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

“It’s a dance, isn’t it?” was how a client recently described the relationship between the Executive Team (ET) of the organisation and the Senior Management Team (SMT). This description seemed to strike a chord with others in the meeting with a number of knowing smiles in the room, including from us as facilitators.

I experience this dance in many organisations. Executive Teams organise and have gatherings together with the next level of the hierarchy, sometimes jointly referred to as the “Senior Management Team”. While these gatherings are a common occurrence in organisations we work in, the style of “the dance” between the two groups varies tremendously. They sometimes dance together confidently, but often they are hesitant and uncertain. Becoming explicit about the nature of this dance seems important as these gatherings are important rituals in the cultural tableau members of the organisation create to make sense of what is important. Sometimes how these interactions happen is highly aligned with the explicit culture of the organisation. In other organisations it may be in direct conflict with the culture organisation leaders have espoused.

Generally an invitation to the meeting (an invitation to “the dance”) is crafted. Sometimes this is done with a lot of thought and crafted together between ET and SMT representatives. In other organisations we experience that the only thing SMT members know about the event is that someone has sent them a meeting invitation with an explict demand that they attend (which isn’t really an invitation at all).

The Dance Styles

We also experience a real range of meeting formats when these meetings take place. We thought it would be helpful (and fun) to use a number of dance styles to describe the variety of style of interactions that can take place in organisations when the executive team meets their senior management team to “dance”. These are offered to help you make sense of your experience of such gatherings in your organisation. Hopefully they might help you to be a little more conscious of whether the nature of the dance supports of undermines the culture you are looking to support.

Paso Doble

Modelled on drama and movement of the Spanish bullfight. “This two-person dance form has the man performing as the bullfighter and the woman as the cape”(1). Based on passionate and short lived session-based exchanges usually around a pressing issue or project, usually in the spotlight with a rather dramatic soundtrack. In such ET/SMT gatherings:

– political factions may “lock horns” or try and score points or get the upper hand
– Executive Team members lead on key agenda items and are supported by their respective SMT members
– conversations are highly male-dominated: men take the lead and women provide support and an artistic flourish
– words like “critical” or “burning platform” may be used with great frequency and team members are invited to create action plans with unfeasibly short timelines

Viennese Waltz

This describes a formal and formulaic process with background music known to all. “The Viennese waltz is a rotary dance where the dancers are constantly turning either toward the leader’s right (natural) or toward the leader’s left (reverse), interspersed with non-rotating change steps to switch between the direction of rotation.” (2).
Your teams dance in this way if:

– you have a very clear tempo or rhythm to your ET/SMT meetings
– meeting agendas and formats (if not agenda items) are predictable
– the leader takes a formally prominent role
– the dance requires training and not knowing the rules can lead to critical comments and whispers of incompetence

Scottish Reel

Highly participative process amongst a group of equals, with many taking part. “Fast tempos, quick music and a lively feel” (3). You will know if you have this dance in your organisation if:

– many are encouraged to take part in ET/SMT “gatherings”
– you are not expected to “know it all” as others will help you out
– you experience the meetings as fun and energising
– there are clear patterns of interaction together with a spirit of co-creation

Contemporary Dance

“Tends to be intricate and physical, and the dancers change levels and directions quickly and seamlessly. Contemporary dance may deal with… images, or emotional extremes. It has a rawness that sets it apart from plot-driven ballets or Broadway jazz.” (4). Executive Team/Senior Management Team meetings with this dance style:

– work a lot with metaphors
– acknowledge and express a full range of emotions
– expect all present to take up different leadership positions regardless of anyone’s position in the formal hierarchy
– are highly dynamic in their meeting formats and subject matter

Military Tattoo

A highly practiced series of music or artistic performances teams in a tightly choreographed and timetabled schedule, usually with a large audience gathered in a ticketed seating area. You will know your ET/SMT meetings resemble a Military Tattoo if:

– your agendas are highly predictable
– everyone knows their place and role in the meetings and all are expected to be perfectly aligned in advance
– you generally have a large number of people who come to observe the meetings, usually in seats set apart from ET & SMT members
– the sessions often involve a series of increasingly attractive but complicated power-point slides presented with key points preceded with drum-rolls and successes with trumpets.

We at Metalogue love dance – we help executive teams improve their technique or change their dance style. So…which dance do you recognise in your own organisation?

References

1. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pasodoble
2. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Viennese_waltz
3. https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Scottish_country_dance
4. Helen Hayes, Youth Dance Ensemble director, Joy of Motion Dance Center, Washington, DC, quoted at:
https://www.dancestudiolife.com/how-do-you-define-contemporary-dance/

The gift is the present

We both attended a recent meeting which started with this exchange…

John:  “Can we spend some time preparing our plan for the future?”

Pam:  “I think we spend too much time thinking about the future and the past – can we pay more attention to what’s going on for us right now?”

This conversation reminded us that we are often willfully or unconsciously not fully present when preparing for the future. Inherent in assumptions of working with strategy is that strategy is “all about the future”. We are often invited to hold or facilitate “blue-sky brain-storming” or to help prepare scenarios for “The [insert organisation name] 2025 Vision”. John and Pam’s exchange got us thinking that rather than just accept the notion that we need to separate the future from the past and present, perhaps we needed to consider a more helpful way of working on strategy.

Well, there are certainly benefits of an exclusively future focused approach in developing strategy which can include…

– lots of energy and excitement from the executive team about future possibilities

– we start to feel creative, powerful and omnipotent when unencumbered from the heavy responsibilities of day to day delivery, thus forgetting that we exist in an emerging present (George Santayana) and we can participate in the future but not change it (David Lewis).

– it breaks assumptions about what’s possible by unhooking us from the assumptions restricting our thinking. Note: Dan Gilbert challenges our ability to do this by arguing that we under-estimate our change in interests, views and preferences because we often find it difficult to imagine a future for ourselves that is different.

However, the downside of the full future focus is that…

– we end up only paying attention to data signals from users, customers and the market which confirm our intended future (termed confirmation bias by Wason) and therefore miss opportunities and threats.

– we ignore the organizational myths and rituals from the past which could shape or frame the perception of future possibilities – e.g. “we tried to offer services ten years ago and it nearly killed us”.

– we pay insufficient attention to the possibilities inherent in what we are currently doing. It could be a current product, service or capability which could become the revenue stream of tomorrow. An example of this is how Amazon Web Services was transformed from being a back office enabling function supporting the Amazon retailing business to a significant and fast-growing business stream in its own right.

Hallucinations not Visions

This encouragement to separating ourselves from the murky, complex nature of our present realities often ends in strategies being described post-hoc as resulting from hallucinations, not visions. The gap between what middle managers in organisations experience in the present and the idealized nature of the vision is often too great to be credible, increasing the likelihood of cynical conversations at the water-cooler.

William Gibson’s suggestion that “the future is already here — it’s just not very evenly distributed” suggests that we need to pay far more attention to opportunities and signals in the present, from both within and outside the organization.

Changing our focus to the present

Well, there are strategy processes that do indeed enable participants to both stay present and build a compelling and connected future. An example of such a process is Future Search (Weisbord & Janoff), which helps organization participants build a compelling future by paying sufficient attention to the opportunities in the present. It encourages participants to look at common ground to build a compelling organisation future. However, even if we don’t choose one of these approaches to building our strategy, we can all question whether we really are present enough when preparing for the future.

Take this gift I give you – it is the present

(from poem by Ian MacMillan)

The gift is the present

Dev Mookherjee & Sarah Beart

Bibliography

Gibson, W. (1999) “The Science in Science Fiction” on Talk of the Nation, NPR (30 November 1999, Timecode 11:55)

Gilbert, D. (2014) “The Psychology of your Future Self”, TED talk at TED2014, https://www.ted.com/talks/dan_gilbert_you_are_always_changing?language=en

Lewin, K. (1943). Defining the “Field at a Given Time.” Psychological Review, 50, 292–310

Lewis, D. (1976) “The Paradoxes of Time Travel.” American Philosophical Quarterly, 13:145-52.

Macmillan, I. Extract from a poem read on a BBC Radio 3 programme but not otherwise published. Permission provided by author to use the quote in this blog.

Santayana, G. (1942). The Philosophy of Santayana, Modern Library, Vol 224

Wason, Peter C. (1960), “On the failure to eliminate hypotheses in a conceptual task”, Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology, Psychology Press, 12 (3): 129–40, doi:10.1080/17470216008416717, ISSN 1747-0226

Weisbord, M. & S. Janoff (2010). Future Search: Getting the Whole System in the Room for Vision, Commitment and Action. San Francisco: Berrett Kohler.