“On a vu une jolie demoiselle…”

So started the day. “We saw a pretty girl.”

It’s been a long time coming. A company going through a radical transformation – a real one – where the way they work together, talk to each other, share information and make decisions is actually visibly changing. Driven of course by business imperatives, and also by a new CEO who really does want to do things differently.

Who is a great leader in many ways. Who is brave enough to try new things and new ways of working – even though he has worked in the organisation his whole career. Who has a clear sense of the future of the business, and listens to his team. Who has deliberately sought out different external perspectives, as well as paying attention to the organisation’s history and existing culture.

He is creating a leadership team that meets, shares information and makes decisions together, where before there were 15 individuals who met once a month to have information given to them. This is a team where senior leaders are collaborating in ways they didn’t in the past, when the organisation was much more siloed, and the decision making process was much simpler: the most senior person decided. Simple.

The organisation has gone through not one but two participatory exercises; one to decide on a strategy and the other to come up with new brand positioning. A really exciting new brand positioning which is a change of direction, and is both credible and aspirational.

This new branding was being shared with a key group of managers today, so they could start to share it with their teams. Again – in the spirit of co-construction.

The theory and the practices I’ve spent nigh on 20 years studying and perfecting are being called into play. I am making a difference. It has the potential to be a great case study.

So why am I banging on about gender and sexism (again), I hear you ask? Why am I so narked at being described as a ‘jolie demoiselle’?

And what does this have to do with change and organisational development?

Professor of Management Joyce Fletcher talks about disappearing acts. They are things that women do that are necessary to the functioning of an organisation – and, I would argue,  become even more essential in the context of an organisation that is changing.

They fall into 4 categories:

1) Preserving: taking responsibility for the whole in order to preserve the life and well-being of the project;
2) Mutual empowering: enacting an expanding definition of outcome to include outcomes embedded in others such as increased knowledge or competence;
3) Self-achieving: using relational skills to enhance the ability to achieve goals; and;
4) Creating team: creating background conditions in which group life can flourish and the feeling of a team can be experienced.

The key insight from Fletcher though is that women do these essential things – and those same things are then ‘disappeared.’

Neither women nor men recognise what was done, the time that it took, or its importance for the well-being and health of the organisation.

I would argue that in a time of organisational change, there is an even more pressing need for the above: enabling group life, taking responsibility for the whole, enabling others to deliver are all critical ingredients for successful organisational change. That is why I do these things.

It’s not because I am nice. Trust me – I am not. I just want the job done.

A few things I have done in the last 4 weeks that fall into these categories include agreeing to be here today for this brand launch in the first place. When the conversation came up about the need to prepare the senior managers for this day, there was a heated conversation among the directors about who would actually facilitate the day. I had stated a number of times that I would not be there – having travelled every week out of the last three months I was really keen to have a full week at home. As tempers frayed, I stepped in and said I’d be there. Fletcher would categorise this as focusing on task – extending job beyond defined boundaries and doing ‘whatever it takes.’ Then I spent four hours preparing an operations director who lacks the presentation skills to present the new brand to his team of senior managers. Aside from pulling together the materials for him, myself and another (senior) woman spent two hours ensuring that he understood the work that had taken place. I spent another two hours briefing him on it. Tell me the last time you saw two men spending two hours trying to ensure that a female senior leader will look good in front of their team? It’s a classic mutual empowering move: giving help without making the receiver feel guilty or inadequate.

So when I walked in today to spend the day with a group of 13 senior managers, who just happened to all be male, I wasn’t feeling like a ‘jolie demoiselle.’ I was feeling a sense of professional responsibility for the organisation. For the transformation that the CEO is trying to bring about. For the operations director. For the 13 senior managers in the room who will be asked to go and engage their teams differently from the past.

Over lunch we talked about great customer experiences we had had. I told them that on a recent flight, I’d been invited by the pilot to come into the cockpit for the landing and that it had been a completely different experience to seeing things from the passenger window. “He was flirting with you!” came the reply. (Probably true, thinks the cynic in me)

In conversation, we talked about what they might need in order to run good sessions with their teams. I said that if they wanted someone could run the sessions with them. “Are you available?” came the question. With a wink and a knowing laugh. Oh how we all laughed.

And here is the pattern – I have been here before. We get to the end of the day, and I’ve established some form of professional respect and working relationship. I’ve disagreed with them on some things and challenged them on others, and generally I’ve made a good amount of sense. We shake hands and say goodbye, and there is some comment along the lines of “I hope you didn’t mind our teasing?”

Well actually I did. It’s not big, it’s not clever and it’s not funny. And there were 13 of you. And there was one of me – and you did your level best to put me in the ‘jolie demoiselle’ box.

The ‘jolie demoiselle’ box is not a place I can help you from.

Because I, like all of us, I need to be seen and recognised for who I am (an OD consultant with over 20 years professional experience behind me, among other things) and the contribution I make to the effectiveness and success of the organisation and the individuals inside it.

And just as importantly, because this organisation will not shift and grow without some more of the type of behaviour and skills that I, and that women more typically, bring.

If all that is remembered from my work today is a ‘jolie demoiselle,’ then I too have been disappeared, and I have little hope that real organisational change can happen.

 

 

Reference
Fletcher, J. (1999). Disappearing Acts. Cambridge, Mass, USA: The MIT press.

By Dev Mookherjee

Our house parties are always difficult to plan for. I’m not that keen on parties but my partner is. When backed into a corner I sometimes foolishly agree to a party… but then there are the tricky questions of how many people do we want to come and who should be on the list. As an introvert I appreciate small gatherings while my partner seems to rejoice in her ability to draw a crowd and connect friends and neighbours.

We find that these questions of how many and who to invite also arise at the initiation of organization re-design processes, and especially when thinking through membership of a core design team. Many of you reading this post know that we are staunch advocates of participative organisation design (Link) and so  give a lot of thought to these questions. I thought I would share our rules of thumb and generic invite lists with you.

How many to invite?

We suggest a range of 6-9 in a core design group. Our recommended number is 9 as this:
– allows a sufficient range of participants to meet the criteria set out below;
– is the maximum number for all to participate and have sufficient voice in this time-intensive process and;
– enables effective breakout conversations and design work to be done in trios.

Who to consider inviting?

It’s sometimes helpful to remember such info with a mnemonic, and in this case our is LINKED…

L – The leader of the unit! In our experience you need the leader of the unit present during the process: leaders are tempted to delegate this task and then reject the outcome, leaving a legacy of mistrust in their wake and making it much harder to engage the organisation.

I – Who will Implement the design? Keep in mind people who will be responsible not just for drawing up designs and job descriptions but those who need to make it work well.

NNovelty – people who are newly in and have a fresh perspective on the organisation, perhaps from competitor organizations, or people in your high potential group. Often more able to identify possibilities in a very different organisation design

K – Who has knowledge of how the organisation’s work is done – what it actually takes and from which people to perform key tasks successfully?

EExisting leaders – some but perhaps not your entire leadership team. If you have ONLY the existing leadership team you will be more likely to get a new design that is close to the old one (which could feel like “more of the same”) but there will be solid commitment to the outcome.

DDiversity of perspective. Include possibly network or union representatives, as well as finance rep, detail-oriented and strategic thinkers, members who can support dialogue.

Perhaps this goes without saying but you also need to make sure that the people you pick have the time and attention to devote to an intense and stimulating process. You don’t want people who are inclined to dip in and out, or who will be trying to multi-task. This work is too important!

Once you’re clear about who’s in the core design team, you can also think about the wider inquiry group – this is where it is really useful to talk to a mix of people in different teams and business units, and especially those who are always bending your ear about all the things that are wrong with the organisation – they usually have a lot of useful insights.

Need help with your invitation lists? Get in touch!


We at Metalogue have developed a tool (www.orgwith.com) to help in-house organization designers to facilitate participative, activity-based design conversations. If you would like a demo of Orgwith™ get in touch at the following email address: orgwith-admin@metalogue.co.uk

#orgdesign #strategy #od #facilitation #facilitationtech #hrtech #orgwith

By Sarah Beart & Dev Mookherjee

When a senior leader realises that their organisation is not performing well, or well enough, they often commission a redesign, and task a small design group to start thinking about how they could be better organised. The temptation for the design team is to start tinkering with org charts, add in new roles to bridge perceived gaps, and identify savings and synergies.

However, we believe that what SHOULD take centre stage at this point is getting the design team sufficiently clear and aligned on the strategy. After all, you want them to be designing based on choices you have made about the purpose of the organisation and your beliefs about how it will succeed in possible future contexts, in short, you want the FORM of the organisation to follow its FUNCTION. So we are always curious about how people understand the strategy, and how well-designed the organisation is to make it happen.

Often leaders are impatient to see an org chart, and resist opening up any conversation about strategy at this stage. Many have a fear opening the Pandora’s box of strategy. Or they are impatient “we’ve talked ENDLESSLY about the strategy and everyone is PERFECTLY CLEAR! GRRRR” (often accompanied with an eye roll).  But as one of Michael Frayn’s characters in Matchbox Theatre comments “There are masses of things I want to be clear about. Since I am being so absolutely clear about them, and since one totally transparent thing looks so much like another totally transparent thing, it’s difficult to tell one from the other.”

Inquiring into the Strategy: what we find

Often people do know the headlines, and the desired outcome but they haven’t thought about HOW it’s going to happen. When starting a process of re-design we often carry out interviews with a range of staff and stakeholders with questions including:

– How clear are you about the strategy (they often know at least some of WHAT the strategy is but have little idea of how they choose to make it happen)

– How well organised are you to deliver the strategy? Frequently this provokes a tumbleweed moment – because people haven’t had time to think about this – whether the current form really does enable what they’re trying to achieve.

In his 1992 letter to Berkshire Hathaway shareholders, Warren Buffett said, “It’s only when the tide goes out that you learn who’s been swimming naked.” These inquiry questions pull the tide right out on the strategy and exposes the flotsam and jetsam of strategic thinking, unresolved or unspoken disagreements about strategy (and maybe the odd wreck of previous strategies).

Any senior team who are going to be making the decisions about org design need to have a good enough shared understanding of a good-enough shared strategy if they are going to make good decisions about the design. So that’s where good participative organisation design starts.

Inquiry about terminology should not be avoided – it is the work!

Often, we find that time is expended by groups working on design on understanding what others’ mean when they use certain terms. There is a “dialogic pull” to move to a shared language around what we are trying to do and what we mean by different activities. Examples of this are what exactly is being done under the banner of “commercial” or “compliance” or “operations”. Different parts of the organization may have very different assumptions about the activities implied by different terms. We would suggest that you don’t fight the need for conversation – it’s no reflection on you if there are things that need clearing up, or that new ideas emerge. It’s a natural part of doing org design work, to be welcomed and allowed space and time.

This strategic conversation helps you build a coherent shared narrative about why you needed to redesign, why you have chosen the design you have chosen and how you expect this to help you deliver your strategy

In summary

– Org design is done to help you deliver strategy, so it requires you to look at strategy

– This is needed and not to be feared

– Good participative org re-design processes help you get your senior team to have a shared language and sense of purpose

– This helps you take the rest of the organization along because there is a clear enough shared narrative about the need for re-design and the background to the choices you have made – you will be appropriately clothed for conversations with the wider organisation

Need help with your organization design conversations? Get in touch!

We at Metalogue have developed a tool (www.orgwith.com) to help in-house organization designers to facilitate activity-based design conversations. If you would like a demo of Orgwith™ get in touch at the following email address: orgwith-admin@metalogue.co.uk

Sources

Buffett, Warren. Berkshire Hathaway: Letter to Shareholders (1992)

Frayn, Michael. (2014) “Matchbox Theatre: thirty short entertainments”, Faber & Faber: London

Goold, M & A. Campbell. “Do you have a well designed organization?” in Harvard Business Review, March 2002

Sullivan, Louis H. (1896). “The Tall Office Building Artistically Considered”. Lippincott’s Magazine (March 1896): 403–409. Quoted on Wikipedia: https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Form_follows_function

Photo: Dev Mookherjee

#orgdesign #strategy #od #facilitation #facilitationtech #hrtech #orgwith

The famously eccentric inventor and philosopher R. Buckminster-Fuller (inventor of the geodesic dome and author of Operating Manual for Spaceship Earth) is once supposed to have said “Never show unfinished work”.

Yet organisational life increasingly demands us to show each other our unfinished work. The demands of agile working, sprints and scrums (not to mention the anxiety of a global pandemic) seems to require us to work in perpetual draft, refining and re-creating almost without end. Constantly required to show our unfinished work to each other, we are braced for critique and hopeful of appreciation (with the latter often in much shorter supply).

Psychologically it’s hard. Hard whether you’re doing strategic thinking within your executive team, developing partnership working with another organisation or just trying to keep your business afloat in the uncertainty of COVID-19. We know we can’t create perfect organisations, strategies, or even plans on our own, so we know we need to invite our stakeholders to join us.

Sometimes we just don’t because it is hard work. It makes us vulnerable, and we have to find the intellectual and emotional flexibility to discard some of our ideas and embrace new ones. To “kill our darlings” (as the author William Faulkner is said to have advised would-be novelists).

How can we judge how “finished” our work has to be before sharing it with others? We fret about it ourselves here in Metalogue – because we’re always aiming to work in partnership with our clients and create new ideas together. We see it within our clients too; smart strategy people try to do strategy FOR their executive teams, and executives try the same with Boards.

What happens when sharing unfinished work goes wrong? Solid but incomplete work gets criticised as half-baked when offered upwards. And it results in accusations of leadership incompetence when shared with a broader organisation, who expect leaders to know and be certain. We end up slinking away, advised to “work that up a bit” and bring it back more polished (perhaps so it can be properly rejected.)

But that highly polished work, with the ends all neatly sewn up, disappoints senior recipients because there’s no room for their skills and experience. It promotes cynicism and disengagement in the front line for much the same reason. When pre-polished work doesn’t go down well, we end up defending it, or (perhaps worse) taking silence as consent to our proposals.

Finding the stamina to continue creating together means we need to show up with our unfinished work, be open to its adaptation and find ways to complete things together. We will have done our homework, reflected and challenged ourselves, and somehow stayed away from false certainty. We want to show up to our work “prepared but not complete”.

If this stirs something up in you, give us a call.

It is still by no means business as usual. While the impact of the pandemic has varied from individual to individual, we are all living with less certainty, often more anxiety and questioning some of the taken for granted in our lives.

Many organisations and teams need to re-evaluate and adapt their structures or ways of working to adapt to the new reality. So we thought it would be useful to share what we are learning about organisational re-design. The broad principles we follow continue to apply, however, some things need to be emphasised more than ever. These are our 10 top tips, re-visited in the context of our recent experiences:

1. Keep linking design to strategy. At this time of heightened uncertainty the importance of making sense together is even more crucial. From an organisation design perspective, be as clear as you can be on what the strategy is AND see organisation design as an opportunity to continue to engage people in the development and the implementation of strategy. We’ve had many a light bulb moment in workshops as the implications of a strategy memo suddenly become much clearer. This is critical given how much is changing around us at the moment.

2. Create a small but representative design team. With a clear remit and the right facilitation support they will design for the strategy and for the future, and most importantly feel ownership of the new design.

3. Continue to share as much as you can. We’ve seen great examples of very open communication by CEOs and leaders over the the last year. This is very important given that distrust and paranoia thrive in a vacuum. The same principle applies to organisation design work: pay particular attention to communicating the process and decisions to those who are not part of the design team.

4. Build a “warts and all” picture of what is and isn’t working at the moment. Share that picture (with the warts) as you start the re-design work so everyone has shared context from which to work.

5. Start by paying attention to process- the outcome will follow. As soon as the words re-design, or restructure are mentioned, naturally most people start to try and second guess what the outcome will be in terms of individuals and roles. Although it may seem counter intuitive, our experience suggests that the most helpful thing to focus on is what your redesign process will be. If you have a good process, you’ll get a good outcome- even if you don’t yet know what that will look like.

6. Conversely, beware of easy answers. This might be the sketch someone (the CEO / an expert consultant) has drawn up on the back of an envelope that is presented as “the answer”. It might not be a bad idea, but it won’t have the right level of ownership across the organisation for a successful implementation.

7. Be pacey, but don’t rush it. Re-design work is important for any organisation and has significant implications, so it’s important to take the time to get it right. That doesn’t mean it has to take years. Our experience suggests that 6-8 weeks is enough to come up with a well thought through robust organisational design. Bringing it to life will however take much longer – see point 9.

8. Be creative. The design process needs to encourage thinking outside of the box. The obvious example from this year has been virtual and multi site teams becoming the norm. It’s also highlighted how we can also be creative about the process itself. Our clients have been surprised at the quality of work that they have been able to do virtually instead of face to face, and it’’s even led us to develop an app to facilitate organisation design processes virtually. Necessity is the mother of invention and all that…

9. Plan for implementation up-front. A significant re-design always requires implementation resource: leadership time, HR support, internal communication and project coordination. Don’t let yourself be surprised by this.

10. Plan for transition support. Individuals find themselves in new roles having to do all the core business of management (i.e. set new KPIs, implement new governance processes, create new leadership teams etc) AND will need to provide emotional support to their teams who will be going through transitions themselves. At the best of times, this will typically takes 6 months for individuals to feel settled in a new structure. It will take longer in the present context and not providing appropriate support risks not realising the benefits of your re-design.


What you would add from your own experience? email us at sophypern@metalogue.co.uk


For more information and insight on organisation designing see our 2020 Research report into designing organisations

Throughout 2020, we conducted an action research project with our clients into the practice of designing organisations. One observation we made is that most organisations are in a constant process of redesigning themselves as they adapt to ever-increasing levels of uncertainty and complexity. Because of this, organisations are becoming more fluid and structures more transitory. As 2020 unfolded, we observed and heard how the pandemic is amplifying and accelerating this process.

In many organisations, multiple design projects are happening simultaneously at different levels. For instance, we are working with a large and complex University that is changing its structures and working practices across the whole system whilst at the same time individual faculties and schools within them are reorganising how they operate. In many cases, we heard how the tail end of one design project overlaps with the start of the next. For employees this can leave them feeling in permanent transition and struggling to make sense of how to make decisions or get things done. This stirs up anxieties and insecurities.

These observations led us to conclude that organisation design is increasingly an ongoing and iterative process. We need therefore to shift our thinking away from creating ‘the design’ – which suggests the construction of a static, enduring entity – towards ‘designing’ as a critical ongoing practice in organisations.

Our research indicates that designing requires:

> Keeping the future in mind whilst drawing on past experiences to understand what will work in a given culture,

> Accepting that designing is a messy and unfolding process and not a neat linear one,

> Focusing on ‘good enough’ design decisions that are able to adapt and flex with feedback,

> Creating ownership by involving people to develop ideas and make decisions,

> Encouraging the questioning of assumptions and creating space to explore design options and possibilities, and

> Taking transitions seriously and undertaking realistic assessments of support people will require to let go of the past, learn new skills, and take up new roles.

To make this shift, we argue that organisations need to possess the expertise and capability to design and redesign themselves, and leaders at all levels need to see designing as a core part of their role.

If you want to read more about our research, you can download our report “Whose design is it anyway?” at:

https://metalogue.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2020/12/Metalogue_Designing_Organisations_Report-2020.pdf


This was the question posed to us recently by a sceptical senior leader about to embark on an organisation design process for their organisation. On further questioning she intimated that in previous organisations she had always been told what her structure was going to be after a quick decision by the CEO, based on advice from the HR Director and external consultants. The notion of participating in designing the whole organisation seemed to him to be an abdication of her manager’s responsibility, overly time-consuming and an unfair request, given the difficult choices that would have to be made. The metaphor of the plaster represented the pain that she felt would undoubtedly be involved, and the idea that the job was best done quickly (by her manager) and without too much deliberation.

We know that many organisation design practitioners have heard a version of this question numerous times. As organisation development practitioners it seems important to examine our assumptions and our advocacy when we hear such a question. I suggest that we would both need to consider the framing of the question and think about the answer to the question.

Let’s consider the metaphor first…

If we accept the offered notion (inherent in this metaphor) that the process of organisation design is painful and designed to enable a wound to heal then of course we would want to remove it as quickly and painlessly as possible. Indeed, research (Furyk et al, 2009) on the removal of plasters at James Cook University in Queensland, Australia, suggests that there is a lower perception of pain involved if processes are ripped off than when more time is taken. In the research there were a number of factors which affected responses which included: participants’ culture; previous pain events; beliefs; mood; and ability to cope. While these factors seem relevant to the question in hand, I remain instinctively suspicious of the fit of the plaster metaphor to organisation design.

However, we know that metaphors used are artificial and imperfect constructs which shape the way we think and act. Charteris-Black (2016) described how the metaphor of containers was used by right-wingers in the narrative of stronger immigration control in the 2005 UK election. If you accept the idea that the UK is a container, you are obliged to entertain the notion that there are boundaries to the container which need to be protected and that the container could be swamped or walls broken by external penetration.

George Lakoff at the University Of California, Berkeley, argues that “every thought you have is physical”. The author of “Don’t think of an Elephant!”, he argues that even if we disagree with a metaphor, by challenging it we only reinforce the neural connections holding this thinking in place. Better to challenge with an alternative and more helpful metaphor.

So…if challenging a metaphor is unhelpful, then we have a choice as OD practitioners to accept the frame we are offered or to change it. Accept the (faulty) metaphor we are served and we are condemned to defeat or, or at the very least, a struggle to persuade.

What would be a good alternative metaphor?

In our previous research report on Transformation (2018) we set out a number of metaphors that are commonly used (and misused too) in organisations. Perhaps “renovation” is a better metaphor to respond to the plaster frame. After all, imagine the pain if you came home after a weekend away and someone had reshaped your house without your very clear input? That would hurt!

Now…back to answering the question about whether it is better to rip off the org design plaster…

Engaging others in the organisation design process can sometimes be perceived as difficult or unhelpful

We know that radical participation in the process of organisation design elicits very strong reactions. Some people love it; but others seem to hate it, for a few reasons:

> time taken to engage can be perceived as taking too long

> burden of making a decision that affects you and others

> defence against accountability in case the wrong design is chosen

> they have a view that re-design is “someone else’s” job; “it’s above my pay grade”

> they have previously seen experts come in and do a good job and have a view that such work is best done by outsiders

> it is easier for some staff members and leaders to create a power imbalance to let someone else structure their organisation (their managers or delegated management consultants) for them to later rail against or defer to. This thinking goes back to outdated scientific management notions of the need for distinct groups of “thinkers” and “doers”.

However, we believe that participation in the re-design process is a good thing

We believe in the power of supported participation in the process of organisation design for the following reasons:

> team members are more likely to accept the outcome if involved in shaping the solution

> there is more chance of a solution that will work in practice

> quicker adoption through better understanding when finally implemented

> this enhances a culture which sees responsibility and solutions as co-created and jointly held by all participants in the organisation – leaders and staff members

Interested in this frame? Get in touch!

References

Charteris-Black, J. (2006). Britain as a container: Immigration metaphors in the 2005 election campaign. Discourse & Society, 17(5), 563–581. doi:10.1177/0957926506066345

Jeremy S Furyk, Carl J O’Kane, Peter J Aitken, Colin J Banks and David A Kault. Fast versus slow bandaid removal: a randomised trial. Med J Aust 2009; 191 (11): 682-683. || doi: 10.5694/j.1326-5377.2009.tb03379.x; Published online: 7 December 2009

Lakoff, G. (2004) Don’t think of an elephant!: Know your values and frame the debate, White River Junction, Vt: Chelsea Green Publishing Co

The Metalogue Transformation Report (2018) https://metalogue.co.uk/Metalogue-Report-on-Transformation-Dec-2018.pdf

Finally, a thanks to organisers and attendees at the European Organisation Design Forum 2020 Conference for prompting, encouraging and contributing to my thinking on this subject. https://www.eodf.eu/

Like all organisations we are looking how to deal with the effects of the Coronavirus outbreak. Our clients are thinking about how to keep making progress on planned work which involved bringing groups of people together, sometimes from around the globe, to tackle issues like strategy and organisation design. Should they just stop, because who wants to do strategy or change work on a crackly phone line?

We would agree about the crackly phone line. But we know from experience it’s possible to do excellent work virtually; everything from ordinary business meetings, developmental experiences such as coaching and leadership programmes, right through to strategy and organisation design. We have clients we’ve never actually met face to face. And with our own partners living and working in several cities, we have virtual weekly meetings and run virtual development for ourselves too.

We do know that you can’t do it by just replicating what you would do if you were all in a room together, and endlessly apologising for what can’t happen. So we thought we would share a few of our top tips about how to run serious business conversations virtually:

1. One virtual, all virtual. This is an important point which we first learned from Ghislaine Caulat’s research on Virtual Leadership (thank you Ghislaine – full plug below!). If you want to create a conversation in which all can participate then make sure everyone is connecting in from a quiet and private separate room. Having people using different channels e.g. one person calling into a small meeting, or small groups huddled together in different locations who CAN communicate with each other in breaks, often makes for unhelpful sub-group dynamics, and a feeling of exclusion for people on their own. And we would argue that it’s either video for all or audio for all – make a healthy level playing field for your conversation.

2. Act like normal humans. Find ways to do your normal social processes. So many people launch straight into the “business” of the meeting without going through the basics of “how are you” and sometimes even forget “hello”. This does little to draw people into giving their full attention to the conversation at hand. In fact we’d say you need to devote more time to this aspect when working virtually to allow people to tune into each other. Find out where each other are, how each other are, allow a bit of messy chat if that’s how you normally start a meeting. Draw people into being interested in each other – then you’ve got their attention.

3. Choose a good technology. And make sure beforehand that everyone who is going to be in the meeting can use it. Don’t just ask – check with a test call. Sound basic? How often have you found yourself shut out of a virtual event, or trying to run one with a key person unable to join. We currently favour zoom for its reliability and flexibility: it’s easy to set up, and doesn’t require any downloading of apps. You can have break out groups, shared content, co-created content and all kinds of other useful features (and judging from a recent experience you can do a great Q and A from Botswana for a large conference). However, some of our clients’ firewalls block it: we want to know this in advance, and then we use something else – Skype, Webex, Facetime.

4. Tend to your dynamics. Remember that working virtually amplifies existing social and emotional dynamics, and can disinhibit people. Things that are difficult to talk about in a room together can be even trickier virtually, and people may therefore either say a lot less or a lot more than they ordinarily would. Take care with yourselves (especially right now as there’s the extra pressure caused by this current outbreak)

5. Design and redesign your conversation – don’t just expect it to happen! We have had some previous blogs touching on the importance for leaders of getting skilled at designing conversations (here for example). Think about topics for the conversations, where you need interaction within your group, what needs to be formal and what informal, what is better done offline or asynchronously, and what the purpose is of each element of the conversation. If you were going to have a strategy day or Executive awayday, feel free to have a day but design it with several short sessions spaced with breaks for work offline, food and comfort. Maybe share more in advance, use different methods to get feedback.

We’re not relishing the disruption (and suffering) that the Coronavirus is bringing. But we are working closely with our clients to design work that helps them keep on track with their business priorities. We hope this gives you heart – and if you’re not used to working virtually and would like to think with us about how your organisation can do this well, then drop us a line on contact@metalogue.co.uk. And if you want to know more about Ghislaine Caulat’s research her excellent book is available, on Kindle too.

Sarah Beart and Simon Martin

Alternative Ways of Knowing: 

Finding new possibilities for how to enable cultural change and transformation.

By Kevin Power & Simon Martin


In our last blog, we talked about applying “a liberal dose of science and an equal measure of art” when exploring organisational culture and change. As practitioners, one frame we find helpful comes from John Heron and Peter Reason (2008), who talk about there being 4 “ways of knowing”:

‘Propositional’ and ‘Practical’ ways of knowing are far more accepted in modern organisational life. These can be found, for example, in policy, process and best practice procedures. They are gleaned from the experience of what has happened in the past. They are what “normally works” and could be seen, too, in the competencies and routines developed through carrying out the daily acts of working life.

‘Experiential’ knowing is described as the embodied encounter with the experience of the moment; the second by second unfolding of everything that happens. ‘Presentational’ knowing is the processing of this experience into “artistic form”.

These last two focus on intuitive, rather than pre-conditioned, responses. By drawing on this kind of data it can help to “create” new perspectives and new possibilities.

Working from Intuition

When we are dealing with many familiar organisational situations, then Propositional and Practical knowing may serve us well. However, when dealing with complex, systemic questions such as culture change we do well to explore the other forms of knowing too.

To bring this to life, one way we help individuals and groups to access their experience in a presentational way is to use what we describe as ‘cultural artefacts’. We ask them to choose something that represents or resonates with what it means for them to be a participant in their organisational culture. The request is normally unusual enough that they have to work intuitively because the “right answer” is not available!

Sometimes people bring along an item that has been sitting at the bottom of a desk drawer or something that is stuck on an office wall. They might refer back to what they first noticed on joining the organisation or a source of frustration or pride. Other times they will choose an evocative image or an object from home to express something that is otherwise not easily spoken of.

Tsunamis and Crowns

For example, during a recent strategy & culture workshop, a senior leader in a manufacturing based company offered up an imagined tsunami image (see below). It was his way of describing the experience of working in the context of constant uncertainty that faced the business.

In their leadership roles were they supposed to exude calmness or agitation? Or were they being perceived as in denial? In an ensuing discussion between a cross section of colleagues about the impact of Brexit, they realised that this was just another context for a typical pattern in the business. In this case it had become the norm to carry on with resilience and belief that you can address whatever issues or challenges that come along through rational and calm endeavour. This was an engineering-led organisation after all. Yet this response was leading to other unintended consequences such as cycles of anxiety for some people and complacency or disempowerment for others.

With another client group, a pink crown was chosen to represent how people related to their senior colleagues. On the one hand there was respect and a sense of responsibility inherent in the symbol of monarchy. Yet at the same time the playful colour undercut this with something that was a serious concern. In a subsequent discussion that included the executive team, the  group talked about a nagging feeling that their bosses were unlikely to stay around for very long. It was therefore not a surprise to learn that it sometimes led to ambivalence in how people responded to new strategic imperatives.

Transformative Conversations

In both these examples, these patterns had grown to become cultural norms and had become resistant to previous leadership interventions and exhortations for change. Interventions that were based more on the propositional “rule book”, such as signing up to agreed “leadership behaviours” or team charters. By surfacing these cultural patterns through a more intuitive “artistic” form, people from different levels in the organisation found it easier to talk more openly with each other about their attitudes and responses. These perspectives were always there but had remained hidden and unspoken about. Now they could be given language and worked with in the spirit of changing their organisations for the better.

In our recent research into Organisation Transformation we refer to the importance of enabling transformative conversations, which can often more easily and gently be elicited through artefact work. We don’t profess to have an amazing one-size-fits-all model for how to make cultural change happen. But we do know how to build a process that helps clients to make sense of their own cultural patterns – with emphasis on the richness that different ways of knowing and multiple perspectives can bring. We also know what might engender different responses and what might disturb what has become fixed.

At the same time, we support the view that the role of leaders and change agents is to create the conditions for change to become possible. This is a reframe on the cult of leader as the heroic instrumentalist. It is a reminder, too, that non-rational approaches that have a more humble starting point can often bring about unexpected, and sometimes transformative, results.

You can download our latest research report here:

https://metalogue.co.uk/Metalogue-Report-on-Transformation-Dec-2018.pdf

 

Key References:

Heron, J., & Reason, P. (2008). The Sage Handbook of Action Research: Participative Inquiry and Practice (2nd ed., pp. 366-380). London: Sage.

McLean, A (2013). Leadership and Cultural Webs in Organisations: Weavers Tales. Emerald Group Publishing.

 

 

We have been working in and around organisations long enough to have noticed a cyclical obsession with changing culture as a panacea for transformation and renewal. But is it helpful to describe this kind of change as if it is something we can master by applying some kind of cause and effect approach?

Mastering what is elusive

It is often the context for what I do in my work and yet I still hesitate to call myself an expert in something that is so elusive and therefore unmanageable. The subject demands humility yet it doesn’t stop us from thinking that we can somehow shape and control it.

Amongst the myriad of definitions you can find about organisational culture you will often discover terms that refer to patterns of human interaction such as behavioural norms, narratives, rituals and the significance of relationships. Then there are contextual factors such as symbols, artefacts and the aesthetics of the working environment Whatever aspects we have in mind it has consequences for how we think about cultural change as well as the actions that stem from these assumptions.

What is also interesting is that the etymology of the word has Latin and French origins and has evolved from an agricultural metaphor – the cultivation of land and crops from the early Middle Ages. So it does imply the notion of ‘controlled change’ as a base metaphor especially when you examine how it came to be used in philosophical thought through the ages:

“All the ways in which human beings overcome their original barbarism and, through artifice, become fully human” (Samuel von Pufendorf, 1632-94).

This way of thinking continued to evolve through to the last century, especially with the emergence of the social sciences, where the gaze turned to communities and tribes in different geographical contexts. As anthropologists in particular became more aware of their ethical responsibilities, they became less interested in any notions of cultivation and more on learning from their observations and insights about social systems of people. Hence the less goal-orientated idea of a noun called ‘culture’ where we were becoming more interested in what is rather than what should be.

The Petri Dish of Life

In a recent conversation with a client – who had a background in biochemistry and now works in social policy – she made an intriguing statement: “ I prefer researching and thinking about what people are doing in their lives rather than staring into a petri dish”. It reminded me that the ‘cultivation’ metaphor is alive and well in the world of microbes: the ‘cultures’ that are created and observed under the lens of a microscope.

Our conversation turned to whether we as leaders or change agents see ourselves as standing outside of culture looking in or whether we are actually swimming in the petri dish whilst imagining that we have access to the eye piece of the microscope.  And so we came to the fundamental difficulty of definition and our ability to influence something that is not within our grasp. We cannot ‘see’ something with neutral, objective clarity when our own lenses are distorted by our hypotheses and by our need to control and categorise. For example, how can you analyse and explain something when you are part of the very same phenomenon you are trying to pin down.

Or put another way, there is an old saying which we think comes from an old Chinese proverb and goes something like this: “if you want to know what water is, don’t ask the fish.”

And to bend the fish metaphor in another direction, culture is therefore a very slippery eel indeed!

So where does this leave us in our roles as change agents and leaders?

Hopefully not in a helpless place if we can hold our pragmatist and idealistic urges in check. As long as we have the capacity and the willingness to pay attention to our assumptions and are clear which lens we are seeing the world of culture through then we do think you can have some influence. What if we were to start with the following principles:

1. Organisational cultures are always in flux. They are constantly in a state of co-creation – a bit like very complex, self-modulating systems.

2. We participate (swim?) in these modulation processes and this contributes to what we experience as cultural patterns such as norms of behaviour.

3. These patterns are only one manifestation of a cultural eco-system. Indeed you could argue that all organisational activity and symbols are expressions of culture in one form or another.

4. Neither system nor pattern has boundaries. They are non-linear by nature.

5. Culture has no fixed configuration just changing contexts. It might even be better to talk of culture as a verb rather than a noun.

In a nutshell it means we are dealing here with something that is always emergent and somewhat paradoxical. So if you think of a typical cultural issue in organisational life – where it gets expressed as “we need to be more (or less) of something”- our instinct usually is to find a change solution that involves some form of control thinking. This is not a surprise because this in itself is a typical cultural pattern in many organisations and in life generally. It’s a bit like the challenge of overcoming an addictive pattern of behaviour. Our experience suggests that the first step to ‘recovery’ is accepting first that we are not in control of something that is a pattern of contexts and relationships.

Rich Descriptions

It follows then, if we feel some responsibility for creating change, we might have to let go of our conventional thinking in this area. We would suggest then that there are more congruent approaches that can create a gentler but more impactful ‘disturbance’ than any grand design or intervention.

There is no one truth that can encapsulate or describe all contexts. So in our client work we apply a liberal dose of science and an equal measure of art. It means that we have to be rigorous in our methods as we help our clients to pay serious attention to what they each experience in their organisational lives. We act like anthropologists in that we help them to build a rich description of these cultural experiences through a discovery and immersion process. This then enables them to reveal and express those patterns that they wish to amplify and those that they wish to dampen. How and when they do this becomes the basis for a next phase of support. We will come back to how that works in reality later but for our next blog we will talk more about some of the methods we use during the initial discovery phase.

For those who wish a deeper dive into some of the ideas expressed above we would strongly recommend the work of Gregory Bateson, Adrian McLean, Clifford Geertz and John Berger.

 

The “T” word is everywhere – it’s hard to find an organisation that isn’t undergoing some kind of transformation. At an event last week to launch our Metalogue research on the subject, one group worked on the question “How do we help leaders hold their nerve during transformation.” It was a popular question, and the group was composed of a mix of transformation leaders and those who are endeavouring to support them (strategy, HR and OD directors).

Wobbly leaders

People were clear that it’s daunting work, and a lot of leaders feel “wobbly” during a big transformation. They are trying to lead the transformation while also dealing with immediate pressures, such as this quarter’s profit and other performance targets. It can be hard to find time to make connections to the future and to the end goals. Leaders commonly get through the first stage of the transformation and then see just how much work remains to be done.

Some people spoke about how difficult it can be for a new leadership team to form itself AND lead a transformation. Others mentioned how leaders have to go against the grain (theirs and the organisation’s) in order to get the transformation to happen, especially when they have to work across organisational splits. And there was general agreement that leaders (and OD and change practitioners) have to hold their own nerve as well as helping others.

Don’t look down!

A paradox emerged – helping leaders and others pay attention to what is NOT going to change seems really useful. Leaders who can hold on to a thread of continuity, and who can genuinely honour the past, really help themselves and others. However, often leaders aren’t prepared for the feeling of chaos when a transformation gets underway, so it’s useful to help them accept that they may feel wobbly (and tell them not to look down when they do!).  They tend not to be prepared for just how long transformation takes – helping them be OK with the long haul is important.

Leaders who have been through it spoke about the usefulness of being accompanied by people who’ve seen some of this before, and know where else it had worked (stories from competitors’ successes seemed particularly consoling!). And creating spaces for honest conversations was vital – conversations where leaders could allow themselves to be wobbly, to remind themselves about the purpose of the transformation and be ordinary about the job of connecting with others about continuity and change.

Walking backwards into the future

One lovely idea that emerged was to help leaders with the idea of walking backwards into the future. In Maori culture the idea is that we are always walking backwards into the future, because we can easily see what’s behind us but not what’s ahead (and it’s awkward – just look at the slightly nervous face sketched by one of my talented colleagues above). Holding your nerve while walking backwards seemed a fitting description of the experience so many leaders are having right now.

Many these days would see leadership development as a specialist field. However, if we look back at what myth and legend have to say, we realise that it is only comparatively recently that we have outsourced the development of leaders to ‘specialists’.

For thousands of years before this, the development of ‘leaders’ has been something handled at the heart of communities. For thousands of years stories of growth and initiation have been passed down in oral traditions which have helped each generation make their way in the world. And our focus these days is often so heavily on leadership competence that we neglect that which was always at the heart of initiation in all cultures in the past – the development of wisdom and savvy.

In the Ancient Greek tradition, this quality is called metis (after the Titaness, Metis, first wife of Zeus) and is associated with a magical cunning, a trickster-like wit. It is metis that gets Odysseus through the trials and ordeals of his ten-year voyage back to Ithaca, for example; a “nous” beyond technical competence in swordsmanship and seamanship. And if we look to the great mythic stories from a number of cultures, threads of insight and advice emerge that were apparent to them, and which we seem to be missing. There are still some who can tell these stories, and here are a few of the things we might learn if we find our way to them.

1. When the culture is in crisis, what is needed often comes from the edge

In many mythic traditions the centre of the village or kingdom is a metaphor for the centre of a culture. If there is sickness or crisis here, there is big trouble. And in many instances, it is from the edges of society, the forestlands and hermitages beyond mountain ranges, that salvation comes.

Parzival in battle

For example, in Arthurian and Germanic mythic stories of the Holy Grail, the Grail Knight Parzival is taken as a baby by his mother, Herzeloyde, to the far away forest following the news of the death of his father on the Baghdad road. Herzeloyde is disgusted with the chivalric, cultural values of the court that have led to her husband’s death, and acts on instinct to remove Parzival from this environment. Parzival’s upbringing away from the centre, and his difficult return from the edge of society, develop metis in him. It is these qualities that he needs to enter the Grail Castle and heal the generational wounds of the Fisher King, the wounds at the heart of his society.

Are we paying too much attention to the voices at the centre of the court when what we need to hear might come from the edge?

2. Naivety gets punished

In an old tale from the Seneca people, The Listener, an unruly adolescent is sent to the edge of the village to a mystical uncle for initiation. For four years his task is to sit at the foot of a mighty tree in the forest, listening to and connecting with the rhythms of the world around him. For four years “nothing happens”, until one day he encounters a princess from the Far West in a magical floating canoe. At the back of the canoe is her mother, a terrifying tusked figure.

Throughout The Listener’s attempts to pursue her daughter, the mother seems set on thwarting him. She enchants and tries to freeze him and his men to death. She sends siren-like calls out to them so they lose their footing on sheer mountainsides.

Hagondes – Seneca trickster mask

However, she is not pure evil set to destroy all; her role is simply to punish naivety, ‘unripe leadership’. From his years in the forest he is grounded enough to outwit his adversary at each critical moment and gradually gains her respect. He does not save himself and his men through technical competence, but rather through wit and savvy.

What naiveties might we be guilty of in our leading? Do we sometimes mistake a plan for reality, a strategic model or framework for truth rather than metaphor?

3. Wisdom comes through seeing with different eyes

And later in the tale, whilst exploring in a dark forest, The Listener’s eyes are taken and stitched to the cloak of an evil sorcerer. He stumbles blindly for years before he reaches the edge where the forest meets the village, and his fingers finally brush ears of corn. A period follows where he is reintegrated into society and meets his eventual wife. To help him see his way on this journey he borrows the eyes of various animals. First, he takes the eyes of a hawk and sees as a hawk sees – the aerial view, the big perspectives – but after a number of weeks they stop working. He then takes the eyes of a deer and sees as a deer sees – the unexpected view through thickets and dappled glades. And so on.

It is this appreciation of the many perspectives of the eco-system that develop in him the wisdom he needs to be able to settle down fruitfully at the heart of his community again.

Through how many pairs of eyes do we allow ourselves to view the complex leadership situations we face?

These are just a few references from a few cultural traditions: the Welsh/Germanic Arthurian tradition, a North American Seneca tale, and the world of Ancient Greek myth. However, even this non-representative sample suggests that there are important questions that we are missing in the way we develop the leaders and leading that we need at the heart of our cultures. It is grounded wisdom that has always gotten us through the most deeply dangerous, complex and tricky times and we may need more of it now.

If you’d like to explore these ideas more, do get in touch and join the conversation – simonmartin@metalogue.co.uk

References:

Anonymous/ Senecan oral tradition.The Listener – as told by Martin Shaw

Various and von Eschenbach, Wolfram (circa 1220). Parzival

Shakespeare, William (1993). King Lear. Title quote, “Ripeness is all” – Act V Scene II, line 11, p. 186. Routledge: London

Recommended reading:

Shaw, Martin (2011). A Branch from the Lightning Tree: Ecstatic Myth and the Grace in Wildness. White Cloud Press: Ashland, Oregon.

Consulting beyond the Froth:

A welcome return to ‘home cooking’ … or the scarily ordinary done exceptionally well

During a recent meeting with a prospective client (let’s call him Paul), I was struck by how much he didn’t want us to sell what we did. He seemed to be much more fascinated in how we felt able to “just be ourselves”(his words). At one stage his challenge was “yeah, yeah I know when you are consulting you can do all that. I’m sure you will be good at partnering with us or anyone. What I really want to know is how comfortable you are with each other and then with someone like me and the people I have in mind. So tell me: what does a group of people like you do for a Christmas party?”

Home Cooking

Now some readers at this point might be more interested in how we answered such an unexpected question. But what struck me was that Paul had sought us out purely from his intrigue at how we showed up on our website and then how that matched with how we related to each other. Of even more interest was the fact that he hadn’t quite worked out precisely what he was looking for.

He just wanted something different. Something a little less elaborate than the leadership development that his colleagues had been served up in recent years. “It’s as if we have got far too used to dining out in Michelin-starred restaurants with all their frothed up garnishes. Yet sometimes you just want to eat something straightforward and be back with the people who really know and care about you. Where you are delighted just to eat something basic and wallow in the ordinariness of a typical day at home”.

It reminded me of those moments when I am more than happy to heat up some beans on toast and grate some cheese (if I’m feeling indulgent). As I sit down to eat with my sons, I amuse myself when I proclaim: “cheesy beans: the food of kings and queens!” And I actually mean it too.

Scarily Ordinary

The best articulation that Paul could find was they needed now to focus on what it takes to bring some ordinary management practice back into what they were referring to as leadership. “Part of the problem”, he went on, “is we have got so used to lurching from one drama to the next that we have started to lose sight of what we value closer to home. In other words: the stuff that happens in the everyday. And it is only becoming apparent because it seems we are running out of dramas and the expectation that there is always something lying around the next bend. Indeed we can see much further up the road and, whilst the business is in good shape, it all seems scarily ordinary. For now at least.”

It brought to mind another client conversation (let’s call her Dawn) where we were discussing the challenge of sustaining cultural norms over time. The business in question was well known for its innovative and unique approach to its brand identity. To both consumers and employees the brand has always stood for innovation and quirkiness even 20 years after its well known products were first conceptualised.

I asked Dawn how they had managed to keep their values so fresh and vibrant for such a long time. Her response was illuminating: “well people often assume that we have a unique approach to the way we engage people and how we go about HR stuff. Yet you will find that we have pretty similar policies and processes to most progressive businesses – it’s just that we try to apply them in a super authentic way”.

Looking beyond the Froth

So I wonder, should we be paying more attention to the craft of leading and organising that is exceptional and super authentic in its ordinariness?

If I think of the consulting world or more specifically the world of OD and Change, it reminded me that we are so often seduced into believing that we always need to offer something new. This is why we are never short of fancy language and fancy packaging that disguises something that has usually been borrowed and might even be a little old. Nothing wrong in that if it keeps us away from a cookie cutter approach to our consulting proposals. But are we trying a little too hard to dress up that which often just needs something basic…but served up with exquisite care and attention?

Being Extraordinarily Present

My experience is that what often gets most valued is our ability to hold safe spaces for people to talk to one another and perhaps get heard in a way that they rarely experience. To do this ordinary consulting work well, we have to be extraordinarily present. We see our job as creating the conditions for people and their colleagues to witness what each other has to say about how they feel in their work, how they feel in their relationships to each other and most importantly what they are hoping to get better at. And then of course feeling able to do something about it.

Being really heard can feel quite profound for some people. Yet holding onto our curiosity and with a little less judgement is not something that can be easily bought or sold. So whether you are a leader or change agent, if you look beyond the ‘froth’ you might find the essence of what you really need is something quite straightforward.

You might even want to try some of our Metalogue-starred ‘home cooking’ from time to time.

Calling all excretors; why words matter so much in change

“Sticks and stones may break my bones but words can never hurt me”

Did you grow up with this saying as a supposed consolation when someone said something unkind at school? Words may not actually be able to break bones, but they do have effects on our physiology, and how we interact with the world. At IBM, in my first job, there were two phrases in the unofficial employee handbook of jargon “Cold Pricklies” and  “Warm Fuzzies” , describing two common and very different experiences at work.

“Cold Pricklies; a nagging suspicion that somewhere you have overlooked something critical, and will be punished for it

“Warm fuzzies the kind of feeling it is alleged you get when you think you are proceeding in the right direction, or when you are being treated well by your manager. This state of mind is usually of short duration and is succeeded by “Cold Pricklies.” “

Source; IBM jargon dictionary seventh edition April 1985

(10th edition available online at https://comlay.net/ibmjarg.pdf)

Words have serious effects on us and change how we feel about ourselves in the world: a little praise from your colleagues can really generate feelings of warmth (or a cold chill)

What about words in change? Try a little thought experiment. We all know what a consumer is; indeed I am one and so are you. It’s a taken for granted term in daily life with constant references to consumer rights, consumer surveys etc. Let’s stop and think for a moment about this term, and pursue this metaphor a bit further. One thing we know about consumption  it is that it leads to excretion. This is the other end (sorry) of the process.

So now try replacing all the common phrases with consumer in them with “excretor”. Do you want to be part of an excretor rights group or buy excretor magazines? How would you calculate an excretor price index? How do you feel about the people coming into your retail environment if you call them excretors? What would an excretor watchdog actually do? Or an excretor pressure group?

If you are feeling a bit queasy now, then I would say you are experiencing the physiological consequences of words. Usually these effects are a bit more subtle, and you may not even notice that it is your whole self that reacts, and not just your thoughts. For example, what happens when you hear the words “transformational change”? Or “restructuring”?  Mild fear? Excitement? Heart sinking a little? You are probably not alone in having some kind of reaction.

The choice of words and metaphor needs some care when it comes to change. Author Gervase Bushe in his work on dialogic organisation development  suggests that leaders need to create a generative image to make change possible. A generative image, says Bushe,

“is a combination of words, pictures or other symbolic media that provide new ways of thinking about social and organizational reality. In effect, it allows people to consider alternate courses of action or decisions that they could not have imagined before it surfaced.”

A key part of making change work then, is to find a novel and specific way of talking about the organisational change that people can sense and feel, as well as think and talk about. This needs to be something beyond the “one size fits all” terminology of the change recipe book. It might need to provoke something, or join some ideas together (Bushe talks about ideas like “sustainable growth”), or call attention to a different aspect of the situation.

For me, putting the ideas about consumption and excretion close together did change something.  While not perhaps a “nice” image it does make me think differently about myself each time I am being a consumer/excretor. I find myself hesitating about taking up the role of the former, contemplating the inevitable consequences of that consumption. What might happen if we kept these two ideas really close together in everyday life? I’d be interested to know.

What novel language and phrases might you need for the change you are leading?

With thanks to John Higgins, and to Professor Duncan MacFarlane at University of Cambridge, both of whom listened generously to my ranting about consumption/excretion and generated enough warm fuzzies to get me blogging…

 

 

 

Organisation ‘transformation’ has become somewhat of a leitmotif. Increasingly, our clients are using the word ‘transformation’ when they talk about planned or ongoing change efforts.

We’ve become curious about what they actually mean and are doing. So, over the past 6 months, we started to inquire with our clients who are undertaking ‘transformation’ projects. In June, we held a roundtable event with a group of our clients to test our observations and to deepen our findings.  And since then, we have been studying specific transformation projects in greater depth.

Transformation as metaphor

Our inquiry has revealed that different stakeholders often use very different metaphors and images to describe what they are doing. This has significant implications because the underlying metaphor implies:

> What form of transformation is necessary,

> What types of actions are required,

> What success looks like,

> How individuals communicate, and

> The urgency of change.

Significantly, when individuals hold different images of the transformation effort then this can lead to confusion, conflict and resistance.

The underlying metaphor can trigger and elicit very different emotional responses and levels of engagement from employees. They therefore heavily influence the likelihood that a transformation effort will achieve its aims.

‘Organisation-in-the-mind’

Behind the metaphors lies what David Armstrong’s (2005) called the ‘Organisation-in-the-mind’ – the image an individual holds in his mind of the organisation and how they imagine activities and relations are organised, structured and connected internally. This is an inner, symbolic representation of the organisation that gives rise to emotions, values and responses within the individual. The ‘Organisation-in-the-mind’ influences how a person leads or relates to their organisation and how they engage with others.

Transformation metaphors

The most popular metaphors across our inquiry were:

Renovation: The original footprint and structure remains stable, but internal operating processes and systems are knocked down, replaced and modernised. A blueprint or design is drawn up to represent an exciting vision for the future.

‘Getting Fit’: Images of health, competing and performing are used to either inspire efforts to improve or to conjure up feelings of guilt and shame. The underlying message can be either the fittest survive, success is outperforming the competition or health is a virtue. Transformation is a matter of effort, hard work and ability.

Transformer: The image is of a machine that can change form. A car becomes a robot. In other words, the parts can be reconfigured to create a different function or purpose. Transformation involves using what you already have in different ways. At a more fundamental level, the core identity of the organisation changes.

Metamorphosis: Transformation involves a fundamental and irreversible change in form. Change is a messy, emergent and natural process. A caterpillar becomes a butterfly. Again, transformation involves a radical change to the organisation’s identity. It can however can lead to idealistic and magical thinking.

Burning Platform: This conveys a sense of urgency and imminent threat to the survival of the organisation. For instance, the Chairman of M&S recently said: “This business is on a burning platform. We don’t have a God-given right to exist and unless we change and develop this company the way we want to, in decades to come there will be no M&S.[1]”Transformation often involves a focus on the immediate challenges facing the organisation, radical actions to reduce costs and to change the operating model of the business.

Revolution: Transformation is presented as a social movement and the overthrowing of an established ideology, power structure or traditions. It tends to reflect images of power, political processes and solidarity. The revolution can be quiet or very noisy and intimidating. It can be imposed from outside or an underground movement from within.

Reformation: Based on religious associations, this image imposes notions of what is good or bad. It is associated with campaigns for root and branch reform of an assumed failing service or department. It can invoke a sense of morality and failure to live up to ideals or expectations.

Incubator: As a metaphor this tends to be used when attempts are made to develop new products, services or capabilities outside of the boundaries of the core organisation. We have observed this model most frequently being applied by large corporations who want to initiate new digitally led business models.

Our conclusion is simple and obvious – language and imagery matters!

Our research suggests that:

> We actively construct models and images of organisations that inform how we try to change them;

> These models are often unconscious or at least out of our awareness for much of the time;

> Individuals can hold different images that can create confusion and conflict when left unexamined; and

> We are able to reflect on and notice these deeper metaphors and images.  We can therefore make choices and help people to notice their deeper assumptions and their effects.

If you are involved in a transformation effort, take a moment to reflect on what you and your colleagues are trying to convey and what response you wish to invoke.

We are continuing our research and will launch our final report in December 2018. Please get in contact if you want to contribute to our research or want to receive a copy of the final report. We can be reached at contact@metalogue.co.uk

Reference

Armstrong, D. (2005) Organization in the Mind: Psychoanalysis, Group Relations and Organizational Consultancy. Karnac Books.

[1]https://www.theguardian.com/business/2018/jul/10/marks-spencer-chair-to-shareholders-were-on-a-burning-platform

 

Some years ago, we were asked to tender for some work with an organisation which was creating a new five year strategy. The director responsible told us that the strategy he’d inherited sat unread, and largely unimplemented, on the shelf of his classy, glassy corner office. It was a beautifully written and presented document, containing almost nothing anyone disagreed with. And yet it was irrelevant to the organisation’s current situation; a lot of water had flowed under the bridge in the world’s financial systems since its conception. The new director wanted to find a way to get the executive team and those lower down the organisation much more involved in the new strategy, but at the same time he was nervous. How would he go about it? How much analysis would he and others have to do? What kind of external consultants would he need, and how much of his and others’ time (and money) would it take? What would the politics be like? What would happen when people disagreed with each other about what to do next? Would anybody actually do what was agreed?

We proposed a highly involving process for the executive and senior managers of the organisation, one which involved a series of focused and facilitated conversations, supported by the organisation’s own analysts in a “strategy steering committee” whose members were drawn from across the organisation. The director was still nervous. He told us with a grin that he was comforting himself with the knowledge that if the process didn’t work or got out of hand, he could pull a few all-nighters and write the thing on his own. We knew he was telling the truth, and that the earlier strategy had almost certainly been produced in precisely the same manner!

Swarm in and buzz off?

Strategy has come to hold an almost extraordinary mystique in organisational life. People with responsibility for strategy (and strategy consultants) get paid more than others, and are treated with a mixture of reverence, fear (and sometimes contempt) by those who work with them. Doing strategy seems to cost a fortune, and rely on a swarm of clever, snappily dressed outsiders buzzing around for weeks. All too often we see the kind of outcome we describe above – a lovely set of documents handed over to the CEO for “implementation” even though the ideas may already be out of date before the door closes.  We’d like to suggest that it’s possible to do strategy differently, more economically and with better effect.  We call it “strategy on a shoestring.”

The planning not the plan

When we hear about strategy in organisations, people often refer to the paperwork, the eventual description of what’s been agreed and what people are trying to achieve. We find ourselves less interested in what should be happening than what is happening. Of course, what you’re interested in depends on your view of organisations: conventional strategy work makes perfect sense if you see your organisation as a machine-like creation, operating with high predictability in a generally stable context, and amenable to changing its direction like a car, or being re-tooled and serviced so that it can make different products, faster.

But most leaders don’t experience their organisations quite like this.  A less conventional, but more practical view, sees an organisation as arising from a set of social and conversational interactions between people, which end up with a particular pattern to them so that the organisation has a recognisable membership, purpose, boundary, culture, formal structure and outputs. Getting these things to be different is more tricky than merely issuing a new set of instructions.  In our take on strategy, the virtue is in the conversations that are convened and the relationships that are created. If these conversations work well, then action flows naturally from planning.

However we’re not under any illusions about the difficulty of this for leaders. These conversations take effort to set up and conduct. While good analysis and clear rational thinking is still needed, these conversations require leaders to cope with disagreement, confusion, politics, resistance, and criticism. It’s more uncomfortable than circulating a glossy plan, but when people are involving in the planning itself they are much more likely to get behind you.

Strategy on a shoestring makes for a difference in timing too. Good strategy conversations start the changes rolling; you aren’t waiting months for the strategy black box to unleash its secrets, by which time who knows what’s happened in your market, or in the world. Good strategizing leads to rapid cycles of experimenting and a much more nimble organisational culture which can respond to the demands it faces. Which is why we’re with the saying usually attributed to Eisenhower: “plans are worthless, but planning is everything.”

Critical friends: working with more than the usual suspects

Doing strategy on a shoestring by using your internal resources isn’t a cheapskate alternative (even if it is cheaper). It’s an investment in your organisation’s capability. Using your own talent, judiciously supplemented, makes more sense than paying outsiders to learn all about your customers and your organisation. In one organisation, we explicitly invited “critical friends” to be part of the work; customers and other stakeholders who cared about what the organisation was trying to do and who would have useful criticisms of the ideas and plans under development. This organisation was operating in a confusing and political environment, one where it was all too tempting to produce strategy in a vacuum. It required courage for the leaders to go out and deliberately seek differing views. And it was very useful; critical friends were thoughtful, generous and creative, and the eventual plans much more robust and practical.

Our director with the classy corner office did get his strategy, researched, refined and created by the very people needed to bring it to life.

Strategy on a shoestring next time?

When we join a new organisation, or move within organisations, it is not uncommon to experience a bit of linguistic disorientation. Groups and sub-groups have often developed their own vocabulary and way of talking about things. It’s normally possible, with some targeted questions and a good memory, to work out how to understand the various acronyms and abbreviations. However, there are often nuances beyond mere naming conventions that take longer to get a feel for. The anthropologist Clifford Geertz talks about man being caught in a web of signification that he is weaving himself (Geertz, 1993). He is talking here about the distinctly human need for networked sense-making in groups. This process leads to the co-creation of interconnected ways of doing and understanding things that we sometimes call organisational cultures. When we enter new organisations and experience this linguistic disorientation, it is an indication that we are moving into a culture which will require time spent participating in and making sense of, if we are to begin to understand and co-create it.

However, it is not enough to simply learn the language and symbols of an organisational culture in order to thrive. Geertz’s choice of the metaphor of being caught in a web suggests the shadow side of cultures too. The web once woven begins to define and delineate the world, and can entrap as well as enable.

Language as constraint?

I am put in mind of a passage in the Irish writer James Joyce’s coming of age novel, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man (first published 1917). Stephen Dedalus, in his 20s as a student in Dublin, is listening to the assertions and ramblings of his English university professor at Trinity College, and reflects to himself – “my soul frets in the shadow of his language”. In the specific context of the novel this has to do with the dominance of the English language over the native Irish language. The metaphor of “fretting” (in its sense of “following a narrow channel”) carries the idea of the potential constraint of thought through forcing its expression in particular linguistic forms. There is a political point Joyce is making here about the particular history of 20thCentury Anglo-Irish relations. However, he is also making a more philosophical point about the nature of choice-making in language as an act of narrowing or emphasis, which, if we are not aware of it, can limit.

Lakoff & Johnson in their work in this field see metaphor as “pervasive in everyday life, not just in language but in thought and action”. They argue that these linguistic concepts “structure what we perceive, how we get around in the world, and how we relate to other people” (Lakoff & Johnson, 2003). One example they look at is how, in the current English vernacular (and this may change over time), our metaphorical language for arguing is coloured by images of conflict. We “defend” an argument. A critical article may have a “line of attack”. In a discussion, we may “take sides”, or “occupy a position”. If metaphor is to understand one thing in terms of another, then the metaphorical connections we make in language will shape our interpretation. So in organisational life, how we talk about things will affect not only the way in which we are perceived, but will also start to shape how we think about things and act. For example, if we talk regularly about driving sales, change, or innovation, we are choosing to lay a particular emphasis which will influence the way we and others think and act in relation to this. This may or may not be helpful. However, if we are using this language unconsciously and without considering the potential limits of these metaphors, then we risk narrowing our choices of how to think and act without even realising it.

Language as enabler?

In A Portrait of the Artist, Joyce gives the phrase “my soul frets in the shadow of his language” to Stephen Dedalus. However, as the author, it is, at a “meta-level”, also an utterance from Joyce. And here I think the sense of fret as in “fretwork”, intricate ornamental design, is at play too. There is the idea here of the creative possibilities of constraint. Any writer is forced to make limiting choices about how they express thought and emotion in the vocabulary and syntax of their own (or someone else’s!) language. However, this constraint can force a charge into the choices which generates creativity. The Scottish poet, Norman MacCaig (1910 – 1996), credits the poetic spark in his language to his mother’s side of the family, Gaelic speakers from the isle of Scalpay in the Outer Hebrides. He notes how Scots Gaelic is heavily metaphorical, and often uses compound nouns (where two words are yoked together) to express ideas (MacCaig, 2010). The clarity of the two images somehow brings about something different through their being forced alongside one another; like the energy released through pushing two opposing magnetic poles together. In an organisational change context, this feels to me to be directly related to Bushe & Marshak’s work around the idea of the importance of generativity and generative images for transformation. They define generativity as –

the creation of new images, metaphors, physical representations, and so on that have two qualities: they change how people think so that new options for decisions and/or actions become available to them, and they are compelling images that people want to act on

(Bushe & Marshak, 2014)

One example of this which they give is the notion of “sustainable development”. This term may seem commonplace to us now. However, at the time it was coined (first major appearance at a UN conference in 1972), it created a generative central space where corporate and commercial viewpoints could be considered alongside questions of environmental and societal impact. All parties could identify with and were intrigued by the possibilities of the “generative image”.

And this is where metaphor and language can play a significant enabling role in organisational change.Bushe & Marshak talk about there being three types of “occurrence” which bring about organisational change-

A disruption in the social construction of organizational reality leads to a more complex re-organization

A change to one or more core narratives takes place.

A generative image is introduced or surfaces that provides new and compelling alternatives for thinking and acting.

(Bushe & Marshak, 2015)

Organisational language and metaphor are at the heart of all of these. They are a medium through which we make sense and construct organisational reality. They are a medium through which we tell each other stories and weave the webs which make up culture. And, if used consciously, they can provide a generative source of creative energy for change.

Our great poets and novelists have known this for centuries; and before them, for millennia, the storytellers of the world’s many oral traditions. In our organisational lives, too often, we have lost this connection. If you’d like to explore with us more how these ideas can help us with change and transformation, do get in touch and join the conversation – contact@metalogue.co.uk

References:

Bushe, G.R. & Marshak, R.J. (2014). The dialogic mindset in organization development. Research in Organizational Change and Development, 22, 55‐97

Bushe, G.R & Marshak, R.J. (2015). Dialogic Organization Development: The Theory and Practice of Transformational Change.Oakland, CA. Berrett-Koehler Publishers.

Geertz, C. (1993). The interpretation of cultures.London: Fontana Press

Joyce, J. (1994).  Portrait of the Artist.Hertfordshire: Wordsworth Editions Ltd.

Lakoff & Johnson (2003). Metaphors We Live By.Chicago: University of Chicago Press

MacCaig, N. (2010). The Poems of Norman MacCaig.Edinburgh: Polygon

Image – top right:“Poets’ Pub”, Alexander Moffat, 1980, Oil on canvas, National Galleries Scotland

“B.H.S.” by Sleaford Mods is a catchy track. I was getting ready for the day and found myself smiling and energized after hearing it on the radio. It helped me out of the door with a spring in my step. And then I thought more about the lyrics, particularly the refrain, and wondered about my reaction:

We’re going down like B.H.S.,

While the able-bodied vultures monitor and pick at us,

We’re going down and it’s no stress,

I lay and hope for the knuckle-dragging exodus.

There is a wicked humour here. And it is a pretty bleak narrative. In humour there is often something of the satisfaction of recognition – a punchline dropping into place; or finding ourselves again in observational comedy. Perhaps we can recognize the experience of being constantly monitored, constantly findable via smartphones, GPS, CCTV; so we can identify with the chorus? And, as a society, we’ve seen a lot of evidence of vulture-like behaviour, not least of all thinking back to the 2008 financial crisis. But what caught my attention most was the phrase “going down like B.H.S“. British Home Stores, a department store that had been on UK high streets since 1928 before going into liquidation. It was very much a feature of most towns I knew when I was growing up, and, as a brand, I remember it being pretty middle-of-the-road, familiar, suburban; certainly not the high cultural icon you might choose to associate your demise with. It is very much an anti-heroic connection that Sleaford Mods are making; and there is a bitter wit and irony here that is strangely compelling. It has something of the dark energy that fuelled the punk genre in the late 70s / early 80s. It says, we are being picked on, monitored, controlled, and we may not feel approved of, glamorous, or valued that highly, but we are going down, and going down together. There is solidarity and comfort in this narrative. We are many. And they are to blame.

Narrative and organisation

And we see this in organisational life too. If we take a view of organisations as webs woven from the ideas and conversations people have and share, then narrative is important. OD practitioner and writer Gervase Bushe talks about one of the three main prerequisites for organisational change being a “shift in the narrative”. He also talks about the power of “generative images” which can provide a positive creative attractor for organisational futures.

However, perhaps there is also value for us who would try and intervene in organisations in appreciating how revealing some of the darker narratives can be. There is something uncomfortable about what Sleaford Mods are saying. And whilst the language and metaphors are colloquial, and not the discourse of social science or corporate organisation, they manage to articulate a truth that future visions of society or organisation often leave out, and which people identify with. From the relative comfort of our OD and transformation roles, are their uncomfortable voices or truths that we are neglecting to witness? Would it sometimes benefit us to hold the dark alongside the light for a moment? If I go back to my physical reaction to listening to the song, it certainly put a spring in my step, but it was a spring more akin to a boxer’s legs braced against the canvas of the ring, rather than the gambolling of a spring lamb. The smile was more mischievous grin than Buddha-like gaze of benign peace. But there was energy there nonetheless. However convincing we think our visions for the future are, it is worth recognizing that for every hero there is an anti-heroic position, with a truth and energy that can sustain movements.

If you’d like to explore with us more how these ideas can help us with change and transformation, do get in touch and join the conversation – contact@metalogue.co.uk

References:

Bushe, G.R & Marshak, R.J. (2015). Dialogic Organization Development: The Theory and Practice of Transformational Change. Oakland, CA. Berrett-Koehler Publishers.

Sleaford Mods (2017). English Tapas. “B.H.S”, Track 11, London: Rough Trade Records

 

 

“Words create worlds”

Abraham Heschel

 

Generally speaking, I don’t think philosophy is considered to have much practical relevance to organisations.  Certainly, when I look back on my early training as a psychologist little attention was paid to questions of philosophy.  A few months ago, a daughter of a friend was telling me that she was thinking about studying philosophy at University. I found myself excited on her behalf and saying how I feel the subject is both important and useful.  This got me thinking about how philosophical ideas helped me to be clearer about what I do, how I do it and why I do what I do in my OD practice.

My early training (close to 30 years ago now!) as a psychologist was deeply embedded in an unquestioned positivist paradigm.   That is, reality (i.e. people and organisations) exist as independent entities that can be objectively studied and empirically measured.  I learnt to assess people and organisations to diagnose problems.  My professional assessment would then inform interventions to support or enable change.  For most of the first decade of my practice, I never really questioned this paradigm.  After a while, however, experience forced me to recognise it rarely helped to enable change.  Too often, I felt my clients resisted the diagnosis (they didn’t own it!); or by the time I had a ‘valid’ diagnosis the situation had changed or having a diagnosis didn’t equate to knowing what to do or having a solution that would work.

Over time, I started to question my assumptions.  I was not on my own.  For the past 40-50 years social scientists and OD practitioners have increasingly challenged the dominant ontological and epistemological paradigms about organisations and how they change. In 1966, the Sociologists Berger and Luchmann wrote a pioneering book titled ‘The Social Construction of Reality’. This was the start of a wave of thinking in the social sciences that has, and is still, challenging assumptions around the nature of organisations and the practice of OD.  Ideas such as: Kenneth Gergen’s ‘Invitation to Social Construction’; David Cooperrider and his colleagues work on Appreciative Inquiry; Patricia Shaw’s Changing Conversations in Organizations; and more recently Bob Marshak and Gervase Bushe publications on Dialogic OD.  These are, but a few, of the writers that have applied postmodern philosophy and social constructivism to the field of OD.

Postmodern thinking

Rather briefly, postmodern thinking is characterised by a general distrust of grand theory and ideologies.  It challenges the belief in an objective reality that is independent of the observer.  Rather reality is, and organisations are, socially constructed and inter-subjective in nature.   Meaning, words and action, arises in social contexts and cannot be separated from it. Postmodern ideas draw attention to patterns of dominant discourse and how these discourses are reflective of power relations in society.  A postmodern perspective seeks to explore alternative accounts, narratives and to be critical and questioning of implicit assumptions and dominant discourses.

These ideas have changed my practice.

> Rather than trying to diagnose problems, I help people to talk about how they are working together and  how they are talking to each other. I draw attention to language, words and assumptions and how these are reflected in what they do.   I might for instance help my client notice how they talk about ‘driving change’, ‘beating the competition’, ‘aligning the organisation’ or ‘bringing people into line’.

> I am less invested in normative models or ideological images of what organisations ‘should’ look like or how they ‘should’ function. Instead, I explore my clients’ experience of working together. I have come to distrust, or at least question, bold statements such as: “this is the problem”, or “this is how the organisation needs to change”. I see conversations that explore different multiple perspectives as generative and creative.

> I am less committed to finding agreement on the nature of the problem or what to do.  I am attentive to how different individuals or communities are constructing their experiences. I pay attention to patterns of conversations: who speaks to whom, who talks about what topics and who does not talk to whom etc.   I see my role as helping people to acknowledge, question and challenge dominant narratives.  Not because they are wrong but because the process of questioning reveals assumptions and choices.  Where possible, I want to help different accounts to be acknowledged, given voice and understood (not necessarily agreed with).

> I now believe that change happens when we change how we talk and relate with each other. My practice is increasingly about convening and hosting conversations that are different from those that habitually happen or that appear stuck and lacking the expression of difference, novelty and creativity.

> With the above in mind, if I am going to be of service to my clients then I need to notice and question my construction of what I am seeing, hearing and experiencing. I no longer assume that I am able to stand outside of my client’s experience and to offer objective judgements. I am a participant with them in a process of inquiry, exploration and possibly change.

Whilst writing this blog, I recalled a consulting project, that I worked on with my colleague Dev, that really helps me to grasp the value of helping people to notice how they were ‘framing’ their experience.  The client had recently re-organised from a centralised structure with business units in countries around the World to a matrix which gave the countries greater responsibility and accountability.  Dev and I started the work by talking with those involved.  What became apparent was how the different groups constructed and acted into the situation.  The executive team described the problem in one way, the central functional leads in another and the country managers in multiple ways (they after all had little opportunity to confer with each other).  Dev and I brought most of the stakeholders together for several days to explore and talk about their experiences and to explore each other’s assumptions of ‘the problem’. Through a process of dialogue and conversation, individuals began to understand each other’s perspective and to shift their framing of the situation from who was ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ to a deeper appreciation of different experiences, needs and expectations.  Out of these conversations, agreements were made about their respective roles and responsibilities.

Embracing this way of consulting is both unsettling and liberating. I no longer ‘have to get’ people to ‘somewhere’ or ‘to change’. I have also learnt that to question the ‘dominant discourse’ or people’s ‘reality’ is at times confronting for them and, not surpisingly, is not always welcomed.

 

At Metalogue we see our work is about helping our clients have a different conversation with themselves and about themselves.  If you want us to join a conversation with you about your organisation please reach out to us.

 

 

 

 

 

As January comes to a close, I was reflecting that I quite like this time of the year though that’s not a sentiment I hear very often. It’s not that I don’t carry my own guilt about over consumption or a vague existential angst about what I am doing with my one precious life. Indeed this month was named after a very particular Roman God for a reason. Janus signified beginnings and endings and was perhaps most familiar from old Roman coins that had a caricature of a head facing backwards and forwards. In other words, Janus was the god of transitions who represented the need to pause and reflect as we pass through the thresholds that represent the cycles of life.

It seems appropriate therefore that during January, the film industry, on our side of the Atlantic at least, chooses to release some of its more profound offerings. It’s not that there is any lack of quality getting released in other parts of the year but it does seem like we become a bit more spoilt for choice than usual in our local ‘art-house’ cinemas. I’m talking about the movies that have a bit of theatre and meaning about them – the ones that seem to avoid the usual clichés of sentimentality, linearity and tidy endings. The ones that get to the heart of the matter. The ones attempting to make some sense of the world we live in.

One such film is: ‘Three Billboards Outside of Ebbing, Missouri’. The film deals with the consequences of guilt and unfettered rage for a grieving mother, who is seeking a police response that is commensurate with the nature of her daughter’s murder. I experienced it as a twisted morality tale, where notions of good and bad are not so clear-cut. Here we have a woman who has had enough of judicial procedure. She has had enough of half-heartedness and apathy. She is confronted with plenty of reasons to back off and tone down her behaviour but she is relentless and uncompromising. Direct action is all that she can offer.

Given the subject matter, it is deadly funny at the most unexpected moments and by the end there are no comforting conclusions and an awful lot of carnage along the way. Three Billboards does have a message though and a beautifully crafted one at that. Even amongst the ugliness and brutality of human nature there are occasional glimpses of compassion. Yet, what struck me most was that this was a film that seemed to confront the cosiness of our ideals and certainties about how we wish the world to be and, how we expect people to behave. It deals with gender norms, race relations, family dynamics and our attitudes to death in such a robust fashion that I would imagine many of us would be a lot more reflective about our liberal and humanistic values after seeing this.

So what has all this got to do with our practice as change consultants?

This is the kind of art that demands that we look inwards and outwards at a deeper (higher?) level. It reminded me of the moral certainties and assumptions that we carry, particularly in our professional lives. It reminded me that, now more than ever, we need to pay heed to the ethical foundations that provide the bedrock to the field of practice that we still choose to call ‘OD’.

I have been working in the field of organisational change for a long time and it made me wonder about how much I am prepared to be changed when I think about my own moral compass – how I deal with shades of black, white and grey.  I wondered about what would be our equivalent to the Hippocratic oath that is held so dear by those in medicine – the notion of “doing no harm”. I would like to think that I am part of a profession that holds humanistic values and ethics at its core. Perhaps our advocacy would take in the principles of dialogue and equal voice as well as the foundational importance of relationship and behaviour, in context. But could we be more explicit about our ecological stance and might that influence our choices about the work we are prepared to do? Would we be prepared to challenge the primary metaphors or lenses through which we choose to see organisational life? How in reality do we uphold our stance of ‘doing no harm’ to people or planet?

In a recent interview with the writer/director of Three Billboards, Martin McDonagh, he suggested that his script was a story of hope, though he accepted it was hard to find. I found this simple message immensely helpful. The sense I am making is that this was not a film about redemption. It was about the glimpses of an alternative possibility that subverts the caricatures, and ingrained assumptions, that we often carry about people and situations.

It is a reminder that sometimes we can discover surprising contradictions when we stay around and look closer for long enough. This demands we take a more phenomenological perspective. Translate that into consulting speak, and it demands we value immersion and dwelling over our natural tendency to advocate premeditated solutions for what has already been categorised as ‘good’ or ‘bad’. Perhaps our purpose too is to help each other to find hope and to perhaps linger for a while longer.

We might even get to notice that January is not the only threshold when we could be taking the time out to reflect on what we are really trying to uphold in our professional and personal endeavours.

 

 

 

Christmas has been and gone, January – dry or otherwise- is well and truly underway and New Year’s resolutions are starting to fade. Noses back to the grindstone then. So why work?

It’s a question worth asking.

Bills to pay? Clearly a driver for most of us.

And yet sadly for my bank balance I never figured out how to work just for money. As I approach the third decade of my working life I have to acknowledge that I am incapable of working in a set-up that doesn’t match to my values. Put simply- I have to feel that I am doing good work with good people to get out of bed in the morning. And I can’t fake it.  (It’s a strength and a liability- this inability to toe other people’s lines also seems to run in my family- but that is another blog).

So money is a driver- and I argue that it benefits us as change consultants to dig a little deeper.

Our senior clients typically have choices about which organisations to work in, which roles and projects to take up. The extent to which they are willing to exercise these choices vary.  Few and far between are senior individuals with no choice at all. They also have significant influence over the type of roles and assignments they create for those working for them, and the extent to which those working with them stay or go.

And yet many of us fall into the trap of assuming that the people around us really are just working for money. The somewhat taboo question of why do you work?” is rarely asked at work.This is particularly true in organisations with long service- where gradually the idea of people exercising their choices seems a more and more remote possibility as golden handcuffs gently tighten around executive wrists. Some of the most enlivening conversations I have had in the last 12 months have been asking senior managers what they love about their jobs. After the embarrassed laugh and a few deflections people tell you. And although they rarely thank you for asking it’s the type of conversation that creates a different kind of connection. One senior leader very frankly told me “I am motivated by learning- it’s not the money or the title”.

Another hard bitten and demanding CEO who had worked in the Health sector all his life when asked the question about what brought him into this kind of role in the first place became noticeably emotional and shared a very moving story from earlier in his career. I sensed he felt some loss for that ‘person’ who had originally felt compelled to do what he was now doing. And his demeanour lightened at least for the rest of the workshop. This glimpse of his humanity certainly had an impact on me and how I related to him from that point on.  I’m sure the rest of his team would say the same.

I sometimes follow up by asking team leaders what type of role/ project/ environment would best enable each member of their team to flourish. Taking time to think of this enables them to think about what conditions they can create to get the best out of their people. It’s a question they come back to over time.

In the context of organisational change knowing what people hold dear matters.So go ahead.  Ask someone why they work. I’d love to know what you find out.

 

Organisation re-design traps

Organisation re-design bear traps

By Dev Mookherjee and Sarah Beart

Many of us have experienced organisation re-design processes that have destroyed trust and value in the organisations in which we work. (Some of us have even been responsible for them). When things go wrong, it’s often down to misguided assumptions about what’s needed, usually based on good intentions and responding to organisational pressures. Letting off steam over the holidays, we listed some of the most-tempting bear traps for the organisation designer. Warning: this post contains irony!

1. Ensure no link to strategy. You don’t really understand what the strategy means anyway, and checking for understanding may well expose your ignorance.

‎2. Ask the HR Director to come up with the new structure over the weekend, they will come up with a new organigram, or better still ‎outsource the re-design process to a consultancy – they have tried and tested templates to do “this sort of thing”. The best thing about this approach is that you could blame them if the re-structuring gets too painful and this allows you to remain “off the hook”.

‎3. Do early planning in secret, announce the high-level plan and then maintain radio silence (while all your good people look for other jobs). You don’t want to make any promises you can’t keep. If you involved people you would be forced to take on board their ideas and that’s not a good idea as you’ve made your mind up already. This is a great tip if you are an avid practitioner and advocate of “mushroom management”.

4. Build your new structure around the people you like, and use the opportunity of the restructure to get rid of the “dead wood” you were never able to give difficult feedback to. They will never know that you thought they weren’t any good at the job anyway.

5. Assume that the structure you choose will act as a kind of magic wand to disappear all the unhelpful behaviour and perverse incentives you now have. Act surprised when these things resurface in the new set up.

‎6. Come up with only one structural option. No time to waste and you know what you need to do anyway. You could copy the design that your closest competitor has – after all it works for them. Or go back to a previous design which, with the benefit of hindsight, looks better than what you have now.

7. ‎Rush the re-design. After all, you don’t want people to be worried for too long and we all know that “time is money”.

8. Keep the re-design disconnected from culture and feelings – you don’t want any of that soft stuff creeping in to your nice tidy organigram. You can always mop up later with some kind of specialist therapy.

9. Run some organisation re-design workshops to consult the workforce, and smile broadly at people who come up with ideas that suit your secret plans, frown at those whose ideas contradict it. They’ll all soon get the message.

10. Invent a lot of jargon, acronyms and strange job titles to bandy about. It will help you stay on top of the conversations.

Recognise any of these or have others to add? Drop us a line at: devmookherjee@metalogue.co.uk or sarahbeart@metalogue.co.uk.

Avoiding organisation design traps

Successfully avoiding bear traps on your organisation re-design journey


In recent years, I’ve noticed that enquiries for team development and coaching, invariably start with the statement: “we (or they) need to be a high performing team.” On face value, this strikes me as a reasonable request. However, I’ve learnt that this statement covers a whole range of ills, dysfunctionalities and possibilities. It gets used as a proxy for ‘help us sort out our problems…without risking exploring what these might be’.

In truth, there are no off-the-shelf answers to what constitutes high performance for a leadership team. Every team needs to work it out for themselves. However, we believe that there are important questions that a leadership team needs to ask itself which can act as a starting point of a conversation or development process.

Below are ten questions we think it is important for every leadership team to ask itself:

1. When are you a team and when are you not?

Research on teams argues that they are only effective when people need to work together to complete a task or achieve a goal. Many years ago, colleagues of ours Bill Critchley and David Casey wrote a paper titled: ‘Second Thoughts on Teambuilding’. In it they questioned, the implicit assumption that many leadership teams have that they are a team. In practice, they argued that for much of the time, leadership teams are not a team and do not need to be. At others times, such as when they need to formulate and execute strategy, they do need to be a team.

So, the first question to ask yourselves, is when do we need to be a team and when are we not a team?

2. Are you organised for success?

It’s not uncommon to find leadership teams of between 12 – 15 members or more. Whilst hard rules do not apply, this is usually a clear indicator that the team has a problem with its design. It’s too large!

An effective leadership team includes only those roles necessary to perform its work, and no more (West, 2012). The team also needs to (i) have the necessary authority for executing or running the service or operation for which it is accountable; and (ii) be rewarded and recognised for working as a team.

Does the organisation structure and design support and enable you to be effective?

3. Do you believe in what you need to achieve?

Most models of teams emphasise the importance of teams having a meaningful purpose or direction, shared commitment and specific goals (e.g. Katzenbach and Smith, 1993). In my experience, there is both a rational and emotional side to effective teams. The team has to exercise thoughtful strategic judgement around what they need to and can achieve. However, they also need to care about, believe in and be committed to their aims.

4. Do you have the support of your stakeholders?

All teams exist within a wider socio-political context. The success of senior teams invariably requires legitimacy and political support from individuals and groups outside of the team. For an executive team of a large public or private sector organisation, this might include: the board, ‘the public at large’, regulatory bodies, shareholders, trade unions, the workforce, the senior management, etc. The recent controversies around UBER demonstrate how success is not simply defined in terms of growth and financial performance.

5. Do you have effective and authorised leadership?

Questions of power and authority often lurk beneath the surface in teams, particularly senior ones which mainly include confident individuals with a high need for power. How the leader enacts their authority and engages with the team influences the extent to which the team feels accountable and responsible for its performance. Equally, the leader needs to be authorised, and not resisted, by the team if he or she is to be able to lead the team.

6. Is the climate of the team one of openness, respect and trust?

The quality of communication and interaction within a team is fundamentally related to the level of trust and mutual respect that exists within the team. Trust is in essence the willingness of individuals to be vulnerable with each other (Lencioni, 2005). Generally speaking, the higher the trust in a team the clearer individuals communicate, the more individuals are willing to listen, to challenge each other and to share their ideas, feelings and doubts. High trust environments are characterised by disagreement, the expression of emotion, lively debate, appreciation and humour. When I encounter a team that feels dry and unemotional, more often than not, the team is suffering from an absence of trust. Individuals are holding back from bring their full selves to their work and protecting themselves by suppressing what they really think or feel.

Put simply, do you trust each other?

7. Do you execute critical judgement for key decisions?

The work of leadership teams often centres around decision making both operational and strategic. The research on ‘group think’ and group decision making highlights the importance of teams being willing to question their assumptions, challenge their conclusions and assess the risks of their decisions. Often teams that have enjoyed success (i.e. growth, external recognition etc.) start to believe their own press and lose their critical perspective and moral compass. The stories of Enron, Lehman Brothers and RBS are examples of where the hubris of the executive leadership contributed to the collapse or decline of the organisation.

8. Are you learning and developing as a team?

A differentiator between high and low performing teams is the capacity of the team to reflect on how it goes about its work and its group process. Teams are more effective and innovative when they regularly reflect upon their objectives, strategies, processes and dynamics and make changes accordingly (West, 2012). This capacity is becoming increasingly important given the dynamic and turbulent nature of organisational environments.

How often do you take time as a team to reflect on how you are working together? Do you take time to give each other feedback? When problems arise does the team have a culture of inquiry or defensiveness and blame?

9. Is it healthy and satisfying to be a member of the team?

The longer-term success of a leadership team needs to encompass the health and psychological needs of its members. Sustained anxiety and stress, excessive work hours and a blind and obsessive focus on results leads to burnout, health problems and resignations. Do you feel supported by your peers? Would you describe your team environment as healthy and confident? Is there an invigorating, positive and vibrant team climate?

10. Do you work together to enable the organisation to achieve its aims?

Leadership teams exist to enable a work system to achieve its aims. The ultimate measure therefore of a leadership team’s effectiveness is whether collectively the team works together to develop the organisation’s capacity to be successful in both the short and long term. This requires a balancing of the achievement of operational and strategic goals. How do you balance short term results with longer term development and change of the organisation? How do gather feedback on your impact?

Finally, I would add that truly effective and high performing teams are not commonplace. They are hard to develop and sustain. Don’t let perfect be the enemy of good! If you have more ticks than crosses to these questions then recognise and acknowledge what you are doing well. If you have mainly crosses, then now might be time to start a conversation about how you work together.

References

Lencioni, P. (2005). The five dysfunctions of a team.

Katzenbach, J. R., & Smith, D. K. (1993). The wisdom of teams: Creating the
high-performance organization.

West, M.A. (2012). Effective Team Work: Practical Lessons from Organisational Research.

Bernard Cornwell’s 1981 novel, Sharpe’s Eagle, follows the exploits of Lieutenant Richard Sharpe in a campaign on the Iberian peninsula during the Napoleonic wars. The Sharpe novels were then adapted for UK channel ITV in the early 1990s, with British actor Sean Bean taking the lead role of Richard Sharpe. He’s the one in the middle.

Why am I telling you this? Not because I want to rework old parallels between military and organisational design or leadership – I think our views of organisation have been influenced enough over the years by the over-emphasis on these metaphors.

I am telling you this, in part, because I believe that if we always look to the same sources for insights this is unlikely to be the route to anything new. And also because I think Sean Bean’s Richard Sharpe has something important to say to us about being a change agent.

In the scene I am thinking of, Sharpe’s men are about to go into battle. They have little combat experience, and the odds are against them. Sharpe paints a frank picture of the realities of the situation, then offers them a slim hope –

But if you don’t run; if you stand…and fire volley after volley, three rounds a minute, then they slow down…all you’ve got to do, is stand, and fire three rounds a minute.

Now you and I know you can fire three rounds a minute.

But can you stand?

In organisational transformation we often spend a lot of time and effort strategizing and planning. Teams of highly skilled executives display a huge amount of competence in researching options, fleshing out proposals, making recommendations. As leaders and change agents, we take change seriously, and carefully consider the implications of what we are about to undertake. This is our technical competence, our ability to fire three rounds a minute using a standard issue musket.

However, what Sharpe is saying is also required of the situation, is something different, namely the ability to “stand”. In an organisational change context, this is perhaps being able to “hold the space” when working with change and transformation; to know that there will be times of high anxiety and uncertainty, and having the self-awareness to stay in the moment. Ed Schein, in his seminal works on organisational consulting, talks about there being different modes of intervention. The “expert mode” sees consultants or leaders drawing on their own expertise, their technical competence, their musketry skill so to speak. This can be extremely helpful. However, in a situation where transformation, or change, is required, advising from the existing paradigm may not bring about the difference needed. Schein’s focus is on a mode of consulting he calls “process consultation”. The aim here is to stay in the present moment within organisational life, to observe organisational and interpersonal dynamics in teams and departments as they unfold. This includes moments of tension, anxiety, and conflict; and requires the ability to “stand”.

Taking this further, Bill Critchley talks about the role of a change agent being to “seek to raise the levels of anxiety sufficiently to disturb the equilibrium and create readiness for change” (Critchley, 2001 (italics mine)). From a complexity perspective, it is the very act of bringing in (potentially anxiety provoking) newness that may cause the disturbance which allows a new pattern of interaction to establish itself (or, a change to take place). This can feel uncomfortable, and the temptation for us as leaders can be to try and smooth any disruptions. However, if we work on our ability to “stand” through this period of temporary turbulence, and not smooth away the difference, then there is a chance something new may emerge.

And whilst we are standing, what are we standing for? Gestalt OD thinker Edwin Nevis talks about the importance of “presence” when intervening in organisations with the intent to transform. The change agent must “stand for something”. This need not be as literal as standing for a particular organisational agenda, but there must be something discernible and authentic about the person’s way of being in the organisation; there must be something different, that raises interest. Otherwise the agent or leader fades into the organisational background and cannot disturb enough to have a transforming effect.

So, it seems there is more to Lieutenant Richard Sharpe’s question than meets the eye. Our skills and competencies remain of vital importance to our work. However, if we don’t also acknowledge what it means to experience anxiety and uncertainty in organisations, and catch ourselves in our habitual attempts to smooth disturbance in order to escape from it, then we may remain stuck in the paradigms we are trying to change. Beyond skilled technical expertise there is work to be done, as change agents, on our self-awareness and on what we stand for; so that, when the question is asked of us, we can remain standing.

If you’d like to explore with us how these ideas can help with change and transformation, do get in touch and join the conversation – contact@metalogue.co.uk

References:

Cornwell, B. (1981). Sharpe’s Eagle. London: Collins

Critchley, B. (2001). The role of the management consultant in the change management process. In P. Sadler (Ed.), Management consultancy: A handbook for best practice (pp. 274-290). London: Kogan Page.

Nevis, E. C. (1987). Organizational consulting: A Gestalt approach. Cambridge, MA: Gestalt Press

Schein E.H. (1988) Process consultation vol. 1: Its role in organisational development. Reading, MA: Wesley

 

 

This question cropped up recently in the midst of some work with a senior team. They are leading an organisation going through significant change; context and market are shifting, there is a new political environment, internal role changes, constrained finances and people at the top are moving on. There is a good deal of uncertainty about what all this will mean, and what good leading looks like.

The small senior team have been tight knit. They are understandably keen to protect their people from the politics, the uncertainty and the heavy demands. At times the team can barely keep pace with what’s required, despite being enormously bright people who work long hours.

But their people are demanding NOT to be completely protected, to know more about what’s happening and to be allowed to contribute. They have their own links into the context, albeit at a more junior level, and are picking up hints of what’s going on. Sometimes they hear more from outsiders than they do from their own bosses. They feel frustrated and held back – and yet the senior team don’t want to give the impression that things are out of control or “unravelling” as one of them put it.

This put me in mind of hamsters. My daughter’s friend was one of the first in her primary school class to have a hamster as a pet. One morning, not all that long after the marvellous arrival, her mother discovered it dead in its cage.  Fearing the upset it would cause, her Mum replaced it the same day with a near-identical one from the petshop. And when the same thing happened again a few months later, she repeated the distress-saving manoeuvre. No one said a word, and the parents breathed sighs of relief that upset had been averted.

A few weeks on, the daughter warned another school friend who was just about to get her own hamster that they were in the habit of dying; in fact her mother had already had to replace two. “She thinks I don’t know, and I don’t really like to upset her by mentioning it”.

Like the little girl, people tend to be quite smart about what’s really going on. But they don’t want to make life more difficult for their own senior people by raising difficult or emotional subjects. People end up protecting each other from the discomfort of loss, of not knowing, or of not being able to control what happens. At the same time, they can end up complaining about each other. How often do you hear “They never tell us the truth” or  “They just won’t step up to the responsibility”?

With this senior team, we identified a few potential “dead hamster” topics; things where people at many levels already have some insight into what’s going on, where it’s uncomfortable to admit just how much is still uncertain, and where no one can predict or control what happens next. The senior group then had a rather thoughtful conversation with their people; the knowns and unknowns, some of the intriguing possibilities, what looks like staying the same as well as what is likely to change. They are finding a way of leading, and allowing their people to contribute.

Do you have any “dead hamsters”?

departed hamster

 In a non-linear world, there is no relation between the strength of the cause and the consequence of the new effect.
Wheatley, M.J. (2006, p. 121)

July 1977 was a hot month in New York City. The temperatures had been in the 80s for weeks. The stench of rotting garbage hung in the air. The sun bounced off the asphalt, as aircon units sputtered and whirred in the windows of apartment blocks.

On Wednesday the 13th the humidity was building all day. At 20:37 lightning hit 2 extra high voltage lines in Westchester County, upstate New York, taking them out, and causing increased load to build in the rest of the system. At 20:56 lightning struck again, taking out two more lines. By 21:36 there was a blackout across the whole of the five boroughs of New York City, in some areas for up to 25 hours.

The power supply in this area was, and still is, run by the electricity company Con Edison. Their 1978 report into the failure and delayed recovery of supply pointed to a number of potential factors, including –

– An operator not showing for work

– Another operator delayed on a phone call while the system overloaded

– Increased aircon usage in the city due to the prolonged hot weather

– “The loss of additional transmission circuits resulting from a loose lock nut on a control of a circuit breaker”

The result was widespread rioting across New York City, in what some papers described as “a night of terror”.

Change always involves a dark night where everything falls apart. Yet if this period of dissolution is used to create new meaning, then chaos ends and new order emerges.
Wheatley, M.J. (2006, p. 170)

In the early 70s in the Bronx and Harlem, a new musical form was beginning to take shape. It was a reaction to the slick style of Disco. One of the pioneers, Grandmaster Flash, was leading the way with his technique of using a wax crayon to mark the hooks from Disco hits, allowing him to sample and mix records at speed. Flash and his crew, The Furious Five, were the talk of the boroughs, and a generation was looking to emulate them. However, running a crew was expensive, as you needed mics, turntables and mixers; and this was beyond the reach of most people.

Grandmaster Flash

Then came the blackout. There was looting, and a disproportionate number of electronics shops were targeted. Bronx MC Grandmaster Caz remembers a group pulling down the gates on the South Bronx store front, The Sound Room, and kids making off with armfuls of Clubman 2 mixers. By the time the power came back up there was a wealth of musical equipment available, and, in Caz’s words, “everyone was an MC now”. This was the point that hip hop started to make the leap from the underground.

Self-balancing (negative) feedback loops maintain the system in a stable but continually fluctuating state, whereas self-amplifying (positive) feedback loops may lead to new emergent structures
Capra, F. (2014, p. 159)

The increased availability of equipment lead to the formation of lots of different crews. Rap battles were held regularly where audiences voted for the winning crew through the volume of their applause. Hip hop was the talk of the street. Bootleg tapes were made of these battles and circulated. These were copied and shared and reputations were made and ruined. One such epic rap battle was between Grand Wizard Theodore and the Fantastic Five, and the Cold Crush Brothers. On audience volume the Fantastic Five were declared the winners. But as the bootleg tapes were circulated, the tide of opinion changed – the view being that the Fantastic Five had loaded the audience with supporters, and Cold Crush had the better texts. The rhymes of the Cold Crush Brothers passed from hand to hand and voice to voice, and their reputation spread across the city.

By 1979 the hip hop underground had drawn enough attention for downtown record labels to want to get in on the act. “Rapper’s Delight”, by the Sugar Hill Gang, was the first commercially cut hip hoptrack and took the nation’s airwaves by storm that summer. With record label backing, and coinciding with the growth of affordable international air travel, the Sugar Hill Gang also took to the air, and popular music culture was changed forever.

Rapper’s Delight 1979

It may seem an unusual example, but sometimes it’s nice to have an alternative to the butterfly flapping its wings. For those of us working in organisations perhaps it is a reminder that for all our strategizing and planning, organisations are also bundles of complex intentions and interactions. At any time, news of difference may arrive, and the rules of the game may change.

If you’d like to explore with us how these ideas can help with change, transformation, and Organisation Development do get in touch and join the conversation – contact@metalogue.co.uk

References:

Capra, F. (2014). The systems view of life: A unifying vison. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press

Kabanjoo, S., Walker, D., McFadsen, S., Dunn, J. (2016). Hip Hop Evolution. A Netflix Production

U.S. Department of Energy Federal Energy Regulatory Commission Report (1978): The Con Edison Power Failure of July 13 and 14, 1977

Wheatley, M. J. (2006). Leadership and the new science: Discovering order in a chaotic world. San Francisco, CA: Berrett-Koehler

 

So…you think you need to re-structure? Really?

Organisation design

Re-structuring – the organisation defibrillator

We are often asked whether we could support a company re-design. The conversation usually starts something like this…”We have decided to re-structure our organisation and would like some help on how to do this well – can you help us”? We then respond… “What is the question you are trying to answer, and what makes you think re-structuring is the right answer to your question”?

At this point some clients are bemused (or irritated) that we seem to challenge what they see as an obvious need. Others seem relieved and intrigued by the possibility of having a range of choices available to them.

Restructuring: the design option of last resort

Our view is that re-structuring should be seen as the option of last resort – the one you turn to when others won’t solve your problem.

Why do we say this? Well, large scale re-structuring is often disruptive to the people in the business, takes time (research suggests most take over a year to bed in) and can have a negative impact on clients during the transition. A client described the experience of re-structuring as “fixing a running car”.

We are not though saying that re-structures are never appropriate, indeed we make a living out of supporting them, just that they should not be initiated without understanding of their impact and the other organisation design choices available.

Client experience of an alternative design option

A recent client has had a chronic issue around the fact that accountability for decisions was so opaque and freedom for managers so great that this resulted in duplication of activities and confusion for clients as they received different offers from different departments in the same organisation. Rather than restructuring, the initial preferred option, they were able to make significant improvements by clarifying decision rights on critical decisions. In the process they got under the skin of their culture to understand and address their aversion to consistency and clarity.

When are re-structures helpful?

There are however a number of circumstances where re-structures (not structural tweaks) seem to be helpful and appropriate…

1. when you have tried addressing the other design policy areas on Jay Galbraith’s Star Model (people, process, rewards) and the results have come up short;

2. when the scale of the challenge is big and urgent and perhaps mandated due to an acquisition or divestment;

3. when you have clear evidence that structure is the critical barrier to delivering your strategy;

4. if you believe the organisation needs the equivalent of an electrical jolt to the heart to re-pattern its activity.

If you are still clear that re-structuring in the right answer given the above then hang on to the moving vehicle or grab the defibrillator and stand clear…

What can we learn about transformation and change from a simple act of mutuality?

It’s early May and I’m just back from working in Devon. For each of the last 7 years I’ve been running an annual workshop on ecological thinking and organisational change at Schumacher College, a few miles outside the town of Totnes.

I usually find myself there in early December which always brings its own seasonal aesthetic alongside the pressures and ‘culminations’ many of us feel in the lead up the winter break. People bring all that stuff with them and the world always seems a darker place – literally and metaphorically.

This time around we are approaching the Summer solstice and conversations have a lighter feel. Longer days bring more imagined possibilities. Or so it seems.

Participation

You don’t just stay at the College – you become part of the community for the best part of a week. The College is actually a grade II listed building on the Dartington Estate – the Old Postern.  Apart from a handful of staff who run the learning curriculum and oversee the infrastructure of the ‘house’ and the grounds , the College is run by volunteers and the learning community – a mixture of MSc students studying holistic science, alternative economics and horticultural practices plus those on short courses (i.e. people like us). In other words it’s a transient community and it is your home for the week. Days start and end with cooking, cleaning, clearing and setting up, and gardening alongside the volunteers… because there is no one else to do it. Of course you can choose not to participate but then you are making a conscious choice of putting yourself in a position where you are expecting to be served by others.

To some it might stay at the level of novelty and perhaps easily forgotten after a while. But the penny finally drops when on your last morning at the College, you find yourself refreshing the bed-sheets and tidying your bedroom for the next occupant. Then you realise that is exactly what the previous occupant did for you. People say to me … “it’s as if I make an extra effort to clean, tidy and prepare the room because I am aware that a stranger did the same for me”.

It’s a small act with a deep meaning. An act of mutuality with an invisible other that could be seen a primary ecological gesture’ – caring about yourself and caring for others. It’s about relationship and it’s an act of leadership if you think about it. It’s also a beautiful way of bringing the point home…gently.

I recall one conversation last week where we talked about how people turn away when presented with a narrative of organic ‘oughts’ and ‘shoulds’ and threats of the apocalyptic consequences of mindless consumption. Yet I know from my own experience that often we are drawn towards a change in behaviour through a simple re-frame of expectation or language. When you act into a new way of being and experience the consequences it is even more profound. It is no longer theoretical or aspirational.

As a practitioner during my time in Devon I notice myself slowing down, saying less, letting events unfold at a different pace. There are long silences and any intervention I make has to be weighed because somehow any gesture or commentary feels heavier than normal. In those moments I am learning about what it means to be less purposeful and what it means to do less.

So whenever I leave Schumacher and return to the ‘smoke’ I feel emboldened. I feel changed somehow.

Mutuality

We at Metalogue are sceptical of grandiose plans for transformation even though it is often the context for our work. We have been around long enough to have participated in all sorts of elaborate designs and strategies for bringing about change. Almost in spite of these purpose full plans, we have seen remarkable shifts in behaviour from a subtle turn of phrase, a simple gesture or a conversation – rarely from an exhortation by a leader or a project plan.

It reminds me of a recent client workshop where a programme director finally plucked up the courage to share some of his frustration with his line colleagues. Up to this point, the agenda had been dominated by presentations and project updates. It seemed to me like an elaborate charade or a verbal form of tai chi.

His words seemed to carry a directness that was difficult to parry.

“Whenever I email you all for information or to complete a report I often get no response. I know we are all busy but these actions are now time critical”. To which one business head replied “I am not sure why I am feeling that we have let you down. I really do want to help you but I often don’t know how to respond without a proper conversation”. It was followed by a long silence. My intuition here was to hold rather than release the tension. So I let the silence stretch for longer. But not forever.

My next question was simple: “what do each of you need from each other?”

Silence.

Then finally somebody said:

“I think we need to have more of these conversations and less templates to complete. We have had 6 months of inertia because none of us have thought to find out what would be most helpful for each other”.

It was a simple ask and of course the programme director could hardly refuse. This was a complete inversion of his assumption that people wouldn’t have the time or inclination to get in a room together to work out what was needed.

Needless to say progress is now being made. They do meet more often though people can still be difficult to pin down. But at least now they are much more careful not to neglect each other’s needs. And more importantly the dreaded templates are in remission.

To use a little poetic licence with what the renowned economist E F Schumacher once said: small gestures (of mutuality) really can be beautiful.

http://metalogue.co.uk/

https://www.schumachercollege.org.uk/

 

 

 

One of the first challenges in starting a new organization is to choose a name for yourselves. It’s a bit like choosing a name for a baby. It feels a big decision that you will have to live with for some time! We brainstormed many ideas, discussed and rejected them. Nothing felt right. Finally, Kevin proposed ‘Metalogue’ and this immediately energised us.  The concept spoke to how we aspire to be with our clients.

A client recently asked us to help them to ‘get’ their senior management to realized that they had to change. Implicit to our conversations was the assumption that someone else had to do the changing. The CEO thought the Executive needed to change.  The HR team thought the CEO needed to change.  Whoever spoke argued that someone else was the problem.  We (the consultants) were needed to do the changing of others.  When we raised the conversation to a meta-level by pointing out this pattern, the conversation started to change and those involved were more willing to acknowledge the part they played and their influence.

The central idea in a metalogue is that the structure and form of a conversation is relevant to the problem being discussed.  By raising the conversation to a ‘meta-level’ a new understanding of an issue can emerge which is connected to a change in relationships.

The concept of metalogue

We first came across the term metalogue in Gregory Bateson’s seminal book ‘Steps to an Ecology of Mind’.

Bateson was an incredibly influential social scientist who was interested in such wider ranging subjects as anthropology, psychiatry, ecology, social patterns, cybernetics and epistemological questions about learning and knowledge.

In the opening section of the book, he defines a metalogue as:

“… a conversation about some problematic subject. This conversation should be such that not only do the participants discuss the problem but the structure of the conversation as a whole is also relevant to the same subject’.

He describes a conversation between a daughter and her father in which the daughter asks:

Daddy, why do things get in a muddle?”

The father asks her what she means and they discover that things only get in a muddle when (other) people touch them. They explore how the act of tidying something up creates a muddle.  The Father observes that things get in a muddle because:

“…. there are more ways which you call “untidy” than there are ways which you call “tidy.”

The daughter starts to develop the idea that ‘tidy’ holds different meanings for different people:

“…. because if I have a special meaning for “tidy” then some of other people’s “tidies” will look like muddles to me —even if we do agree about most of what we call muddles.”

The daughter notices that whether something is ‘tidy’ or a ‘muddle’ is based on what a given person considers to be ‘tidy’ in a given situation.

The conversation continues in this circular and expanding manner.  Bateson’s writing is illusive.  He does not attempt to explain what he meant through this father – daughter conversation.  Perhaps it exemplifies a metalogue in that a conversation about muddles ends up in a muddle. In this sense, the content of the conversation is reflected in its form.  We could also see the conversation as a commentary on how our attempts to tidy up or order our world is creating muddles.  Or it demonstrates how our language constructs our world and implies meanings that shift and unravel when questioned.  The form of the father talking to his daughter also represents a form in which the father is assumed to know and yet the process of the daughters questioning expands the father’s understanding.  What comes through most strongly is that by attending to the language, categories and meanings that we assume, a richer deeper understanding of an issue emerges.

What does this all mean in the world of organisations?

If we take the idea of metalogue seriously then we need to look for how the nature of a problem being discussed is reflected in the form of the conversation.  In other words, there is a relationship between form and content.  The language, tone, categories and metaphors that are used in the conversation convey particular meanings to those involved that is reflected on the problem being examined.

This might feel rather esoteric and irrelevant to everyday life.  However, many of the difficulties that organisations experience are reflected and maintained through the structure of the conversations about these difficulties.

A few examples may help to illustrate the basic idea.

An organisation that delivered two basic services for many years struggled because of conflict between the two business units. No amount of effort or reorganization seemed to resolve the conflict. Whenever a discussion took place about the basic problem, the basic conflict was mirrored in the conversation itself.  Members of each unit would imply and take the position that their work was better in some shape or form that the work of the other unit.  The conversation would become self-referential with each unit defining themselves in opposition to the other group.  The conversation took on a competitive, win-lose dynamic.  The structure of the problem was thereby reflected in conversation about the problem.  What seemed very difficult in this organization was for anyone to notice this pattern and to reflect upon it.

The UK’s remaining or leaving the European Union is perhaps another example. The conversation in the media, between politicians or between family members tends to take a rather polarized, black and white form.  Both sides feel passionate about their position and reject the position of the other side.  The form of the conversation once again mirrors the content of the problem itself in that no one can seem to agree on the nature of the relationship that the UK wants with the European Union.

In our consulting practice on a daily basis we come across seemingly intractable problems which manifest themselves in conversations about the problem.  Holding this idea of metalogue in mind, we are most helpful when we draw attention to the form of the conversation: the language that is used, the patterns that emerge between individuals, the assumptions, beliefs and feelings that are implicit in what people say.  By focusing at this meta-level of the conversation (rather than the content), we facilitate a shift in the form of the conversation.   People start to notice what they mean, the assumptions that lie behind what they mean and the assumptions they make about what others mean and how their relationships with others are reflective of this process.  In essence, our work is about helping our clients to have a different conversation about themselves.

What is culture?

We are always engaged in a process of relating to others. The sociologist Norbert Elias observed that we live in patterns of interdependence that enable and constrain how each of us act. It is the social patterns that are created and maintained as people interact together than we tend to think of as ‘culture’. The  anthropologist, Clifford Geertz, evocatively observed that these social patterns create webs of meaning in which we are suspended. Implicit to the webs of meaning are tacit taken-for-granted-assumptions and beliefs which function as models for:

How we see the world and how we act in it
What we value, care about and see as important (and what we do not)
How we interpret others’ behaviour and decisions; and
How we relate to and interact with others and objects.

Culture is a ‘grand narrative’ that we are all creating and maintaining that gives order to organisational life and helps us to make sense of our shared experiences. Without some cultural anchors for collective meaning social and organizational life would be impossible. Culture therefore is the ground for our perceptions, experience and behaviour.

Most of the time, our participation in maintaining cultural patterns  is outside of our awareness. We simply do not notice how we assume meanings and enable or constrain the behaviour of others.

Culture – a symbolic process

Geertz thought that ‘patterns of meaning’ are created, transmitted and maintained through symbols. A symbol is anything that signifies meaning in a given social context (Geertz, 1973). A red flag is a symbol of danger on a beach, a white one surrender on a battle field. Symbols take many different forms including language, objects, rituals and the interactions between individuals. By means of symbols we create an image of an ordered world which will account for the ambiguities, puzzles and paradoxes of in our lives. This capacity to understand the world symbolically and to understand others symbolically is what makes human action distinctive. The gestures we make have the potential to bear meaning to people.

High and Low profile symbols

Adrian McLean, in his insightful book Leadership and Cultural Webs in Organisations, makes the distinction between high and low profile symbols. High profile symbols are the carefully crafted, grand gestures that are intended to convey a particular meaning. They include speeches, mission statements, logos, codes of conduct, formal artefacts (buildings, furnishing and fabric), etc. In contrast, low profile symbols are the spontaneous, mundane, unrehearsed, everyday actions and statements. The seemingly insignificant acts and utterances convey powerful messages about what and who is important, valued and significant in a given social context. We are more influenced by low profile symbols than high profile symbols, particularly when there is an incongruence between the two. This is reflected in the old adage “Do as I say not as I do”.

Most of the organisational literature reifies culture and talks about it ‘as if’ it is separate and independent of the organisation. Rather than being something an organisation has we need to think of organisations as being cultures. It other words something an organisation is, and that we are all perpetually creating and maintaining in our everyday interactions!

A deliberate and planned approach to changing culture?

Cultures are not static and change every moment of every day. They can also change through deliberate and conscious acts of collective endeavour. Although precisely how they will change and in what way is an emergent process that unfolds as people consciously attend to cultural patterns.

Over the years, we have crafted a methodology for culture change that is based on anthropology, ethnography and depth psychology. The intention of the methodology is to describe and interpret cultural patterns and make conscious and deliberate attempts to disturb and change them.

Step 1: Framing an intent and establishing the necessary conditions for change

All collective endeavours require an act of leadership to mobilise people to engage with the process of change. Leadership is itself a symbolic act and the starting point for any change effort needs to be a gesture on the part of a leader or a group of leaders to initiate a process of change. This act needs to have meaning within a given culture, be credible and to frame the intent of any change effort such that people understand and accept that an aspect of the culture needs to change.

Step 2: Discovery and deepening understanding of cultural patterns

Start with immersion & Inquiry

Most of us are unaware of how we act to perpetuate and maintain existing cultural patterns through low profile symbols. The necessary starting point for cultural change therefore is a process of collective discovery and shared sense making. We work with representatives of the culture to undertake ethnographic fieldwork and inquiry into the culture of the organization. Together we immerse ourselves in the culture of the organization to gather observations and others accounts of cultural phenomena, such as:

Rituals and customs
Language
Status gestures
Symbols
Myths and Folklore
Cultural breaches and transgressions

Representation & Thick Description of cultural patterns

The challenge in cultural change work is to develop a shared representation and understanding of the critical cultural patterns that influence the issue or challenge that the organization wants to address. We do this by inviting small groups of inquirers to share stories and observations, to surface underlying assumptions and to pictorially represent what they are discovering. To engage a critical mass of people large groups events and social media can be used to involve them in a process of sense making.

As cultural patterns start to be described, their implications for the organisation start to become apparent to those involved. Most patterns exist because they served some purpose in the past and to some degree in the present. They also have significant consequences for the performance of the organisation which only fully surface as the pattern is described.

Step 3: Developing cultural experiments & creating social movements

As cultural patterns are uncovered and understood, groups of employees are encouraged to design and lead micro experiments that are intended to disturb and interrupt existing cultural patterns.  Such experiments do not require the direct involvement of leaders in the organisation.  They do however require their sponsorship and sanction.  Each group is tasked with encouraging grassroots involvement and participation in the experiment and to seek leadership support where they feel it is required.

The intention of these experiments is not to directly bring about change but to create disturbances that start to bring cultural patterns into awareness for a wider population.  Experiments are symbolic gestures that invite different, non-typical responses from people. Many of these experiments tend not to work, and the ones that do, often do not work in the manner that was intended.  What they do achieve however is a great understanding of the culture and how to bring about change.

This phase of a process of change tends to evoke feelings of confusion, anxiety and frustration as people start to question theirs and others’ assumptions and behaviour.  Taken-for-granted ways of working become questioned which can be both exciting and anxiety provoking.

Step 4: Reviewing, noticing and amplifying emergent patterns

As a culture change process unfolds, we bring groups of individuals together with representatives from the organisation’s leadership to review the impact of the cultural experiments.  Again this involves a process of discovery and awareness raising.  As new, emergent patterns of behaviour are noticed they can be encouraged, supported and reinforced.  This process helps to amplify new patterns and the role of leadership is to cultivate their adoption.

The basic intent of this process is to support change from within the culture rather than to act to push change from the outside.  The later invariably results in ‘not invented here’ syndrome.

Please get in contact if you would like to explore how we might be able to help your organisation.

 

As the pressure on organisations to change increases, many are turning to internal change agents to lead change initiatives and engage employees in the change process.

Internal change agents often come from a range of specialist departments, such as OD, Organisation Effectiveness or Quality Improvement – or support functions, such as HR.  However, we often hear from these individuals that they feel like a ‘prophet in one’s own land’. No matter what their levels of expertise or experience, they feel they are not listened to or taken seriously. This is despite some of the clear advantages that internals have over externals, such as their understanding of the organisation, its culture and what has been tried and not worked in the past.

Over the years, we have worked closely with internals to develop their expertise and help them to influence how change happens in their organization. We have also published research as to how they influence change and establish credibility. Our fundamental, and most basic, observation is that internals who are able to influence change and enable something different to happen have earned a ‘license to operate’. They do this by establishing trust and credibility with influential individuals and groups in their organisations. As a result, they are valued for their expertise and insight and people listen to them.

The top tips we would offer internal change agents who want to develop their credibility and influence are:

1. Start by working with the ‘early adopters’ or those individuals who are willing to try something different and believe that change needs to be approached in a different way.

2. Work below the radar until a change starts to take off and then encourage those involved to share positive stories and successes. This inevitably starts to attract attention from others who then become curious about what is happening.

3. Find those issues that people really care about and want to work on together to improve their lives and their products or services. Too often internals can pursue changes or ideals that they believe should happen but others do not care about.

4. Focus on small but significant projects and make them a success. In contrast to conventional wisdom, large scale change is rarely brought about through grand visions and plans. Often small and symbolic changes trigger others to act and change starts to spread like a virus rather than as a result of a ‘grand plan’.

5. Many years ago, the renowned OD practitioner, Roger Harrison, advised internal consultants to work with the forces that are supportive of change, rather than against defensiveness and resistance. Equally, he advised internals to work with the relatively healthy parts of the organisation and avoid ‘lost causes’. Effective internal change agents in our experience from the beginning focus on where they see potential to make a difference.

6. Find and develop sponsorship at senior levels of the organisation. Contrary to what is widely advocated by many change practitioners, active sponsorship is not necessary for all change initiatives. The minimum level that is required is permission for changes to be initiated. The next level, which is more desirable, is support and encouragement for change. Ideally, senior leaders would actively participate. However, this is not always necessary and change agents often push too hard against the resistance of senior individuals to getting involved.

7. Work with leaders and sponsors to mobilise a ‘critical mass’ of activists for each change project from across all parts and levels of the organisation. These are the individuals who are going to act, role model change and challenge others to change.

8. Work collaboratively with other functions, such as HR, comms and strategy, to develop their capability and develop supporters and allies. Equally, avoid creating enemies and adversaries who feel threatened by your existence. This requires a sensitivity to tribal politics and territorial boundaries.

9. Act as a connector. Use your knowledge and networks to connect individuals and change projects from across the organisation. Putting individuals in contact with others not only helps change happen but it also builds your credibility as a networker and someone who can see systemic connections and opportunities.

10. Be pragmatic and flexible. Beware of trying to follow a set methodology because this is how things ‘should’ happen. In the real world, change is messy and improvised. In our research, those individuals who had credibility were prepared to roll up their sleeves and get involved. They pushed the boundaries as far as they believed was possible and challenged when they believed they would be heard.

In summary, effective change agents influence through their relationships, expertise and ability to help rather than through formal authority and control. This requires them to be trusted and to have credibility in their organisations.

On first appearance, the following do not appear to have much in common:

Emergence – order out of chaos

Emergence is often referred to as “the whole is greater than the sum of its parts”. Many interactions at a local level gives rise spontaneously to a system wide pattern that gives the system itself a form of order. In other words, order emerges out of chaos. Order and disorder paradoxically co-exist. The patterns that emerge provide order to the system and yet at the same time unpredictable or novel behaviour can be observed. If we observe our flock of Starlings we can see that each bird is coordinating its movements in response to the birds that are closest to it however if we observe the flock we can see that patterns emerge and disappear as the flock moves back and forth across the sky but the overall characteristics of the flock is recognisable.

Self-organising behaviour

A complex system is characterised by non-linear dynamics. In a linear system the more or less of one variable will result in a proportional change in another. So if we press our foot down on the accelerator our car goes faster. In a non-linear system this is not the case. Small changes can have large effects and large changes can have no effect. This is the famous ‘Butterfly Effect’.

Non-linear systems are characterised by positive and negative feedback. Positive feedback loops amplify a behaviour within the system; whilst negative feedback dampens a behaviour. In a complex system, patterns act back on the agents themselves to affect local interactions and yet at the same time local interactions are altering the system wide patterns. There is therefore a complex interplay between the macro patterns of the system and the micro moment by moment interactions between agents.

Self-organising dynamics can be observed if we examine the stock market. The market consists of large numbers of traders who are regulating each others’ behaviour through their interactions at a local level through their buying and selling activities. In each trade the seller and buyer receive immediate feedback from each other about the price of their commodity. Each individual trade contributes to the dynamics of the market as a whole. The pattern of the market can shift abruptly when positive feedback loops encourage the selling or buying of shares in particularly directions. The fall and the rise of the market emerges out of the local level behaviour of all the actors in the market as they attempt to anticipate changes in the pattern of the market.

The dynamics of a complex system are therefore self-organising meaning that local interactions produce order and that order is not imposed from outside of the system. Control is therefore distributed across the system and no single person or entity is in control. Order cannot be designed into a complex system.

A few simple rules can generate complex patterns

The study of complex systems reveals that a few simple rules can generate complex patterns of behaviour. If we study a crowd moving through Victoria Station at ‘rush hour’ we are likely to observe that people are taking the least congested path they can see towards where they wish to go whilst trying to avoid bumping into the people coming towards them. People mutually regulate each others’ speed so we tend not to see people running and we do not tend to observe people pushing each other out of the way. We can think of everyone simultaneously collaborating and competing with each other as they try to get through the station as quickly and safely as possible. If we stood at one of the vantage points in the station and looked down, then we would observe flows of people moving through the station concourse and as bottlenecks emerged people changing the direction of travel to avoid the busier spaces.

Capacity to adapt

The agents in a complex adaptive system demonstrate the capacity to learn and to adapt their behaviour in response to the behaviour of other agents. In the Stock Market if the market starts to fall then this will influence the behaviour of each agent. If I find that Victoria Station is becoming more and more congested, I may change my route and go via a different station. The agents in a system can therefore change the rules they are choosing to follow. The capacity of each agent to adjust their behaviour gives the system adaptive capacity meaning that complex systems can evolve in response to environmental changes. If we take the case of the car industry as the price of fuel increases and society gets more concerned about the impact of CO2 emissions on the environment, the demand for cars with low fuel consumption and emissions increases. The behaviour of the different car manufacturers changes in response to this changing pattern in car market. They car manufacturers are also contributing to this pattern through their choice of new products that they put into the market. If a company does not adapt its behaviour then consumers will select not to buy its product. The process of selection thereby operates to amplify or dampen different patterns of behaviour. In a rain forest if the environment changes, for instance if there is an unusual drop in temperature, those species that are more able to adapt to the change in conditions will survive and those that are unable to will fall in number.

What are the implications of Complexity Theory for organisations?

If we accept that organisations are themselves complex systems then the following become apparent:

Order is not predetermined in an organisation. That is to say what happens one day will not necessarily happen on the next. Instead order is continuously created and recreated through the complex interactions by employees, suppliers and customers on an ongoing basis. Under certain conditions when the dominant patterns become unstable, then qualitatively different forms of behaviour can emerge.

No one is in control of the system. Those in leadership positions have influence but they cannot control how people behave nor can they predict the outcomes of their interventions. It is not possible to predict the behaviour of markets, consumers or competitors with any accuracy because new patterns can emerge in ways that are unpredictable, although in hindsight it is possible to make sense of how specific patterns may have come about. The global financial crisis is an illustration of how a new pattern can emerge in a form that few people anticipated or predicted.

No one is able to see the whole and understand the new patterns that are emerging. We can only respond to patterns that we are experiencing at a local level and the information that we are receiving through these interactions.

How an organisation functions cannot be determined by the imposition of top down rules and through design. Rather patterns of behaviour arise through the self-organising behaviour at the local level between employees interacting with, creating and re-creating patterns of behaviour across the organisation. In an organisation, we can think of the patterns of behaviour being social norms.

Change in organisations is necessarily messy, emergent and unpredictable. Small acts of change may have a dramatic impact on the behaviour of others; whilst significant gestures and attempts at change may have little effect. Novel forms of behaviour are constantly emerging whilst stable patterns are disappearing or being disrupted.

This perspective helps us understand why between 70 – 90% of organisational change initiatives fail. The traditional approach to changing organisations is for a small group of individuals in senior roles deciding how the organisation needs to change and then planning how to move the organisation from its current state to a desired future state. This way of thinking is predicated on linear and deterministic assumptions.

How do we help organisations to change in a complex world?

Firstly, we need to recognise that change in organisation is an emergent phenomenon that takes place when people change how they interact with each other. And that change requires a disruption and disturbance to an existing pattern.

Secondly, people have the capacity to be able to reflect on their behaviour, to learn and to adapt. This means that each of us can adjust our behaviour if we can understand the patterns that our behaviour contributes to at a system level. Leaders and change agents can help facilitate change therefore by helping people across the system to notice how they are reacting and responding to each others’ behaviour.

Thirdly, we are all interdependent and mutually regulating each others’ behaviour. We both amplify and dampen each others’ behaviour. If collectively, we become aware of how each of us is contributing to maintaining a pattern then new forms of organisation become possible. However, what emerges is necessarily unpredictable and unknown.
Finally, given we cannot predict the outcome of any changes we need to experiment and learn about the intended and unintended consequences of our actions and then readjust.

Change processes therefore need to:

Bring groups of people together from inside and outside of the organisation Help them notice the patterns that are maintained through their collective behaviour

Enable people to reflect on how they mutually regulate each other’s behaviour and become aware of the implicit rules that inform these interactions

Experiment with changes that are intended to interrupt unhelpful or problematic patterns

Observe and review what emerges as a consequence of any changes.

If you want to learn more about a relational and complexity based approach to organisation change then please drop me a line.