Why Rightshift?

Thomas Lindqvist recently posed a question you might find interesting:


Or, in more common parlance, what motivates an organisation to put time and effort into improving its overall effectiveness? You might think this kind of improvement a common objective – but in my experience it’s very uncommon.

In response, I suggested that the motivation – when present – comes from the Core Group attempting to get their needs met. Manifest in what I refer to as “organising intent”. Absent the Core Group seeing improvement as a viable and effective strategy for getting met their particular needs of the moment, it’s unlikely that improvement – whether in-band or out-of-band, whether Kaizen or Kaikaku – will receive much attention or support.

Note that in this post I’m talking primarily about the motivation to tackle one of the three great transitions in the Marshall Model.

Incremental Improvements

I can go with Kotter’s explanation of motivation for incremental, out-of-bound improvement: Urgency.

“Visible crises can be enormously helpful in catching people’s attention and pushing up urgency levels. Conducting business as usual is very difficult if the building seems to be on fire.”

~ John Kotter

Yet, this begs various questions:

  • To whom does a sense of urgency matter?
  • Why do they feel this sense of urgency? (Upon what information is their feeling based?)
  • What are their needs, needs that might be better met if a sense of urgency prevails?
  • How will the sense of urgency get expressed?
  • What will that expression lead to?


I don’t believe organisations contemplate transitions (wholesale replacement of their collective mindset) when they find a crisis upon them. Urgency seems irrelevant. Transitions will seem like they just take too long to be an effective survival response to an impending catastrophe.

Rather than urgency, the question of whether to tackle a transition is more likely to arise when e.g. the Core Group come to believe that existing avenues – like kaizen, continuous improvement or just plain old business-as-usual – have run out of steam. That these avenues no longer afford the promise of further improvements. Or that the ROI on such avenues has become marginal.

Of course, for a transition to even become a option requires that e.g. the Core Group feels some dissatisfaction with current levels of performance, of effectiveness. That the organisation’s performance fails to meet their needs in some significant way. Absent this condition, it’s likely things will just bump along as always.


So, how do you gauge the organising intent of your organisation’s Core Group? Is it bent on improvement? Or does its focus lie elsewhere?

- Bob

Changing Others?

Here’s a fairly common scenario:

You’re a manager responsible for 100+ people, all involved in some kind of knowledge work. You’ve been asked, told – or maybe feel the need yourself – to do something about the productivity of your group. How would you proceed?

Aside: I’ve been in this situation myself some number of times, and seen or helped managers with such scenarios, too.


How a manager decides to proceed is most often a function of what they believe about the nature of work, and the nature of people.

I’ve seen managers issue diktats: “You will improve”.

Opt to get consultants in: “These guys will tell you how to improve”.

Or “coach” people: “I’ll show you the way to improve” (not my definition of coaching, btw).

I’ve rarely seen a manager say: “Let’s sort this out together”.

But if you accept the answers to these Six FAQs, then this latter option seems like the only viable, long term basis upon which to proceed.

And if that is so, then the key questions become:

  • “Can we agree that something needs to be done?”
  • “If we can so agree, who’s going to be involved, and in what ways and degree will they be involved?”
  • “For those who are closely involved, how shall we make a start?”

The last of the above questions is something like the Theory of Constraints three questions:

  • “What to change?”
  • “What to change to?”
  • “How to effect the change?”

Or, maybe, just these two questions:

  • “What is the purpose of this work, from the paying customers’ (end-users’) point of view?”
  • “What measures will the workers choose and use to understand and improve their work?”

Do you concur, or would you choose a different way to proceed?

- Bob

Further Reading

The Art and Science Of Changing People Who Don’t Want To Change ~ Reut Schwartz-Hebron

Are You Sitting Comfortably?


One aspect of effective knowledge work – such as software development, for example – that I rarely get to discuss is the meme related to “what is knowledge work like?

In “First, Break All The Rules” by Marcus Buckingham and Curt Coffman, the Gallup organisation suggests there is a set of just twelve questions we might use to gauge employee engagement (and, by association, the organisation’s effectiveness and thus its prevailing mindset).

The second of these twelve questions is:

“Have I the materials and equipment I need to do my job right?”

In ad-hoc organisations, and some early-stage analytic-minded organisations too, folks tend to regard knowledge-work as synonymous with office work. In this meme, work is by definition rote and repetitive, and has little need for invention or innovative thinking, little need for collaboration.

In the majority of analytic-minded organisations, the meme is different. Here, folks regard knowledge work as something akin to the “software factory”, where a set of rules, or processes, when followed, results in predictable outcomes and required levels of quality and functionality. Work is regulated and constrained and factory-like.

In synergistic organisations, the meme is different again. Here, the idea of knowledge work as some kind of Design Studio holds sway. Folks see the work as needing collaboration, inventiveness, discussions, and so on.

And finally, in some late-synergistic and chaordic organisations, the Design Studio meme gives way to the idea of work as a set of value streams. Although the physical environment may look much the same as with the Design Studio meme, at least to the untutored eye.



So where do the chairs come in?

I’ve seen it enough times to be able to intuit the kind of prevailing meme, and thus some indication of the prevailing collective mindset, through a simple observation of the physical workspace in which folks are working on a daily basis. Yes. I’m talking about the furniture.

Developers and other knowledge workers spend a lot of their time thinking, discussing and, yes, typing (amongst other things). Do these folks have the materials and equipment they need to do their job right? Is the workplace expressly optimised to enable folks to think well, discuss well, and type well?

The office-work meme lends itself to typing well. Not much else. And not for the long periods typical of developers. Where’s the care for folks’ health and well-being in many such workspaces?

The software factory fails to support any of these things, as far as I can see. Although maybe the managers believe it’s supporting their needs (hint: it’s not – at least not effectively).

The design studio kind of workspace serves to enabling thinking and discussing (at a marginal detriment to typing). Of course, its bohemian overtones are often offensive to the more widespread Analytic mindset.

And the value stream viewpoint, maybe supports all three. Note: I’ll not get into the relatively fine distinction between the value-stream perspective and the design studio perspective, here.

More generally, the organisation’s prevailing attitude towards effectiveness is reflected in the selection of furniture, the layout of the workspace, and other aspects of the materials and equipment available to support the workforce in their work.

Chairs – seating, in the broader sense – being the most instantly identifiable of these shibboleths.

Cheap office-style chairs indicate the office-work mentality, where either through ignorance or lack of concern, the workers’ productivity and welfare are of little import.

More expensive chairs – Aerons or some such – speak to some nascent awareness of the nature of knowledge-work, and concern for folks’ well-being.

An eclectic mix of “seating” – top-end desk chairs, bean bags, couches, standing- and walking-desks, and so on – can betray the Design Studio meme. (Although keep an eye out for tokenism, such as whacky kinds of seating – like balls and cushions – which may look funky but are ill-suited to actually sitting on for more than a few seconds.)

And the value stream meme can suggest seating carefully selected, and located – by the workers – and closely tied to the nature of the work at hand, at any given moment.

How’s your seating? What does it tell you about the prevailing attitudes to work, where you work?

- Bob

What An Effective Group Workshop Looks Like

I have this theory, based on long experience, that folks in most every organisation have little or no understanding of what “effective” looks like. From concept-to-cash product development, to simple workshops and meetings, and even one-to-one conversations, people lack a “standard” against which to compare their own efforts and experiences.

Absent such a standard, many folks seem to assume that they’re doing just fine. And absent an awareness of the scope for doing better, they seek little in the way of techniques or knowledge about how to be more effective. Nor do they often realise – beyond a certain low-key, nagging discomfort – just how much time, energy and opportunity they’re wasting through ineffective behaviours. Of course that’s not the whole story, what with systems that lead inexorably to disengaged people, and collective thinking patterns – a.k.a. mindsets – that underwrite systemic ineffectiveness.

My work with Rightshifting started from the premise that if folks acquired some simple understanding of their organisation’s relative ineffectiveness, they might choose to look, just a little, into the matter of effectiveness. I see few other practical ways to humanely advance the effectiveness of knowlede-work organisations everywhere. And to reduce the egregious waste of human potential we see in most every workplace today.

[Note: This is a draft. Some elements of the following story are not yet complete.]

A Story

This post is a story about what an effective workshop might look like, from the perspective of those folks participating in it. How much is it like the workshops you’ve participated in over the years?

The Newbie

Sandra was feeling apprehensive. The email had been brief. “From: Ellie Lomas at To: Sandra Hardy at Subject: Upcoming Product development workshop. Hi Sandra, We’d love for you to join in the upcoming Product Development Workshop on 17 October. This one-day event will be held in the Marcus Suite of the Brocade Hotel, near our offices. RSVP to reserve a place. You can always cancel later if the details make it appear unsuitable. Thanks, Ellie, Coordinator,”

She’d not been with BaCo long, and didn’t know quite what to expect. The date was still a month away, though, so she made a mental note to talk with some of her colleagues about things.

Over coffee later, she broached the subject with Dave and Rasheeda. “So, I’ve been invited to next month’s Product Development workshop. Have you been on these kinds of thing before?”

Rasheeda smiled. “Yes. I was in a Skilled Dialogue workshop last month. And I’ll be attending this Product Development thing next month, too.” Dave nodded his head as if to say “And me.”

“Did you have the orientation around workshops as part of your induction?” “Oh, um…yes.” said Sandra, recalling that part of her induction week, but not quite remembering what the workshopping section has covered. “I’ve got the notes. I’ll check and remind myself about what we covered.”

Dave laughed. “Yes. They pack a lot into Induction Week, don’t they? Not much of it sticks, I guess. Still, back when I joined we had to figure most of it out for ourselves as we went along. It’s only been for the past six months or so that newbies have had the advantage of a formal Induction Week.”

Sandra couldn’t help but reflect admiringly on the way BaCo had grown its staff support services as its business had grown. She’d not seen that kind of care and attention to fundamentals in the other companies she’d worked for. I gave her a warm and fuzzy feeling, and strengthened her belief that she had made the right choice in accepting the job.

Back at her desk with a second cup of coffee, she browsed through the material from her Induction Week. Ah. Here it was. Workshopping. And her notes on the topic.

“At BaCo, we thrive on folks collaborating. But we’ve found that few folks know how to collaborate effectively. Exploration of the experience of working together, and opportunities to develop skills through both classroom practice and application in real situations can all help. We have regular courses in Skilled Dialogue, which you’re welcome to attend. And you will note in most meetings, workshops and other group sessions within BaCo a certain style of interactions, born of people wanting to see that everyone gets the very best out of the meeting or session.”

She skip-read a few paragraphs until she found the heading “Workshops”. She began reading more intently.

“When you accept a place in a workshop, you’ll receive a list of references – books, articles, videos, and the like – which might help you start thinking about the workshop topic, and give you some entry points into the subject matter. Most often this will include a few general, standard references to workshop-related topics as well as references directly relevant to the topic of the particular workshop at hand.”

“Presently, for all workshops in BaCo, we invite you to have read ‘More Time To Think’ by Nancy Kline and ‘Crucial Conversations’ by Patterson et al.. And more generally, many folks in BaCo are familiar to some extent with the work on e.g. Skilled Dialogue of folks like Argyris, Bohm and Isaacs, too. (See specific references at the end of this section).”<

This was a lot of information in a few paragraphs. No wonder it hadn’t really stuck during Induction Week. Sandra wondered if there were any courses on Skilled Dialogue scheduled soon. It seemed like an idea to attend one, if possible, before the Product Development workshop.

She began typing: “From: Sandra Hardy at To: Ellie Loma at Subject: Any Skilled Dialogue courses soon? Hi Ellie, I was just wondering if there were any Skilled Dialogue courses scheduled before the upcoming Product Development Workshop you’ve invited me to? Thanks, Sandra Hardy, Product Owner,” and hit “send”.

A few minutes later, a new email mail popped up her Inbox: “From: Ellie Lomas at To: Sandra Hardy at Subject: Re: Any Skilled Dialogue courses soon?” She was about to go for lunch, but opened the email to read. “Hi Sandra, unfortunately our next Skilled Dialogue course is not until. 24 October. I was already in the process of inviting you to that as a new starter.  You’ll be receiving your invitation next week.  Here’s a list of upcoming course, including those for Skilled Dialogue. [Elided] Please note you can also find the live list on our intranet at <link>. Please also note that the syllabus for each course is included in the course details, to help you decide how relevant it might be to your needs. Thanks, Ellie, Coordinator,


Walking down to the company restaurant, Sandra considered her quandary. Would it be better to decline the Product Development workshop invitation until she’d had the chance to learn something about Skilled Dialogue? Or accept and just go along anyway? She didn’t want to look stupid in front of her new colleagues, nor waste their time stumbling to participate without the necessary skills.

“You’re looking a bit pensive” said Rasheeda, as they walked together into the restaurant. “Penny for them?” “I’m just wondering whether to accept the invite to the workshop next month, given how little I know about BaCo workshops in general, and Skilled Dialogue in particular. Oh. You said you’ve been on a Skilled Dialogue course recently. What do you think?”

Rasheeda thought for a moment then smiled reassuringly. “Remember one of BaCo’s mottos: ‘There’s value in implementation and taking action. There are many things one doesn’t understand – why not just go ahead and take action; try to do something?”

“Ah, I kinda remember that from Induction Week”, said Sandra, still wondering if she could risk imposing on her coworkers’ time. “I guess you’re worrying about wasting people’s time? Don’t be. People understand that newbies need to find their feet. Everyone’s going to make allowances, and help you out” said Rasheeda.

“And don’t forget, there’s a lot of self-study material, and pointers to resources about Skilled Dialogue, and many other topics, on the BaCo intranet.”

“I hadn’t thought of that. Guess I’ve not got into the BaCo ‘taking the initiative’ way just yet. It’s hard to throw off old habits”, said Sandra. She sighed, but felt excited too, about the prospect of taking an active part in learning something for herself about Skilled Dialogue.

The Learning Starts

After lunch, Sandra dug into the intranet and searched the web, looking for materials and resources on Skilled Dialogue. The intranet had some pointers to some intranet forums where BaCo folks discussed related ideas and topics, shared articles, and generally explored the subject together. She recognised some of the names of forum posters as nearby co-workers.

She also spent some time on Twitter, asking her communities about Skilled Dialogue – and received some helpful-looking references. One in particular caught her attention: “Teaching Smart People How to Learn” by someone called Chris Argyris. She downloaded the PDF to her tablet, making a mental note to read it on the train home.

At the end of the day, she was feeling tired but energised, having made a start in understanding the whole subject of Skilled Dialogue. She was already beginning to see how it could make meetings and workshops go smoother. She had one last thing to do before putting on her coat.

She found Ellie’s email from earlier in the day, and hit “reply”. “From: Sandra Hardy at To: Ellie Lomas at Subject: Re: Upcoming Product development workshop. Hi Ellie, thanks for the invite – and your help with Skilled Dialogue course schedules. I’m delighted to accept the invite to the upcoming Product Development Workshop on 17 October. Thanks, Sandra Hardy, Product Owner,”

The next morning, over breakfast, Sandra found a new email from Ellie waiting for her: “From: Ellie Lomas at To: Sandra Hardy at Subject: Upcoming Product development workshop – Acceptance and Informations. Hi Sandra, Happy to hear you’ll be joining the Product Development Workshop on 17 October. Here’s the advance information going out to all attendees:

For: Sandra Hardy

Specific to this workshop: The topic for the one-day workshop is “Product Development”. In this workshop, we’ll be covering the future direction of Product Development at BaCo – that’s to say, how we believe we can most effectively take new ideas – for whole new products, for little incremental additions to out existing products, and everything in between – and turn them into things which our customers will love – and love to pay for.  We know we’ve a ways to go, and that there’s much scope for making this kind of work work better. Here’s a list of references to some relevant books, articles, etc. you might like to take a look at in advance, in preparation for the day:

Note: All books are available via our BaCo company credit account at

Relevant authors include: Bill Deming, Russell Ackoff, Peter Drucker, Peter Senge, Donella Meadows, Allen C Ward, Michael Kennedy, Tom Gilb, John Shook, Jeffrey Liker, Don Reinertsen, John Gall, Douglas McGregor, Taiichi Ohno, Eliyahu Goldratt, John Seddon, Eric Ries, Steve Blank.

Relevant disciplines include: Systems Thinking, Lean Product Development, TPDS, Lean Startup, Theory of Constraints, Product Development, basic Queuing Theory, Hoshin Kanri, Scenario Planning, Value Streams, Value Stream Mapping, the Kano Model.

Relevant links include: <links>

Also please note that you can share in advance, with other attendees, topics and ideas you feel might be useful to explore together on the day. We suggest Twitter as the medium for this, the hashtag is #bacopd17.

General: Attendees at previous workshops have found that a working knowledge of and practice in Skilled Dialogue makes BaCo workshops more effective, a better use of everyone’s time, and results in more insights, actions, mutual exploration and learning.

Here’s a list of references to some relevant books, articles, etc. you might like to take a look at in advance, in preparation for the day:

Relevant authors include: Chris Argyris, Bill Noonan, Patterson et al., William Isaacs, Nancy Kline, Patrick Lencioni, Sir John Whitmore, Nonaka & Konno, David Bohm, Peter Senge.

Relevant disciplines include: Skilled dialogue, thinking together, team-building, team coaching, ba.

Relevant links include: <links>

You are registered for this event. Also registered are: Steve Wilson (Facilitating), Dannie Jones, Uppad Misra, Claire Leeson, Rigali Mussolo, Dave Walbrook, Nick Carty and Ken Prather. You can find the live list of registered attendees here: <link>

Thanks, Ellie, Coordinator,”

“Jeez!” Sandra gasped to herself. She suddenly felt overwhelmed. So many books. So many authors. So many disciplines. Almost all of them she’d not even heard of before. And I’m an experienced Product Owner?

Comes The Day

By the day of the workshop, Sandra was feeling all read out. She’d studied Lecioni’s teambullding model and his ideas on better meetngs, Noonan’s book on discussing the undiscussable, and Nancy Kline’s work on Thinking Environments. Coaching For Performance has opened her eyes to the potential in people. William Isaac’s stories had inspired her with the power of productive dialogue. But she felt like a total novice, even so. So many more references to follow up. So much knowledge yet to explore. She didn’t know how she was going to cover it all in a lifetime, let alone in the months or years she might be working for BaCo.

And there was the whole other domain of Product Development to cover. She’d believed she knew lots about that. And now, she wondered if she knew anything about that, either. But she knew one thing. She knew she’d found something she loved. At school, study had seemed dry and pointless. But now, to her utter amazement, she had discovered she did have a love of learning. Was this some kind of BaCo conspiracy? Did they know this was one effect of their encouragement to learn? Was it a deliberate and cunning ploy to exploit the workforce? It sure didn’t feel like exploitation.

She bumped into Dannie on the walk to the hotel. “Morning.” “Morning, Dannie.” “Looking forward to it?” Sandra thought about that. “Excited. And daunted.”

They’d reached the revolving door at the entrance to the hotel’s lobby. The conversation paused as they separated to go through the spinning glass and steel. “Ah, I can remember that feeling” said Dannie, taking a deep breath and smiling. “Quite a challenge.”

They followed the BaCo signs to the conference room. Half a dozen other BaCo folks were there already, hanging their coats and stashing their bags. One of the guidelines for BaCo workshops was to avoid using laptops. Several folks already had their tablets or smartphone out and were connecting to the hotel Wifi. The large screen showed the BaCo logo, the title of the day’s workshop, and a clock ticking in the lower corner.

“Welcome”, said “Bruce” – Sandra guessed, a hotel employee, by his badge and his dress. “Tea or coffee?” “Thanks” said Sandra, moving to take a cup, tea bag, and hot water from the urn on one of the side table.

While she was adding the milk to her tea, Ellie walked in, carrying a box under her arm. “Stationery and stuff!” she exclaimed, putting the box down on a side table towards the front of the room. “Get it while it’s hot! Everybody help themselves, as you need to.”

Sandra guessed most of the attendees had arrived by now. Most were chatting in groups of twos and threes, some animatedly, some more relaxed. She walked over to where Dannie was chatting with a dark-skinned woman. “Sandra, you know Uppad? She’s working on the Logix product at the moment.” They exchanged greetings. Sandra was unsure as to how to continue the conversation, but Uppad helped her out. “So you’ve been here a month now? Getting into the swing of things?” Sandra thought about saying no, about sharing her awe at the amount of stuff she now knew she didn’t know, but was cut short by Steve, the facilitator, tapping the bell for the room’s attention. “It’s two minutes to Nine, so who’s for getting started?” Everybody took their seat and most opened their Twitter apps. Some tweeted what Sandra guessed as a few words about the start of the workshop.

“Ok, how do we want to start?” asked Steve. “Do we want an amanuensis stroke cybrarian?” asked Nick. “If so, who’d like to do that?” Sandra had read about this role, and spoke up. “I’d like to do it. Except I don’t know much about it. Would it be OK to have a newbie?”

“Ah” said Nick. “All you have to do” he said, tilting his head down and looking up at her with a wry smile “is to tweet things that might be interesting for the group here, and maybe for other folks across BaCo, too. Our hashtag today is up there next to the Wifi code. He pointed to an A2 Post-it stuck to the wall with “#bacopd17” written on it. Tweet things like references to any key ideas that get mentioned, or any insights that emerge. Saves us all each writing our own notes. Also, we’ve found it’s handy to have topical images, book covers, quotes, notes, etc. visible on the big screen. Oh, and you might find using that laptop – with its keyboard and screen – more convenient than your tablet. Being our amanuensarian might help you pick things up quicker than just sitting quietly and listening?”

“Anyone else burning to do it?” asked Steve.

No one seemed keen to deny Sandra the opportunity, so she moved over to the vacant seat at the laptop controlling the big screen. Once seated, she called up a browser in one window and projected it onto the screen for all to share, whilst opening twitter in another, shared window, showing the live #bacopd17 hashtag stream.

“Ok.” said Steve. Do we want an agenda? “How about just throwing some topics onto some post-its, and choosing as we go?”

“Everyone nodded.” The Lean Coffee – like format was well-know and well-liked amongst those present.

“First – standard – topic is ‘Why are we here?’”. How about we make a start on that whilst we have some time to note what we’d each personally like to cover today?

Steve wrote something on a Post-It and stood to place the note on the flip chart. “Why are we here?” Sandra knew enough about this format of meeting to start the timer counting down the eight minutes they’d spend on the topic. The countdown appeared, discreetly, in one corner on the big screen.

Each person in turn shared their reasons for attending the workshop, speaking about how they were feeling being there, what they thought they needed to get out of the day, and any requests they had in that regard. Each also spoke to their shared common purpose for the workshop. Sandra noted how everyone appeared to have spent some considerable time thinking about these things in advance. She had been using the #bacopd17 hashtag stream as a window into such thinking for a week or two previously.

As each person talked, the others listened intently, looking down occasionally to make a note or two. And Sandra, as amansuensarian, trawled through the hashtag stream for more candidate topics – those that had been tweeted over the past few weeks.

Although Sandra has been at some dozen BaCo meeting since her first day, she was still very struck by the no-nonsense, matter-of-fact way in which everyone in BaCo meetings just got right down to it. Idle chat, off-topic conversations and pleasantries were conspicuous by their absence. Everyone listening carefully, processing what they heard, and only so very occasionally speaking in response to something said. She could clearly see the influence of Nancy Kline’s work in action.

Choosing a Topic

[Choosing a topic - tbd]

Every time someone mentioned an idea or reference that she felt deserved special attention and sharing, Sandra would google for it and display some likely helpful information or image on the big screen. All the while, the twitter stream was updating in near real time with tweets from within and without the room.

[Illustrate engagement and constructive conflict - tbd]

And the Day is Done

“It’s a wrap!” Steve exclaimed. Everyone smiled. And sighed. It had been a long day. And the workshop wasn’t over yet. Everyone stood, gathered their possessions, bags and coats. As they filed out of the room, a few lingered to discuss this or that.

On her train home, Sandra reflected on her first BaCo workshop. It had been a good choice, volunteering as the amanuensarian. She’d learned a lot, through having to look up references, thinking about what to display on the big screen, and keeping abreast of both the twitter stream and the conversation in the room. The amanuensarian role had helped in making more of it stick.

She took her smartphone and scrolled back through the day’s twitter stream. Plenty there to catch up on and delve deeper into over the next few days. And folks not present in the meeting had contributed some interesting stuff too. Even some folks outside of BaCo. She followed everyone who had contributed something.

She replied to or retweeted a few of the day’s tweets, before relaxing into her seat and listening to some tunes, as the train rocked along, homeward.


A Model

The above story illustrates a range of features of an effective workshop:

  • Certain shared proficiencies in e.g. Skilled Dialogue, Lean Coffee, etc..
  • Pre-reading (shared), including “standard” texts – here including Nancy Kline and Chris Argyris.
  • Clarity of purpose “just why are we here?”.
  • Shared purpose “we’re all here for the same things”.
  • Folks tweeting and googling continuously during the workshop.
  • Amanuensis / cybrarian to facilitate shared learning in the workshops.
  • Democratic agenda-setting.
  • Mutual exploration of topics.
  • Active curiosity.
  • “Essentiality” – avoidance of rabbit-holes and extraneous discussion of details.
  • Focus on impacts (as compared to busyness, or outputs, or even outcomes).
  • Post-reading – following up new references.
  • Follow-up conversations, actions.
  • Feedback.

- Bob


In writing this story, it seemed to me that a video of a workshop in action would be a great addition to the resources available to BaCo staff to help them appreciate the nature of an effective workshop. Maybe one day I’ll have the opportunity to write and/or direct such a video.

Further Reading

What is Dialogue? ~ Susan Taylor (pdf)

You’re Not As Effective As You Think

Statistically, it’s very likely that you overrate the effectiveness of your organisation.


The above chart shows two distributions.

The blue curve – the Rightshifting curve – shows the distribution of knowledge-work organisations vs effectiveness. Note the median is at 1.

The red curve shows how organisations typically rate themselves re: effectiveness.

The Dunning-Kruger Effect

The Dunning-Kruger effect says that unskilled individuals will rate themselves and their abilities higher than is accurate. I have regularly seen this happen in groups – such as companies and the like – too.

“If you’re incompetent, you can’t know you’re incompetent. […] the skills you need to produce a right answer are exactly the skills you need to recognize what a right answer is.”

~David Dunning

The key consequence to this is that these kinds of unskilled groups believe they are doing much better than, in fact, they are – and thus will see much less reason to put effort into improvement, seeing the gains to be had as marginal.

Note also that highly skilled individuals and organisations tend to rate themselves and their abilities lower than is accurate. In other words, organisations that have things working effectively tend to believe that other organisations have things working fairly effectively, too.

What To Do

How might we begin to do something about this over-estimation of effectiveness by the vast bulk of (ineffective) organisations out there?

“…grossly incompetent students improved their ability to estimate their rank after minimal tutoring in the skills they had previously lacked, regardless of the negligible improvement in actual skills.”

In other words, this suggests organisations that invest in minimal exposure to how more effective organisations work will begin to improve the accuracy of their estimates of their own effectiveness. And thereby gain a better picture of the significant benefits to be had from improving things.

So, even though you’re unlikely to believe just how ineffective your organisation presently is, just a little investigation and learning might tell you otherwise.

This premise – that folks would see more point in improving things if only they knew how relatively ineffective their organisation was – is what spurred my work on Rightshifting, as a public awareness campaign, in the first place. And continues to energise me and the whole Rightshifting community.

- Bob






Becoming a more effective organisation (company, business) necessitates a whole passle of far-reaching changes. It starts – more or less – with mindset, of individuals, and of the collective. But the ripples spread out across the face of the organisation into all its corners.

Just one of these many corners is the compensation scheme.

The Americans call it compensation, in the UK we call it salary, wages, pay or rate. I like the word compensation. It reminds me that paying people is more about compensating them for all the crap they have to put up with in their eternal struggle to do even a half-decent job, than it is about paying them for the job itself. I’ve long held the opinion that for people who’re doing a job they love, getting paid for it is an irrelevance. Although we all have to keep a roof over our heads, of course.

In the typical Analytic organisation, the basis and rationale for compensation is rarely if ever discussed. It’s one of the many “givens” that brook no discussion. Some widely considered bases for compensation include:

  • Piecework – pay by the unit of output.
  • Time – pay by the hour or day.
  • Fixed rate – pay by the month or year-divided-by-12.
  • Bonus – Additional pay for qualifying Individuals or groups, often contingent.
  • Equity – a share in the success of a product or company.

And most Analytic organisations have a byzantine structure of pay-grades, bands, etc. where folks have to “slot in” dependent on various factors such as age, seniority, time with the company, etc..

The Agile Way

In adopting, say, Agile software development (a toe-in-the-water approach to shifting towards a Synergistic mindset), compensation rarely changes its status to “discussable”. There arises a troubling dissonance around:

a) The long-standing assumption that pay is a motivator.
b) A dawning realisation that pay is not a motivator.

And the basis for compensating e.g. developers is rarely included in the Agile adoption agenda.

If we took it seriously, of course (the Agile adoption, that is), then compensation would perhaps get considered along with the technical practices, self-organisaing teams, changes in job title and roles, etc.. Not as a direct motivational factor, but as something that impacts on folks’ sense of fairness, and thus their attitude, morale, and, ultimately, productivity (via discretionary effort).

Follow the Dominoes

If we follow of the whole line of dominoes to the end, then we might realise that:

  • Most folks are far more sensitive to what’s fair, than to other aspects of compensation policy.
  • As the system (the way the work works) accounts for 95% of an individual’s productivity, then maybe making 95% of an individual’s compensation contingent on the way the work works might make sense. At least, consider making a connection between an individual’s compensation and their contribution to the way the work works (although that contribution is governed by the system, too).
  • Self-organisation, turned up to 11, means teams organising their own compensation, too.

At Familiar, we took a simple Occam’s Razor approach to cut through all this. We chose to believe that only the person in question had an unequivocal understanding of their own needs, vis-a-vis compensation, and of their own work/contribution/value-add. So, in line with the Antimatter Principle, each person got to set their own compensation level/rate/terms. That seemed to work pretty well.

Would you be willing to begin making this topic discussable within your organisation?

- Bob

Why Corporates Can’t Change

Why do Analytic-minded organisations (e.g. the typical Corporate) keep trying to change yet repeatedly fail?

∵ belief in the utility of violence
∴ belief in the utility of command (and control)
∴ belief that change can be commanded (1)

∵ belief in the utility of extrinsic motivators
∴ belief that change can be effected through extrinsic motivation (2)

∵ extrinsic motivators reduce performance – longer term, and in knowledge work
∴ use of extrinsic motivation to effect change longer term, and in knowledge work, fails (3)

∵ people’s behaviours are a product of their beliefs about how to get their needs met
∴ people’s behaviours change when their beliefs about how to get their needs met, change

∵ people will not change their beliefs just because they are commanded to do so
∴ people cannot change their behaviours just because they are commanded to do so
∴ commanding people to change fails (4)

∵ belief in change through command (1) and/or extrinsic motivation (2)
∵ change through extrinsic motivation fails (3), commanding people to change fails (4)
∵ no knowledge of other means to effect change
∴ corporates can’t change

Simply put, collective belief in ineffective strategies stymies corporate change initiatives, every time.

- Bob

Further Reading

What’s A Manager to Do? ~ Think Different blog post


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