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

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.

As part of our research into the practice of designing organisations, we spoke to leaders and practitioners about their experience and reflections on organisation design projects. Most of them acknowledged that, with the benefit of hindsight, they had not given sufficient attention to how changes would be brought to life.

Underestimating transitions

In every case, we were told that the amount of time and resources that was necessary was underestimated. Looking back, most felt that transitions require a minimum of 12-18 months and that 18-24 months is more realistic, particularly for more complex changes. In practice however all the attention goes on agreeing what the organisation needs to look like in the future, and significantly less attention is directed towards:

• What is being communicated through the process
• How people will transition into new roles, teams and departments.

Culture-creating moments

We discovered that embedded in the design process and subsequent organisational transitions were culture-creating moments. These related to how any changes were done. They included events such as:

1. Who was involved in the design process
2. How design changes were decided
3. How the changes were communicated and the rationale given for them
4. How senior appointments were managed
5. Who was appointed to key roles
6. How exits or redundancies were managed
7. How the new design was launched or went ‘live’
8. The extent to which endings, transitions and beginnings were acknowledged.

In these moments, important symbolic questions are addressed through what actually happens (rather than what is espoused). These include:

• Who will be included and who will be excluded?
• How will power be exercised and decisions made?
• What is actually changing and what is staying the same?
• What will be valued in the future (and what won’t)?

Such moments define or re-define cultural norms and convey the actual values of senior leaders. What happens around these events, therefore, reinforces the core messages of the redesign or undermines them. They influence people’s commitment to the new design, the relationships that form and whether people act in ways that support the aims of the organisation.

Consciously attending to process

The emotional impact of these key moments is significant but is often underestimated or avoided because they surface sensitivities or uncomfortable issues. They are however unavoidable realities of the re-design process and opportunities to model desired norms or values. They need therefore to be engaged with consciously and with sensitivity to ensure that consistent, meaningful and clear messages are communicated. This can be difficult to do when you are steeped in an established culture or in the midst of a complex design process. The risk however is you sleepwalk into reinforcing the very patterns you want to change. In organisation design projects, as well as supporting the design process, we help everyone involved to attend to transitions and the symbolic, emotional and cultural dynamics of the process.

If you would like to read our research report, you can download it here:

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

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

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.

 

 

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.

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

 

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