The Evolution Of An Idea

Many people have expressed an interest in learning more about the evolution of Organisational Psychotherapy. This post attempts to go back to the roots of the idea and follow its twists and turns as it evolved to where it is today (January 2020).

Familiar

Around the mid-nineties I had already been occupied for some years with the question of what makes for effective software development. My interest in the question was redoubled as I started my own software house (Familiar Limited) circa 1996. I felt I needed to know how to better serve our clients, and grow a successful business. It seemed like “increasing effectiveness” was the key idea.

This interest grew into the first strand of my work: Rightshifting. I had become increasingly disenchanted with the idea of coercive “process” as THE way forward. I had seen time and again how “process” had made things worse, not better. So I coined the term Rightshifting to describe the goal we had in mind (becoming more effective), rather than obsessing over the means (the word “process”, in my experience, conflating these two ideas).

“Rightshifting” describes movement “to the right” along a horizontal axis of increasing organisational effectiveness (see: chart). Even at this stage, my attention was on the organisation as a whole (and sometimes entire value chains) rather than on some specific element of an organisation, such as a software development team or department.

Circa 2008 I began to work on elaborating the Rightshifting idea, in an attempt to address a common question:

“What do all these organisations (distributed left and right along this horizontal axis) do differently, one from the other?”

Subsequently, the Marshall Model emerged (see: chart). Originally with no names for the four distinct phases, categories or zones of the model, but then over the space of a few months adding names for each zone: “Ad-hoc”, “Analytic” (as per Ackoff); “Synergistic” (as per Buckminster Fuller); and “Chaordic” (as per Dee Hock).

These names enabled me to see these zones for what they were: collective mindsets. And also to answer the above question:

Organisations are (more or less) effective because of the specific beliefs and assumptions they hold in common.

I began calling these common assumptions and beliefs a “collective mindset”, or memeplex. This led to the somewhat obvious second key question:

“If the collective mindset dictates the organisation’s effectiveness – not just in software development but in all its endeavours, across the board – how would an organisation that was seeking to become more effective go about changing its current collective mindset for something else? For something more effective?”

Organisation-wide Change

Organisation-wide change programmes and business transformations of all kinds – including so-called Digital Transformations – are renowned for their difficulty and high risk of failure. It seemed to me then (circa 2014), and still seems to me now, that “classical” approaches to change and transformation are not the way to proceed.

Hence we arrive at a different kind of approach, one borrowing from traditions and bodies of knowledge well outside conventional management and IT. I have come to call this approach “Organisational Psychotherapy” – named for its similarities with individual (and family) therapy. I often refer to this as

“Inviting the whole organisation onto the therapist’s couch“.

I invite and welcome your curiosity and questions about this brief history of the evolution of the idea of Organisational Psychotherapy.

– Bob

Further Reading

Memes Of The Four Memeplexes ~ A Think Different blog post

Reflective Questions

At this time of year, it seems customary to take a moment to reflect on things. As an aid, please allow me to invite you to reflect on some or all of the following questions, either by yourself or in the company of others:

  • How relevant has joy (and flourishing) been in your life in the past year? Is that something for just yourself, for your loved ones, or for folks more widely?
  • What was the biggest source of joy in your life in the past year? Does that suggest any kind of change of focus from where you choose to focus you attentions presently?
  • Who matters to you (including yourself)? And how much are you in touch with these folks’ needs?
  • How often in the past year have you made some kind of (refusable) request of people around you in the pursuit of getting some of your needs met? Did you feel able to explain your needs in any detail?
  • What groups and/or communities have you felt an affinity for? How in touch are you with the collective needs of these groups or communities? Are you moved to attend to those needs?
  • Can you recall any specific instances where you were the victim or perpetrator of violence (in the broadest sense)? How did that make you feel? Did the violence achieve its intended result? Were there consequences?
  • Can you recall any occasions in the past year where you felt some special or peculiar empathy with other(s)? Did you have the opportunity to express or share that feeling with anyone?
  • In the past year, how often have you really talked (spoken openly and listened fiercely) with others?
  • Did you experience any epiphanies in the past year?
  • Do you feel you found some answers to questions that have long been nagging at you, in this past year?
  • What part has spirituality played in your life this past year? Do you imagine you’d be happier with more (or less) spirituality in your life in the future?
  • Do you recall occasions in the past year where you’ve acted from the heart, out of non-judgemental (and non-romantic) love? How did that go?

I wonder how you respond to these questions – I’d love to hear about those responses.

– Bob

Discretionary Effort

“Discretionary effort” is a term often uses to describe the extra effort that some folks choose to put into whatever they’re doing. In the context of the workplace, it can mean things like working extra (unpaid) hours, attending to things outside of one’s immediate responsibilities, helping folks in addition to doing one’s own work, and so on. It’s a close cousin of that bête noire of organisations everywhere: “Employee engagement”. (Engaged employees are those employees who, amongst other things, contribute by way of discretionary effort).

I’ve worked with numerous managers and executives that ache to see more discretionary effort from their people. But discretionary effort is just that – discretionary. At the discretion of the folks involved.

When folks choose to put in extra hours, they do so because they’re motivated to do so. Sometimes this motivation is intrinsic (e.g. joy or pride in the work), and sometimes it’s extrinsic (e.g. bonuses, praise, threats – whether real or implied, etc.).

Of those managers and executives I’ve worked with, none have understood the psychology behind discretionary effort. Many have tried to incentivise it or exhort their people to greater discretionary efforts. Few have sought the psychological roots of intrinsic motivation (for which see e.g. Dan Pink’s book “Drive” – which explains these roots as “autonomy”, “mastery” and “purpose”).

Aside: Intrinsic motivation, and the conditions which help it to emerge, is the hallmark of the Synergistic mindset, and conspicuous by its marked absence in the working conditions fostered by the Analytic Mindset – Cf. the Marshall Model.

If we but think about it for a moment, extrinsically-motivated discretionary effort is not actually discretionary at all (although we do all have a choice in the face of workplace violence). Extrinsically-motivated extra effort is coerced, forced, obliged – or done for the reward(s), in which latter case it’s not “extra”, unpaid, effort per se.

So, real discretionary effort, much sought after as it is, is down to intrinsic motivation only. And as my popular post “Six FAQs” explains, we cannot coerce or force intrinsic motivation. We can but set up the conditions for intrinsic motivation to happen, and thereby hope for discretionary effort to emerge.

We can’t change someone else’s intrinsic motivation – only they can do that.”

And, by extension, we can’t increase someone else’s discretionary effort – only they can choose to do that.

So, if like so many other managers and executives, you’re aching for more discretionary effort, what will you do about it? What will you do about understanding the psychology behind intrinsic motivation, and about creating the conditions for intrinsic motivation to emerge?

– Bob

P.S. I’ve conscious chosen to NOT explore the morality – and rationally – of expecting employees to contribute “free” hours above and beyond their contractual terms of employment. I’d be happy to pen another post on the pressures of business, and in particular the pressure of the “runway” – a common cause of such urges for “Beyoncé time”-  given sufficient interest and demand.

Further Reading

What exactly is Discretionary Effort? ~ Jason Lauritsen (blog post)

Your REAL Job

Students of Ackoff and Deming will be aware of Deming’s First Theorem:

“Nobody gives a hoot about profit.”

W. E. Deming

This reminds us that senior executives are demonstrably less interested in the welfare of the organisations they serve than in their own well being.

“Executives’ actions make sense [only] if you look at them as taken in order to maximise the executive’s well being.”

~ Russell L. Ackoff

Of course, it can be career-limiting to bring this issue to general attention. As the well-known psychiatrist R D Laing said:

“They are playing a game. They are playing at not playing a game. If I show them I see they are, I shall break the rules and they will punish me. I must play their game, of not seeing I see the game.”

~ R. D. Laing

And yet, if we look at the implications for “doing a good job” – a preoccupation of many in employment, we can draw the following conclusion:

We’re doing a good job when we’re maximising our executives’ (our bosses’) well being. We’re not doing a good job when we ignore that in favour of focussing on e.g. making the company successful or profitable. This probably rings true with you if you but think about it, in your own context, for a few moments.

This underscores a hidden reality for many: our declared job is a FAUX job. Our REAL job is undeclared, unexamined, unspecified – and being good at THAT is therefore a matter of pure dumb luck and random chance. How often do you have a conversation with your senior executives about how you might contribute to maximising their well being? How can we attend to their needs – as folks that matter – without such a dialogue?

– Bob

Further Reading

Nobody Gives a Hoot About Profit ~ The W. Edwards Deming Institute Blog post

Getting Started as an Organisational Psychotherapist

A number of folks have asked me recently about my suggestions for getting started in Organisational Psychotherapy, i.e. as a practitioner (a.k.a. therapist).

This post sets down a few pointers in that direction.

Blog Posts and Books

I’ve written many posts over the past five years and more exploring the subject of Organisational Psychotherapy from various viewpoints. More recently, I published a book on the subject, which I regard as foundational in the field of Organisational Psychotherapy. The book is titled “Hearts over Diamonds” and you can find it on LeanPub (ebook version), the Apple book store (also an ebook), and in print form at Lulu.com.

To find all the Organisational Psychotherapy posts on my blog, you can use the Organisational Therapy category link, or search for e.g. “Organisational Psychotherapy“ using the WordPress search feature.

Other Entry Points

To reduce the likelihood of anchoring your own practice to my personal perspective, you might like to first enter the field via routes other than my blog posts and books. When I started, I hadn’t written anything on the topic (obviously), so I myself started with:

  • Reflections on the core purpose of what I I only later came to call Organisational Psychotherapy (particular the foundational question, see “Foundations”, below)
  • Research into some of the many schools of individual therapy (for example, the work of Carl Rogers, Marshall Rosenberg, Virginia Satir, etc.), and the nature of therapy in general
  • Reflections on my own experiences of being “in therapy”
  • Selection of a few key schools of therapy, schools which particularly resonate with you
  • Reflections on repurposing individual therapies to the field of Organisational Psychotherapy
  • Practical application in client engagements (these were, for me, mainly coaching-type engagements, at the outset)

A Game Plan

I’m pretty sure you’ll want to formulate your own “game plan” for acquiring skill, experience, and capabilities in the field of Organisational Psychotherapy. For myself, my game plan has consisted of a repeating alternation between reflection and practise, reflection and practise.

Foundations

How have I arrived at my relationship with Organisational Psychotherapy today? Having been in the world of software development, and the business of software development, for more than forty years, I’ve come to see that any significant progress towards increased effectiveness depends on organisations fundamentally shifting their collective assumptions and beliefs. You can read about this via Rightshifting, and the Marshall Model.

Given this, the question becomes:

“What kind of intervention could help organisations and their people with uncovering their existing, collectively-held, beliefs, assumptions and attitudes? With discussing those, seeing the connection with their business and personal problems and challenges, and doing something about that?”

My own personal answer to this question is, nowadays, Organisational Psychotherapy. In the context of getting started, I invite you to find your own question (or feel free to adopt mine), and then search for your own answer.

– Bob

What Is A Customer?

In the world of Agile, and the world of business too, we hear a lot about “customer value”. Folks seem to have some kind of handle on “value” (although not everyone can agree on that one – see my post “What Is Value” for my take, based on Goldratt and his Theory of Constraints).

And for the record, we might also choose to frame the question of value within the Antimatter Principle frame, and vocabulary:

Value: The degree to which folks’ needs, in aggregate, are being (or have been) met.

But what about “customer”? So simple and straightforward. Do we even need to define it? I thought not, until a recent conversation on Twitter gave me pause for reconsidering. Specifically, the idea that maybe folks are talking at major cross-purposes, with significantly differing assumptions and definitions for the term. If we can’t agree on a basic term like “customer”, what chance alignment of a whole host of fundamental questions about software, products and business generally?

Here’s my definition, again using the Antimatter Principle as a frame:

Customer: Someone (could be either a person, or a collection of people) whose needs we’re attending to.

I’m pretty sure you’ll have a different definition of customer. I’d love to hear your take.

Before I close this post, here’s a different definition, informed by Crosby and his Zero-Defects (ZeeDee) approach to quality:

Customer: Anyone who receives or anticipates receiving something (e.g. a good or a service) from someone else.

This definition canonises Crosby’s idea that we’re all customers. And we’re all suppliers, too. And as suppliers, it falls to us to ensure that what we’re supplying is what our immediate customer needs to supply their customer(s).

– Bob

OP 101

I note I have a tendency to explain things in detail or at length without necessarily setting down the fundamentals of an idea. This post attempts to set down the fundamental of OP – Organisational Psychotherapy. (For the details, or a lengthy tour through the subject, there’s a whole passel of other posts on this blog, plus my recent book “Hearts over Diamonds”).

Tl;Dr

The performance of any knowledge work organisation is a function of its collective assumptions and beliefs about work. Significant improvements to organisational performance requires a fundamental shift in these assumptions and beliefs. Organisational Psychotherapy makes this shift both feasible and economic.

The Basic Premise

The basic premise of Organisational Psychotherapy is that the performance of any and all knowledge work organisations is a function of the collective mindset of the organisation. For significant improvements in the performance of the organisation, the collective mindset has to undergo a step-change.

P = ƒ(Collective mindset)

Collective Mindset

In Organisational Psychotherapy, “collective mindset” (a.k.a. collective or shared memeplex) we mean “the set of assumptions and beliefs held in common by more-or-less everyone in the organisation”. Assumptions and beliefs concerning work, and how work should work (i.e. how work should be organised, directed and managed).

This set of assumptions and beliefs held in common are rarely held consciously, more often existing below the level of consciousness of the organisation and its individuals, both.

Culture

We often call the manifestation of the collective mindset the “culture” of the organisation – the typical behaviours and actions of individuals and groups driven, subconsciously, by their underlying, commonly-held, assumptions and beliefs.

The Performance Challenge

Many organisation may be happy with – or at least resigned to – their status quo. These organisations do not seek to understand the roots of organisational performance. For the fewer number of organisations that do seek to improve their performance, questions such as “what makes for better performance” and “what could we do to improve performance” begin to surface.

The challenge, then, for this latter group of organisations, is to find some levers to pull, levers by which to affect the organisation’s performance in the desired direction(s).

Some yet fewer number of organisations may come to understand the connection between their collective mindset and their performance – current and aspirational. For these organisations, the challenge becomes:

“How can we shift our collective assumptions and beliefs in a direction – or directions – that support our aspirations for e.g. improved performance?”

Organisational Psychotherapy

So to the main focus of this 101 unit:

How might those organisations that see the connection between their collective assumptions and beliefs, and their performance, go about shifting those assumption and beliefs?

For individuals faces with this challenge in their daily lives (“How might I as a person go about having a happier or more productive life? How might I shift my assumptions about relationships, people, myself, etc. to see that come about?”), psychotherapy is one option they may consider, and thence embark upon.

So it is with organisations. Asking themselves the question:

“How might I as an organisation go about having a happier or more productive life, see improved performance, greater success?”

leads to the challenging question:

“How might I/we shift my/our collective assumptions and beliefs about relationships, people, myself/ourself, etc. to see that come about?”

At this point, Organisational Psychotherapy is one option the organisation may consider, and embark upon.

The Bottom Line

Until recently, organisations have not had the option of Organisational Psychotherapy. Even now it’s an option little known and still in its infancy. So organisations have been constrained to other options, such as tackling the above question “How might I/we shift my/our collective assumptions and beliefs about relationships, people, myself, etc.” from within their own resources, or with the aid of e.g. external consultants. Not being well-versed in the fields of Organisational Psychotherapy, psychology, sociology, group dynamics, etc., this path can consume much time and attention, many resources, inflate business and reputational risks, and generate high levels of waste and stress. Witness: the huge number of business books on organisational change, Digital Transformation, and so on.

Organisational Psychotherapists offers a degree of competency in these fields (psychology, sociology, group dynamics, etc.) not natively present in most organisations. This competency eases the path to the kind of change (or shift) they seek, saving time (time is money), missteps, reducing the risks, and lowering stress levels for all involved.

A Request

Whether you have found this explanation of the fundamentals of Organisational Psychotherapy useful or useless, I would be delighted and thankful to hear your comments and questions.

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