on gay men in public life; or Libby Purves on child suicides; or any of many excellent features based around their big socially progressive campaigns.

4. There is a core of professional expertise - subject and style - which means people doing the job know their stuff.  The Times has a reputation for spotting really important, often unfashionable, causes and by credible and thorough analysis putting a powerful case together.  The campaigns for cycle funding and cycle safety and uncovering child sexual exploitation are two. I was really pleased to see the latest campaign - led for The Times by Rosemary Bennett and Prof Tanya Bryon - on the scandalous situation in children's mental health services.

5. Lots of cultural things felt right as we walked the offices - clearly identified expert teams, but situated in a consistent corporate identity. People introduce themselves politely and enthusiastically and leadership is visible. The feel of the offices was like the paper laid out in front of you, showing a business-like line of sight between market, structure and activities.

I guess any further examination would surface tensions and The Times will have areas it needs to improve.  But I felt good to be part of a successful paper with an impressive and prominent role in British public life.