The client call            

“I know you can do organization re-design in face-to-face workshops but our team is locked down on two sides of the Atlantic and we’re in a hurry. Can you still help us with this?”

Gulp…Keep calm.

In the few seconds we have to answer, the following thoughts go through our heads…

– Can we still productively hold the difficult trade-off conversations needed in the redesign processes virtually, or are face-to-face conversations essential for this?

– How can we replicate our plenary and breakout conversation formats?

– How will we replicate our approaches to activity mapping design options, which we would normally do on large meta-plan boards using post-it notes?

In those few milliseconds we realised we had a choice to make…and we responded “Yes. We can run this process virtually.”

What happened next?

Our first thought was that Zoom plenary and breakout rooms would work well and answer our first two questions and we started the process through a series of Zoom workshops with a core design group following a number of inquiry calls.

The Zoom platform soon proved to be up to the challenge, but we struggled as a facilitator team with the process of activity mapping using Power-point:

The preparation for workshops took an eternity:

– The process was so manual, which took our attention away from attending to the important team dynamics involved in the design process

– Instead, we were having to attend to the more mundane and less value-adding job of moving boxes around on Power-point charts

– Even after the workshop we had to find a way to record the outputs and we had no efficient way to export the designs in a way that would be helpful to the client.

There has to be a better way…” we told ourselves.

…and so the idea for Orgwith.com™ was born

We spent the second half of 2020 building a web-based app, with our brilliant digital agency partners Audacia (www.audacia.co.uk), which makes the process of facilitating organization design virtually (via Zoom or other web-conferencing platforms) much simpler and far less time consuming. The app is designed for in-house organization designers to build design options and populate them with activities using simple or more complex design templates, based on the work of Andrew Campbell. We built the app for us to use with our clients but realised that if we would find it helpful, so would our clients and other in-house organization design practitioners.

What are the features of Orgwith.com™?

– Drag & drop user interface to minimise hassle & maximise participation

– Import, add and edit activity listings as the building blocks of design options

– Build designs and compare options easily

– Work together in plenary or assign Breakout Facilitators

– Save and name design options

– Compare options easily

– Export design data in Excel to create role definitions

– “Save as you go” functionality

– Stable and secure as hosted on Microsoft’s Azure platform

– Built to run on Chrome and Safari PCs

Interested in finding out more?

Check out www.orgwith.com or contact us at orgwith-admin@metalogue.co.uk.

Finally, if you are interested in developing your skills in facilitating participative organization design we have some spaces available on our programme in November. Email us at contact@metalogue.co.uk if you would like to find out more.

Over the past year, we have been researching the practice of transformation in organisations.  A brief summary of our findings follows.

If you would like to read our findings in more depth, then you can download a copy of the report by clicking on the link at the end of this blog.

What we discovered about transformation

Remarkably, when we started exploring this topic we found that:

> Firstly, many organisations are struggling to both conceptualise how to transform themselves and to undertake transformations.  Indeed, many projects unwittingly seem to end up doing more to reinforce existing paradigms; in other words, they are ‘more of the same’!

> And, secondly, there is little applied research that explores what organisations actually do when they attempt to ‘transform’ themselves; and little research into what works and what does not.

After 12 months of inquiry with our clients into their experiences of transformation initiatives, we discovered that:

> Transformations are social processes of discovery, creativity and innovation. Success requires the mobilisation of collective intelligence, imagination and energy.

> The process of transformation is characterised by ongoing challenges, dilemmas and contradictory emotions including anxiety, discomfort, uncertainty, hope and excitement.

> How the transformation is framed influences whether and how people respond and whether they engage.  Most transformations are underpinned by metaphors and narratives that either bring it to life – creating a sense of opportunity and possibility – or generate fear and anxiety.

> Transformation requires the organisation to tell itself different stories about itself. This process happens in social interaction and conversation.

> Leaders enable transformation by telling a coherent and compelling story about the future, holding their nerve, engendering confidence, and role modelling what they are asking of people.

If you want to read more about what we have discovered, you can find the full report at:

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

Please feel free to distribute and share this research across your networks.

If you need help and guidance with transformation and change in your organisation then please contact us at andrewday@metalogue.co.uk.

“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/

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

 

“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.