The Marshall Model

Or to give it its full title: “The Marshall Model of Organisational Evolution” – subtitled “Dreyfus for the Organisation”.

I’ve written elsewhere about how this model came to exist. There’s a White Paper introducing the actual model. And there are some online videos which, if you have the time, explain in some depth the basics of the Marshall Model and how it relates to the core ideas of Rightshifting.

Here I present a brief overview of the Model, to whet your appetite.

The chart below illustrates the complete Marshall Model, as an overlay on the basic Rightshifting (blue) curve:

Simply put, the Model explains how the effectiveness of any knowledge-work organisation is a direct function of the kind of mindset shared collectively by all the folks working in the organisation – managers, executives and employees, all.

effectiveness = f(mindset)

The chart illustrates how these mindsets progress in a series of punctuated equilibria, from least effective (“Adhoc”, steel-blue, left-most slab) through “Analytic” (purple) and “Synergistic” (grey) to most effective (“Chaordic”, green, right-most slab).

The chart also illustrates the “transition zones” interleaved between each mindset (the three orange “walls”). It’s these zones that lie at the heart of the explicative power of the Marshall Model. See e.g. “The Improvement ROI Sawtooth” for the role these zones play in organisations’ attempts to improve – a.k.a. “Rightshift”.

Heterogeneous or Homogeneous?

Some folks question the validity of the model on the premise that organisations do not often have a shared, common, homogeneous mindset. SImply, I suggest that the well-tested idea of cognitive dissonance, when applied to organisations in-toto, make it impossible for organisations to have anything other than a homogenous mindset (with a half-life of around nine months).

Further Reading

The Dreyfus Model of Skills Acquisition – Wikipedia entry
Business Case for Better Software Practices ~ Steve McConnell (pdf)

22 comments
  1. Hey Bob, if you’re going 3D, then you should crop the image so it’s more readable in the post :-)

  2. David said:

    “make it impossible for organisations to have anything other than a homogenous mindset”. I think it depends on how you define the boundaries of an “organisation”. I have certainly encountered very different mindsets within different departments of the same company (even within the same building) – but presumably one could argue that these are different organisations? However, this risks tautology: one could end up simply dividing up the organisation into groups that think alike and declaring these groups to be sub-organisations…

    • Hi David,

      Thanks for joining the conversation. This particular aspect of the Marshall Model is perhaps the most problematic for me.

      The suggestion of homogeneity correlates with my personal experience in the dozens of organisations I have seen. I do accept that others may have had different experiences.

      But I also wonder whether the potential disagreement might be down to different definitions of “mindset”. Did you read my post explaining how I’m using the term in this context? http://flowchainsensei.wordpress.com/2012/07/24/what-is-a-mindset/

      I’m not saying that folks don’t see the world of work differently, as individuals, within a given organisation. What I am saying is that despite their own opinions and beliefs, there appears to be a dynamic (driven by i.e. organisational cognitive dissonance) which means that everyone conforms, in their observable behaviours, to a homogeneous world-view of how work should work. And woe betide anyone that appears dis-conformant (many have written about this as the “organisational antibodies” phenomenon).

      Your experience?

      – Bob

      • David said:

        Hi Bob, thanks for your reply.

        I have read your “What is a mindset” post, and watched your ACE “Alienation” presentation; I would now agree more with your homogeneity statement, yet not entirely. The differences I have seen are probably relatively small on your scale, however – just straddling the Analytic/Synergistic boundary. I think that certain conditions may sometimes enable a degree of dissonance to survive for a very long time. However, your point about _observable_ behaviours is important; people will often conform to a majority mindset in one context, and only express their “true” mindset in a more sympathetic context.

  3. Very interesting piece of work Bob, which I have stumbled across late, I think. I also appreciate the introduction to the Dreyfus model, and I like the concept of organisational therapy.

    I was struck by the similarities between your organisational model and the work by David Rooke and Bill Torbert (itself based on Suzanne Cook-Greuther’s work on adult development) on action logics. In particular it seemed to me that the progress to the right in your model and through the stages in Action Logics are predicated on the capacity of the individual/organisation to assimilate and articulate complexity.

    Just wondered if you saw any connection and whether you would agree with the observation?

    By the way, I also liked your heroes page – there is not much that is truly original and without influence from other thinkers, and it is right to pay homage to people who influence ones thinking.

    Thanks for making me think, David

    • Hi David,

      Thanks for joining the conversation.

      I can’t see any direct connection between Action Logics and the Marshall Model, not least because the one seem to be about individuals and their leadership style, and the other about the collective mindset of an entire social group aka organisation. I’m open to exploring the question further, of course.

      I do note that organisations further to the right seem to have a more evolved sense of complexity and its relevance to the way they think about their organisation.

      Oh, and btw, I’m pretty much over the whole leadership thing these days. Fellowship seems much more like the way for organisations to go, for me.

      – Bob

  4. agile_ilona said:

    Hi Bob,
    Could you elaborate a little your thoughts about Fellowship. What could it mean for organizations; maybe an example?

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