Monthly Archives: November 2012

Developer Chops

I don’t get to do much development these days, what with all the study I’m putting into Organisational Psychotherapy and Rightshifting, keeping up meaningful connections and helping folks out where I can via e.g. Twitter, and now looking for a paying gig, or even a job.

And it’s hard to convince myself that I should consider development work, when I feel there are other areas where I can add a lot more value.

But I do keep my hand in, especially with Python, Javascript (mainly server side) and e.g. CouchDB, just for my own amusement, and to keep abreast of some of the current trends.

Aside: I was quite busy with the building of a prototype for Newsmice + Dyphoon, earlier in the year.

All that notwithstanding, I have in the past often had to consider folks for developer positions, and would have benefited in that task from some kind of Developer Competency Matrix – as a starting point for some conversations about development topics. CVs just don’t work well in that regard. (Another reason for my NoCV campaign).

So both as an example and as a starting point for conversations, I’ve just added a page to this blog with my own Developer Competency Matrix – something that’s been lying around on my hard drive for a couple of years now.

I wonder how other folks present their development skills and experience? And how, when you’re hiring developers, you like to start a conversation about the art?

– Bob

Agile Tour Riga 2012 Report

I presented the post-lunch keynote session in Riga, Latvia for the Agile Tour RIga 2012 conference last Thursday. This is my overview of the conference in general.

Firstly, the people. I enjoyed the welcoming, friendly vibes from all the organisers, speakers and attendees alike. The venue – Hotel Islande – was a very grand and new hotel and conference centre. The conferencing seemed well-sorted, but other aspects such as break-out areas, a functioning bar, and general support for helping meaningful conversations happen failed to meet my needs.

The Morning Sessions

I found much to like in the opening keynote by Andrea ProvaglioThe Beating Heart of Agile“. He and I seem to be much on the same page on many matters, excepting perhaps why the Elves leave.

i spent the remainder of the morning in the Scrum Lego City Game run by Martin von Weissenberg. More on that in a separate post, later.

After a somewhat rushed lunch (the day’s schedule seemed to take on a life of its own) it was my turn.

My Session

Whilst being introduced – as an Organisational Psychotherapist – I noted the same low-level mirth (a.k.a. tittering, sniggering, or maybe nervous laughter) that I have remarked upon in a previous post. For me, this has ceased to be troublesome and has moved to being very intriguing. I’m sure it contains some deep truth, waiting to reveal itself.

The session itself was intended to be a “beginners'” introduction to Rightshifting, and as such several people expressed their satisfaction with the material.

I mentioned “Parrot Cages” once, but I think I got away with it.

[More soon]

You might like to take a look at the slides, or read more about the Marshall Model.

The Afternoon Sessions

I had wanted to listen to Piotr Burdylo, but the session was so packed that I opted for the session on Chef instead. This was probably a mistake as this was essentially an introduction to Chef, and having spent some months with Chef already, was looking for some insights into the Chef madness. In particular, I’d still like to understand the core design principles behind the tool. Are there any?

The closing keynote was by Matthias Skarin on “Continuous Improvement, Beyond Retrospectives”. Not exactly keynote material, I thought, but congruent nevertheless with my views on the role of experiment in finding improvements.

Due to my travel and the length of the conference day itself, I was sufficiently whacked to skip the post-conference party in favour of a quiet dinner with Mattias and Andre Heie Vik in the hotel. My apologies to anyone that had hoped for a chat in the evening.

Overall Impressions

Overall, I was impressed by the attentiveness of the audience and their eagerness to learn – as well as by the commitment of the speakers and organisers both. I also had the impression that the Latvia community is relatively isolated from the mainstream Agile community and the knowledge therein. A simple show of hands illustrated either a hesitancy to raise one’s hand, or a widespread unfamiliarity with what many in the global Agile community these days take as givens: Ackoff, Deming and Goldratt to name but a few.

The day as a whole also usefully reminded me just how many folks seem to be still struggling with the very basics of software development, things like programming , delivering the right thing, engaging people in their work, and so on.

Would I recommend you attend next year? Definitely. And one tip to make it even more useful: Do some homework before you go. I’d love to hear e.g. how many attendees had read one or more of the speakers’ blogs, looked at their Goodreads page or followed them on Twitter before coming along on the day?

– Bob

Better Conferences – Revisited

As I put together my notes for the upcoming Agile Tour Latvia 2012 conference next week, I’m reflecting back on a post I wrote earlier this year (in March) titled Better Conferences. This post was based on my experiences at, and general dissatisfaction with, some number of conferences I had attended in 2011 (as an invited speaker).

Whilst very appreciate of being invited, I expressed in the post how, for me, conferences in general, and software conferences in particular – although at the better end of the spectrum – place too much emphasis on presentation sessions (“push”) and too little on interaction, dialogue, and, well, conferring:


[kuhn-fur]  verb, -ferred, -fer·ring.

verb (used without object)

  1. to consult together; compare opinions; carry on a discussion or deliberation.

[C16: from Latin conferre  to gather together, compare; from com- together + ferre to bring]

At the time of writing, quite a few folks expressed some sympathy and fellow-feeling with that point of view.

Well, my general dissatisfaction remains at about the same level, although the ACE Conference 2012, and Lean Agile Scotland 2012 were a small step in the right direction, I thought. I guess it’s just that much easier to stick with the old ways.

You may notice I’ve been at fewer conferences recently. That’s both because I’ve been invited less, and because I’ve avoided them more. The latter not least because I’ve chosen to avoid folks whose “conversations” I find entirely unidirectional, like David Snowden, Jurgen Appelo, and Stephen Parry.

I feel my level of attendance is likely to decrease further, which is a shame as each conference does at least provide some opportunities for conferral and dialogue. But the effort/reward equation – particularly as I see myself as an introvert – just seems to continue moving in the wrong direction. In a nutshell, too many presentation sessions, too few opportunities for quiet, considered, thoughtful dialogue and meaningful connections.

So if you’ll be at Agile Tour Latvia 2012, or the Scandinavian Developer Conference 2013, I’ll be so much happier if you come up to me and exchange views, tell me about yourself and your hopes, fears, feelings and issues – and generally just confer. I’ll be doing just that. In quiet corners. And, to the extent that it’s possible, in my “presentations” too.

– Bob


Adrian Segar, author of Conferences That Work, got in touch to let me know about his website, including various free downloads. Might be worth taking a look.


Organisational cognitive dissonance. That’s a bit of a mouthful, isn’t it? And a bit of a weird concept to get one’s head around, too.

It seems like many folks skip over the whole idea, which I feel is unfortunate, as OrgCogDiss lies at the heart of why Agile adoptions – and other transformative change initiatives – fail so often, and can cause such angst.

Before we talk about OrgCogDiss, let’s look at the related idea of the Organisational Psyche. You’ve heard the story of the research with monkeys and a banana? This illustrates how a group can evolve to the point where some of its beliefs are in some way independent of the beliefs of the individuals in the group. There is much written on the collective psyche, but the general idea relevant here is that a group can somehow posses a “psyche” – much like that of an individual, but independent from the individuals constituting that group, and by extension, organisation.

Aside: As an organisational psychotherapist, I work primarily with this so-called organisational psyche.


OrgCogDiss becomes relevant in times of change. Let’s lay out the kinds of organisational changes where this is so:

These are the kinds of organisation-wide changes which imply a change of perspective, a change of world-view, a change of belief on the part of folks in the organisation. In Rightshifting, we call this a transition from one mindset to another. This kind of change happens less frequently than e.g. incremental change where prevailing belief systems are not called into question.

For example: Many organisations believe in the value and efficacy of a command hierarchy; in the role of professional managers as the planners of the work, as advised by F W Taylor in the early twentieth century:

“Divide work nearly equally between managers and workers, so that the managers apply scientific management principles to planning the work and the workers actually perform the tasks.”

Some people, however, may come to believe something different. That self-organisation of e.g. teams offers a more effective way of getting things done. As this idea spreads through an organisation, some folks will shift their beliefs and adopt the idea, others will still retain the ‘old’ idea that a split between managers and workers is necessary, or simply “common sense”.

At this time, when the organisation is “in transition”, the two belief systems will contend within the organisation. Individuals may fall into one camp or the other on this issue, but the organisation as a whole has two dissonant ideas in play – inside its ‘”collective psyche” – at the same time.

Each camp will, over time, come to see the other as in some way “alien” and unnatural (hence the headline image to this post). This contention is what sets up a state of cognitive dissonance. Not in the individuals necessarily, but in the organisation as a whole. Et voilà: OrgCogDiss.

There’s much research to show the effects of cognitive dissonance on individuals. Less so for the effects of OrgCogDiss.


The issue of transition is compounded by the observation that when an organisation is in transition, it’s rarely just one idea, concept or belief that’s in flux. Rather, it’s much more likely that a whole passel of interlocking ideas are in flux together. Some folks call such interlocking and mutually reinforcing sets of ideas “memeplexes“.

This means that in a transition, the challenge is to replace one memeplex with another, wholesale. And complete the transition before OrgCogDiss forces an unhappy, but inevitable, resolution. Approaching doom can sometimes be deferred or delayed though e.g. a skunkworks approach or French Letters, but rarely avoided.


OrgCogDiss is sufficiently disruptive, disturbing and stressful that it will resolve itself. Typically with a half-life of around nine months. That’s to say, over some sample population of organisations suffering from OrgCogDiss, some 50% of them will have resolved the situation within nine months, 50% of the remainder in another nine months, and so on.

How does OrgCogDiss resolve itself? Usually in one, or some combination, of these six ways:

  • The new memeplex fails to achieve critical mass within the organisation. A tipping point is not reached, and the organisation reverts to its original, pre-transition memeplex:
    • Some folks who have, individually or in small groups, embraced the new memeplex are unable to give it up and return to the old beliefs, and now see the rest of the organisation as irredeemably alien and stupid. These folks therefore soon choose to exit the organisation.
    • Some folks who have embraced the new memeplex are unable to give it up and return to the old beliefs. The rest of the organisation sees them as irredeemably alien and disruptive, and therefore soon forces them to exit the organisation.
    • Some folks who have embraced the new memeplex are unhappy to give it up, but feign doing so to remain with the organisation. This feigned abandonment is a continual source of regret and demotivation for them, and of ongoing stress within the organisation (OrgCogDiss converts into individuals’ cognitive dissonance).
  • The new memeplex succeeds in achieving critical mass within the organisation. A tipping point is reached, and the organisation adopts the new memeplex across the board:
    • Some folks reject the new memeplex, unable or unwilling to give up their old beliefs, and now see the rest of the organisation as irredeemably alien and crazy. These folks therefore soon choose to exit the organisation.
    • Some folks rejected the new memeplex, unable or unwilling to give up their old beliefs. The rest of the organisation now sees them as irredeemably alien and outmoded, and soon forces them to exit the organisation.
    • Some folks reject the new memeplex, unhappy to give up their old beliefs. Even so, these folks choose to remain with the organisation, feigning adoption. Their feigned abandonment of the old ideas is a continual source of regret and demotivation for them, and of ongoing stress within the organisation (OrgCogDiss converts into individuals’ cognitive dissonance).


One implication of OrgCogDiss is that when embarking on a transition (whether intentional and planned, or accidental and ad-hoc), it can be helpful to approach it in such a way as to minimise OrgCogDiss. A broad-and-shallow approach – whether incremental or big-bang – might prove more helpful in this respect than a narrow-and-deep approach. Adam Kahane writes about this in his book “Solving Tough Problems“. He relates his experiences in helping build a post-apartheid South Africa, noting how a flock of flamingos rises from a lake, slowly, but together, in harmony.

Another implication is that we might choose to use the power of OrgCogDiss – for it is indeed very powerful – to our advantage in accelerating the inevitable resolution, making it succeed (or fail) as quickly as possible. No business wants to be in a state of transition for any length of time, even though the prize for a successful attempt is huge.

– Bob

Further Reading

Managing Transitions ~ William Bridges

What Shall We Do with the Project Managers?

(To the tune of “What Shall We Do with the Drunken Sailor“).

I speak regularly in front of project managers. I phrase it thus because we rarely have a dialogue. I fully accept that I must appear like some crazed loon from their perspective. It’s mutual. Sigh. Our views on the world of work seem somewhat – erm – different (cough).

Back in August I posted an Open Letter to the Project Management Community, making a plea for a little more mutual compassion and understanding of our differences.

And before that, in April, I wrote about the distinction between Management and Managers. Like Eisenhower’s take on plans and planning:

“In preparing for battle I have always found that plans are useless, but planning is indispensable.”

~ Dwight D. Eisenhower

I see much need for “project management” in the effective organisation, but good reasons not to have project managers doing it.

Existing project managers do not define the system in which they must work. In most cases they are as much prisoners of “the system” – the way the work works – as everybody else. In some ways, more so, given their “accountability”. So let’s not blame them or start telling them what they should do or must do to adjust to the new world of work.

Instead, let’s listen to what they need. Coz I’m pretty sure that they’re not getting much of what they need as things stand.

And while we’re doing that, let’s explore that new world of work I just mentioned. How about we talk together about where their skills, experience, and – most of all – talents and strengths can best serve their needs and the needs of the organisations in which they work. Here’s some scene-setting…

Regard and Respect

I’m all for celebrating folk’s strengths and talents. With creatives and developers, this happens fairly regularly. Although not as regularly as perhaps we – and they – might like. I tweeted recently:

Of course, as things stand in most organisations, with Project Managers the (often reluctant) policemen and disciplinarians of the piece, this seems unlikely. How might we change the way the work works such that discipline becomes intrinsic rather than extrinsic, and the need for coercion, compliance and that whole nine yards transmutes into something much more collaborative, something more like fellowship?

Of course, it’s not all going to happen overnight. But doing some (joint) planning might help everyone handle the inevitable uncertainty and consequent unease that often accompanies change. And by preserving a sense of agency, maybe we can help enhance folks’ well-being and feelings of security too.

It’s not only the project managers that are facing change – just about everyone will be involved – impacted – in such changes. How about we call them stakeholders?

When we’re considering the future, these are just some of the issues we might like to make discussable. Are they yet discussable in your organisation?

– Bob


I’ve chosen not to open up that other can of worms related to project management, here – the whole question of doing away with projects entirely, in favour of a more flow-oriented approach, like e.g. FlowChain. See the Further Reading section (below) for Grant Rule’s paper exploring the topic.

Further Reading

What’s Wrong with the Project Approach to Software Development? ~ Grant Rule
Compassionate Communication ~ Marshall B. Rosenberg
Jackal And Giraffe Language ~ High Branch Ideas
Discussing the Undiscussable ~ William R. Noonan
Principles of Product Development Flow ~ Donald G. Reinertsen

Seven Reasons Why Every Business Needs a Therapist

It’s probably fair to say that few – other than regular readers of my blog – have ever heard of the term “Organisational Psychotherapy“. And of those who have heard it, there may be many who assume they already know well enough what it means.

This post describes the benefits offered by “organisational therapy”, and invites you to consider to what extent other approaches – such as consulting or coaching – might cover the same ground.


The purpose of the organisational therapist is to improve the well-being of an organisation. As Martin Seligman observes:

“An absence of poor health is not the same as good health.”

~ Prof. Martin Seligman

The proponents of positive psychology say that poor health and good health are not just opposite ends of a spectrum – they are two independent spectra. And although many organisations are undoubtedly in very poor health from a psychological point of view, I believe therapy delivers the greatest benefits when it focuses on improving good health.

Following the idea of Obliquity, popularised by John Kay, the Organisational Therapist is not concerned with the effectiveness of the organisation per se, nor productivity nor bottom-line results. Rather, these desirables follow obliquely as a natural consequence of the increased good health and well-being of the organisation as a whole. Lencioni’s recent book “The Advantage” explores this connection in depth.

Benefits of Therapy

  1. Increased Positive Emotion
    Increasing the positive emotion in an organisation brings higher levels of peace, gratitude, satisfaction, pleasure, inspiration, hope, curiosity and love. One of the most common issues for people working in commercial organisations is the lack of “soul” and “humanity”. Many organisations today see emotion as something to be suppressed or avoided – as somehow “unprofessional” and “inappropriate”.

    “Research shows us that conscious attempts to suppress or avoid thoughts, feelings, or memories will actually increase their intensity. So if you try to suppress an emotion, memory, or thought that you don’t like, it will just come back to you in spades. It’s another paradox: You can’t control which feelings, thoughts, memories, or sensations show up in the first place, but you can make them much worse by trying to suppress them.”

    ~ Kirk Stroshal and Patricia Robinson

    Organisations that take a more progressive view of positive emotion and its role in the workplace offer a more enjoyable experience for everyone. Life can be less stressful, and work can have more “meaning”. People can embrace their humanity and their engagement with their work. Retaining existing staff and attracting new talent both become easier as the organisation becomes a more attractive place for talent to work. A focus on improving positive emotion can also lead to higher EQ, a key element in handling ongoing change.

  2. Connection with a Higher Purpose
    Living a meaningful life is, in essence, related to attaching oneself to something larger than oneself. Many organisations provide their people with little in the way of a meaningful higher purpose, or ways to connect with it. A shared sense of purpose brings alignment of people, a compelling vision, and general sense of direction and well-being. All these positive attributes in turn contribute to a healthier and more productive business.

  3. Engagement
    Achieving a state of flowor total engagement is quite natural, especially when people are involved in activities they love. And although natural, it’s sadly all to often absent from peoples’ working lives. It’s hard enough to create the conditions for “flow” that many organisations leave it to chance, or ignore it entirely. And then there’s the wider question of folks’ general “engagement” in and commitment to their work. We all know about the epidemic that is the lack of engagement in work. When an organisation attends to engagement (both in the sense of flow, and in the broader sense) people accomplish much more, and feel much happier, too.

  4. Positive Relationships
    For many, work is central to their lives because of the relationships they form and share. Man is a social animal, and work provides an almost universal opportunity for “being social”. All too often though, organisations create situations where relationships degenerate into negativity and alienation. A healthy organisation provides for positive relationships, friendships and fellowship, and reducing unhelpful conflict, stress, and anxiety. This scope for positive relations also extends to customers and clients, helping the business do more business.

  5. Accomplishment
    Accomplishment helps to build self-esteem and provides a sense of achievement.  It also strengthens self-belief. Rightshifting illustrates how under-achieving are most organisations today. There is a virtuous circle of accomplishment and self-belief which can shift organisations to incredible levels of performance. Not only do most organisations fail to realise anything like their potential, this under-achievement means most or all of their people are wasting a great deal of their innate potential, too.

  6. Culture Management

    “The thing I have learned at IBM is that culture is everything.”

    ~ Louis V. Gerstner, Jr., former IBM CEO

    “Culture eats strategy for breakfast.”

    ~ Peter Drucker via Mark Fields, President, Ford Motor Co

    More and more business leaders recognise the fundamental roie of culture – or, more accurately, mindset – in the success of their organisations. But how to effect a culture-change? Few have any experience in this, nor many tools to help. This one thing, beyond all the other benefits of therapy, stands out.

  7. Life Skills for the Individuals
    With all this talk about the benefits of therapy for the organisation as a whole, let’s not overlook the benefits of working to achieve improved organisational health for the folks involved. Being involved with therapy, learning and seeing how it works,  offers folks a way to acquire and enhance their own life skills, appropriate to all aspects of their lives.


Can we leave a change of thinking to chance? Hope fondly that it will just happen? Expect it to take place as a byproduct of other actions? Appoint a “thought czar” or some other single wringable neck?


“If we want to change what we have been getting, then we will have to change what we have been thinking. Otherwise, nothing will change.”

If we want to see a collective change of thinking in our organisations, therapy offers an effective means to making that happen. Every business, every organisation, needs a therapist.

– Bob

French Letters

I have on occasion described the benefits of keeping an Agile team from intimate contact with the rest of the organisation as like “wrapping the team in a condom”.

Why would we wish to do this? Surely intimate contact is a good thing? Fnarr.

The answer lies in the idea of organisational cognitive dissonance. This is the feeling of unease, even pain, that comes from an organisation having two conflicting world-views in play (inside its collective consciousness) at the same time.

For example, a successful Agile team within a more traditional organisation. An organisation that we might call “Analytic-minded”.

Keeping the two world-views (Synergistic and Analytic) apart by some artificial barrier,  like a metaphorical condom, can delay both the onset and severity of organisational cognitive dissonance. We can see this idea of separation, too, in the idea of the “skunk-works“, such as at Lockheed Martin.

Sometimes this can buy more time, time to spread the agile adoption beyond the team. Sometimes it’s no more than a coping strategy.

And of course it’s no substitute, in the long term, for a transition of the whole organisation to e.g. synergistic principles.

But it can serve to protect the team and the organisation both, from cross-infection of world-views, and the almost inevitable dissolution that typically follows.

– Bob

A Foolish Consistency

Many will be familiar with the epithet:

“A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds.”

~ Ralph Waldo Emerson

Fewer will know that it comes from Emerson’s essay, “Self-Reliance“, first published in 1841. Or that the text continues:

“…adored by little statesmen and philosophers and divines. With consistency a great soul has simply nothing to do. He may as well concern himself with his shadow on the wall. Speak what you think now in hard words, and tomorrow speak what tomorrow thinks in hard words again, though it contradict everything you said today. — ‘Ah, so you shall be sure to be misunderstood.’ — Is it so bad, then, to be misunderstood? Pythagoras was misunderstood, and Socrates, and Jesus, and Luther, and Copernicus, and Galileo, and Newton, and every pure and wise spirit that ever took flesh. To be great is to be misunderstood.”.

In the essay, Emerson is advocating the advantages of thinking for oneself, rather than meekly accepting the ideas of others.

Many other notable figures have railed against the foolishness of consistency. In such august company, i think we can pass on further such railings.

I’d like instead to raise and rail against a related foolishness:

“A foolish craving for certainty is the hobgoblin of the fearful, who when obtaining become the tearful.”

By which I mean those who rush to secure certainty in their world, should they achieve their wish, often end up lamenting the outcome.

“Be careful what you wish for” is another apt proverb that comes to mind.

Recent (neuro) scientific research has illuminated the human brain’s innate hunger for certainty:

“A sense of uncertainty about the future generates a strong threat or ‘alert’ response in your limbic system. Your brain detects something is wrong, and your ability to focus on other issues diminishes. Your brain doesn’t like uncertainty – it’s like a type of pain, something to be avoided. Certainty on the other hand feels rewarding, and we tend to steer toward it, even when it might be better for us to remain uncertain.”

So, just as Emerson noted our “foolish” hunger for consistency, neuroscience notes our “foolish” hunger for certainty.

A Topical Example

We might be forgiven for being surprised that a “progressive software startup” which, presumably, understand the perils of trying to tie down every little detail of requirements before embarking on the development of a product, should fail to grasp the perils of attempting to tie down every little detail of a job specification before embarking on recruiting for that position.

It’s like, the more important the position, the more certainty the hirers seek to assuage their hungry brains’ demand for certainty. Blind to the perilous implications.

Just as with Big Analysis Up Front for software development, BAUF for recruiting can lead to some unfortunate consequences:

  • Exclusion of the best candidates
  • Delays in finding even fairly-suitable candidates
  • Assumption that the eventual new hire is actually fit for the job
  • inclination to pigeon-hole the new hire, thereby demotivating him or her over time.
  • A job (position, role) not well-suited to the actual – as opposed to imagined – needs of the hiring organisation
  • De-emphasis on adaptability and flexibility as desirable new hire characteristics
  • Increased likelihood of hiring a narrow specialist (speciation, decrease in memetic diversity)
  • Unreasonable (stress-inducing) expectations of the new hire (cf Deming’s 95/5)
  • Lost opportunities for building mutual trust
  • Demotivation of the recruiters

Just as the world of software development has adapted to the brain’s cravings by e.g. adopting and evolving agile development principles, a more effective approach to recruitment might be to adapt, again. I’m thinking simple story cards, as placeholders for dialogue; I’m thinking making things visible; I’m thinking a focus on value; I’m thinking tests. Sounds familiar?

I’ve written on a similar theme previously, with the post Make Bad Hires!

This post has been brought to you by Lemons, and the wish to make lemonade.

– Bob

Further Reading

A Hunger for Certainty ~ Dr. David Rock
Thinking, Fast and Slow ~ Daniel Kahneman

The Organisation’s Therapy Experience

Paired with my previous post, this post reframes Carl Rogers‘ look at the client’s experience of therapy, from the perspective of the organisation-as-client.

Note: I find it more natural to use the pronouns “we/us/ourself” to indicate the organisation – its collective consciousness – here, rather than e.g. “I/me/myself”. Even though I do not intend “we/us/ourself”, in this context, to indicate the individuals inside the organisation.

The Client

The client (i.e. the organisation as a whole), for its part, goes through far more complex sequences – which we can only make suggestions about. Perhaps the organisation’s “feelings” change over time in some of these ways:

“We’re afraid of the therapist. We want help, but we don’t know whether to trust him. He might see things which we don’t know in ourself – frightening and bad things. He says he’s not judging us, but we’re convinced he is. We can’t tell him what really concerns us – but we can tell him about some past experiences which are related to our concerns. He seems to understand those, so we can reveal a bit more of ourself.

“But now that we’ve shared with him some of this bad side of us, he despises us. We are convinced of it, but it’s strange we can find little evidence of it. Do you suppose that what we’ve told him isn’t so bad? Is it possible that we need not be ashamed of it as a part of ourself? We no longer feel that he despises us. It makes us feel that we want to go further, exploring ourself, perhaps expressing more of ourself. We find him a sort of companion as we do this – he seems really to understand.

“But now we’re getting frightened again, and this time deeply frightened. We didn’t realise that exploring the unknown recesses of ourself would make us feel feelings we’ve never experienced before. It’s very strange because in one way these aren’t new feelings. We sense that they’ve always been there. But they seem so bad and disturbing we’ve never dared to let them flow in us consciously. And now as we live these feelings in the hours with him, we feel terribly shaky, as though our world is falling apart. It used to be sure and firm. Now it is loose, permeable and vulnerable. It isn’t pleasant to feel things we’ve always been frightened to face before. It’s his fault. Yet curiously we’re eager to see him and we feel more safe when we’re working with him.

“We don’t know who we are any more, but sometimes when we feel things, we seem solid and real for a moment. We’re troubled by the contradictions we find in ourself – we act one way and feel another – we think one thing and feel another. Some of us are not on the same page, contrary to how we thought we all were. It is very disconcerting. It’s also sometimes adventurous and exhilarating to be trying to discover who we are, together. Sometimes we catch ourself feeling that perhaps the organism we are is worth being a part of, and worth being – whatever that means.

“We are beginning to find it very satisfying, though often painful, to share just what it is we’re feeling at this moment. You know, it’s really helpful to try to listen to ourself, to hear what is going on in our collective consciousness. We’re not so frightened any more of what is going on in ourself. It seems pretty trustworthy. We use some of our hours with him to dig deep into ourself to know what we are feeling. It’s scary work, but we want to know. And we do trust him most of the time, and that helps. We feel pretty vulnerable and raw, but we know he doesn’t want to hurt us, and we even believe he cares. It occurs to us as we try to let ourself down and down, deep into ourself, that maybe if we could sense what is going on in us, and could realise its meaning, we would know who we are, and we would also know what to do. At least we feel this sense of knowing sometimes, with him.

“We can even tell him just how we’re feeling toward him at any given moment and instead of this killing the relationship, as we used to fear, it seems to deepen it. Do you suppose that could be  so with our feelings about other people and entities, too? Perhaps that wouldn’t be too dangerous either.

“You know, we feel as if we’re floating along on the current of life, very adventurously, being our authentic self. We get defeated sometimes, we get hurt sometimes, but we’re learning that those experiences are not fatal. We don’t know exactly who we are, but we can feel our reactions at any given moment, and they seem to work out pretty well as a basis for our behavior from moment to moment. Maybe this is what it means to be our authentic self. But of course we can only do this because we feel safe in the relationship with ourself and our therapist. Or could we be ourself this way outside of this therapy relationship? We wonder. We wonder. Perhaps we could. One day.”

– Bob

Further Reading

On Becoming a Person: A Therapist’s View of Psychotherapy ~ Carl Rogers
Client-Centered Therapy
 ~ Carl Rogers

The Organisational Therapist’s Experience

Carl Rogers wrote some inspiring, insightful, beautiful prose describing the experience of individual therapy, from the perspectives of both the therapist and the client. I have here re-cast his description of the Therapist’s Experience to describe my own feelings when working with an organisation – as its organisational therapist.

The Therapist

To the therapist, this is a new venture, an new instance of relating. The therapist feels:

“Here is this other organism. I’m a little afraid of it, afraid of the depths in it as I am a little afraid of the depths in myself.

“Yet as we meet, I begin to feel a respect for it, to feel my kinship to it. I sense how blind it is to itself and its ‘feelings’, and how frightening its world is for it, how tightly it tries to gain some understanding of itself and its place. To hold onto its sense of self.

“I would like to sense this organisation’s ‘feelings’, and I would like it to know that I understand its feelings. I would like it to know that I stand with it in its tight, constricted little world, and that I can look upon its world relatively unafraid. Perhaps we can together make it seems a safer world, in time.

“I would like my feelings in this relationship, with this organisation, to be as clear and transparent as possible, so that they are a discernible reality for everyone who is part of the organisation. A discernible reality to which they – and the organisation as a whole – can return again and again. I look forward to the experience of travelling together with the organisation on its fearful journey into itself, into the buried fear, and angst, and doubt, and love which it has never been able to embrace and explore by itself.

“I recognise that this is a very human and unpredictable journey for me, as well as for them, and that I may, without even knowing my fear, shrink away within myself, from some of the feelings it discovers. To this extent I know I will be limited in my ability to help them.

“I realise that at times its own fears may make the organisation perceive me as uncaring, as rejecting, as an intruder, as one who does not understand. I want fully to accept these feelings, and yet I hope also that my own real feelings will show through so clearly that in time the organisation cannot fail to perceive them.

“Most of all I want it to encounter in me a real person. I do not need to be uneasy as to whether my own feelings are ‘therapeutic’. What I am and what I feel are good enough to be a basis for therapy, if I can transparently be what I am and what I feel in relationship to them. Then perhaps the organisation can be what it is, openly and without fear.”

You might like to see also my next post, for the organisation’s (client’s) perspective on the therapy experience.

– Bob

Further Reading

On Becoming a Person: A Therapist’s View of Psychotherapy ~ Carl Rogers
Client-Centered Therapy
 ~ Carl Rogers

Individual vs Organisational Psychotherapy

My recent post on My Organisational Psychotherapy Toolkit turned out to be rather longer (more content) than expected. I had been meaning to include a paragraph or two on the challenges of adapting common therapy techniques – designed and tailored to the individual – for therapy related to the organisational psyche.

Organisational Psyche

Some folks have expressed skepticism about the very concept of an “organisational psyche”. I’d like to make a case for the validity of this concept, before getting on to the question of therapies tailored or adapted thereto.

Robert Kenney has written a extensive paper, laying out the scientific work on collective consciousness, although some may find his starting point somewhat “whacky”.

But I see the organisational psyche as slightly different from the more general idea of a “collective consciousness” – and not just a subset thereof. And quite different from, although informed by, e.g. Jung’s “collective unconscious“.

Group Mind, or Hive MInd a.k.a. collective intelligence is another concept with some connection to the idea of an organisational psyche.


I prefer to start my attempt at a definition with the concept of “psyche“.

“In psychoanalysis and other forms of depth psychology, the psyche refers to the forces in an individual that influence thought, behaviour and personality.”

~ Wikipedia


“In recent decades cognitive psychology has replaced psychoanalysis as the dominant school of psychology in academic centres. Some cognitive scientists prefer the word ‘mind’ over ‘psyche’.”

Aside: I am not opposed to the term “organisational mind” as an alternative to “organisational psyche”. Some folks choose to make a distinction between the two.

So, building on the above Wikipedia quote, I see organisational psyche thusly:

“Organisational psyche refers to the forces in an organisation that influence thought, behaviour and personality of the organisation as a whole.”

This invites some further comment:

First, what about the influence of the organisational psyche on the thoughts, behaviours and personalities of the components (sub-units and individuals) within the overall organisation? Such influence undoubtedly exists, and in reverse, too. But I choose to regard, for the purposes of organisational therapy at least, the thoughts, behaviours and personalities of the components as being distinct from the collective organisational psyche. I recognise the dilemma this “separation” raises. Perhaps one day I’ll get to a place where the dilemma dissolves. Until that day, I’ll live with it. And the way my head hurts when I think about it too much.

Second, what do we mean by “organisation”?


Such an everyday term. So easy to take it for granted. Here’s a short description in line with how I see the term in the context of organisational psychotherapy:

“An organisation is a social entity that has a collective goal and is linked to an external environment.”

~ Wikipedia

Interestingly, the word “organisation” derives from the Greek for “organ”. I like the idea that organisations are “organs” of our social body (society). I do not subscribe to the (common?) view that the “collective goal” of the typical organisation is simply to make money. I prefer Goldratt’s take on the question (c.f. “necessary conditions”).


So now to the question of therapy. If we accept – or choose to believe – that there is such a thing as an organisational psyche, then psychotherapy seems like it might be a reasonable term for the activity of working with – or “treating” – it.

psy·cho·ther·a·py  /ˌsīkōˈTHerəpē/
The treatment of mental or psychological disorders by psychological means.

Note that the root of the word psychotherapy means “healing the spirit”. What better term then for the work of healing the spirit – or soul –  of our organisations?

“Psychotherapy – in the field – is almost always concerned with improvement in the general functioning of patients.”

~ Martin Seligman


There are literally hundreds of different kinds of therapies used to treat individuals and their psyches. Many of these therapies have much research into their efficacy, some into their effectiveness, and some into the reasons why they work. Rather than invent new modalities of therapy specifically for organisations and the organisational psyche, I feel it makes more sense to adapt existing modalities of therapy to the organisational context.

As an example of such adaptation, consider Solution Focus. Solution Focus in its common form is about working with individuals, helping individuals (who may, incidentally, be members of a group) “identify the things that they wish to have changed in their life and also to attend to those things that are currently happening that they wish to continue to have happen.”

It’s not much of a stretch to see how tools/techniques from Solution Focus – such as the “Miracle Question” – can be repurposed to the organisation as a whole. Of course, asking a question of a whole organisation (or as a minimum, the components at the centre of consciousness thereof) is somewhat different than asking that same question of an individual. In fact, this is the reason I favour techniques for improving group dialogue skills.

– Bob

Further Reading

Psyche At Work: Workplace Applications of Jungian Analytical Psychology ~ Murray Stein and John Hollwitz
Mapping the Organizational Psyche: A Jungian Theory of Organizational Dynamics and Change ~ John G Corlett and Carol Pearson
Mass Collaboration – Wikipedia entry
The Goal: A Process of Ongoing Improvement ~ Eliyahu M. Goldratt
It’s Not Luck ~ Eliyahu M. Goldratt
The Effectiveness of Psychotherapy ~ Martin Seligman

Why Milk is Thicker than Water

I don’t know about you, but for all the years I’ve been thinking, doing and being Lean, I’ve always thought of flow in terms of water.

Until today.

We’ve known for a long time that inventory (here I’m talking about WIP, work-in-process inventory) costs money just through its very existence. We call that the carrying cost of inventory. Finished-goods inventory has a carrying-cost. As does WIP inventory.

Aside: Limiting WIP is not so much about reducing carrying cost as it is about reducing delays and increasing total throughput.

The idea of carrying costs comes of course from manufacturing. With large, stuffed warehouses, and piles of components on the factory floor, at least some of the carrying costs of manufacturing inventory are very visible.

In knowledge-work, where the flow consists of e.g. user stories (and learning), inventory is much less visible. And the perishability of that inventory can be a significant, although generally overlooked, issue.

Knowledge-work inventory has high perishability, due to a number of compounding factors, such as changing technology, changing market demands, changing regulatory environments, changes in staff, and so on.

Water’s not much like that. Water has low perishability. Folks rarely worry about the freshness of their water.

With milk processing, on the other hand, perishability is paramount.

So from now on when I’m thinking about flow, I’ll be thinking about milk. Lovely cool, fresh milk.

– Bob


The water analogy is much reinforced by the term “waterfall”. Apart from the issue of whether it’s better to use the term “Batch and Queue”, the “water” in waterfall has long served to further obscure the question of perishability.

Further Reading

The Principles of Product Development Flow ~ Don Reinertsen

My Organisational Psychotherapy Toolkit

When in a day of meetings last week, at one point we each introducing ourselves in a round-robin fashion. I naturally explained my chosen and preferred role these days – that of Organisational Psychotherapist. Given the room was full of software folks, I expected a few blank faces. What I did not expect was the ripple of schoolboy sniggering that ensued. Never mind. I learned something.

In the next break I was gratified – and my faith somewhat restored – in that some folks came up to me and asked some incisive questions about the concept of organisational psychotherapy. One of these questions was about the means and techniques at the disposal of the Organisational Psychotherapist. I responded by explaining about Positive Psychology and in particular Solution Focus. If I had had more time, I might have worked my way down the following list of the “tools” in my organisational psychotherapy toolkit:

Solution focus (Steve de Shazer and Insoo Kim Berg)

Solution Focus, borne out of the InterActional View studies at the Mental Research Institute, focuses attention on what’s been going right, on what works, and on what we should be doing more of. Its emphasis on taking small steps and keeping things simple means organisations can get started with it straight away.

The key principles of Solution Focus include:

  • Focus on solutions, not problems.
  • People already have the resources they need to change.
  • Change can happen in small steps.
  • Work with what you see – in-depth and up-front analysis offers few if any advantages.

Solution Focus derives from the talking therapy named Solution Focused Brief Therapy (one of a range of Brief Therapies). There’s also a great book “The Solutions Focus: Making Coaching and Change Simple” by Mark McKergow & Paul Jackson.

Further Reading

From the Interactional View ~ Carol Wilder

Dialogue (William Isaacs)

In his excellent book, Dialogue and the Art of Thinking Together: A Pioneering Approach to Communicating in Business and in Life, William Isaacs explains his experiences and methods regarding “The Art of Thinking Together”. Influenced by David Bohm’s work on dialogue (apparently) and making similar observations to Nancy Klein.

P.E.R.M.A. (Martin Seligman)

Professor Martin Seligman is one of the most famous living psychologists, having served as president of the APA in 1996, and making a number of important contributions to the field, including the learned helplessness conception of depression. He is also a pioneer in the field of positive psychology. According to Prof. Seligman, the PERMA acronym reminds us of five important building blocks of well-being and happiness:

  • Positive emotion
  • Engagement
  • Relationships
  • Meaning (a.k.a. purpose)
  • Achievement

Prof. Seligman also writes, in his book “Flourish” about PERMA and the Positive Business. His work with positive psychology provides a number of well-researched techniques for improving well-being, including:

  • What Went Well Today (Three Blessings)
  • Active and Constructive Responding
  • The Gratitude Letter
  • The Gratitude Visit
  • Strengths and Virtues (VIA Survey of Character Strengths )
  • The ABC of effective living

I believe many such positive psychology techniques, developed for the individual, have equal application in organisational therapy.

StrengthsFinder (Marcus Buckingham)

StrengthsFinder provides an assessment (online or via the book) of an individual’s key strengths. As an example, here’s mine from a few years back. The same principles (although not directly, the research) can be applied to an organisation. Just having people share knowledge about their strengths can help build understanding and strengthen relationships. This helps the process of organisational therapy.

Social Styles (Wilson Learning)

Social Styles provides a means for groups of people to relate to each other better, with actionable advice on how to modify one’s own natural communication styles to better suit others. Again, this can help build understanding and strengthen relationships. This helps the process of organisational therapy.

Clean Language (David Grove)

Clean Language is a personal therapy technique which focuses exclusively on the metaphors and vocabulary of the patient/client/questionee. The philosophy and principles underlying this are outlined in e.g. this paper.

“Many clients naturally describe their symptoms in metaphor, and we find that when the therapist simply enquires about these metaphors using their exact words, the patient’s perception of the issues begins to change.”

The “Full Syntax” of Clean language is very minimal, consisting of the following few “questions”:

  • And [their words].
  • And when [their words] …
    • what kind of [their words] is that [their words]?
    • is there anything else about [their words]?
    • that’s [their words] like what?
    • where is that [their words]?
    • whereabouts [their words]?

I myself generally start out with one more question:

  • Would you like something to happen / what would you like to have happen?

Aside: Finding NLP somewhat suspect these days, I see no reason to associate the two, excepting perhaps for historical reasons.

I am currently experimenting with the use of Clean Language in group situations. For example, using group metaphors to help a group to change its perceptions. Here, group can mean team, department or, ideally, the organisation as a whole.

Family Therapy (Virginia Satir)

Virginia Satir (1983) described the family as:

“An interacting unit that strives to achieve balance in relationships through the use of repetitious, circular, and predictable communication patterns.”

This sounds to me much like an organisation (a.k.a. a business). Satir saw the spousal mates as the architects of the family and contended that the marital relationship is the axis around which all other family relationships are formed. I see parallels in this with the organisation – with the executives and managers (or Core Group) as the (tacit) architects of the organisational psyche, and their (tacit) power structures as the axes around which all other relationships are formed. Thus organisational homeostasis is directly influenced by the power relationships in the organisation. Hence I find much in e.g. Virginia Satir’s approach to Family Therapy which applies (in a modified form) to organisational therapy. There’s a useful review of the field here.

Bohm Dialogue (David Bohm)

Bohm Dialogue is a technique invented by the noted physicist, philosopher and neuropsychologist David Bohm. His aim was for Bohm Dialogue to overcome or at least ameliorate the isolation and fragmentation he observed in society. I find it useful in helping to ameliorate the isolation and fragmentation we can all observe in most of our organisations today. Note: His prerequisites of equal status and “free space” can be difficult to provide in some organisations.

Further Reading

On Dialogue ~ David Bohm
Bohm Dialogue – Resource page at

World Café

The World Café method is “a simple, effective, and flexible format for hosting large group dialogue”. The fragmentation of the organisational psyche (amongst and between all the folks in an organisation) can make “treating” the organisation, as a whole, somewhat, erm, problematic. Hence the value of techniques for large group dialogue.

Further Reading

The World Café: Shaping Our Futures Through Conversations That Matter ~ Juanita Brown & David Isaacs

Nonviolent communication (Rosenberg)

Marshall Rosenberg created Nonviolent Communication, to help people exchange the information necessary to resolve conflicts and differences peacefully. “Violent” communication can weaken relationships and increase divisions within organisations. Nonviolent communication can therefore help strengthen relationships and reduce divisions.

“NVC is based on the idea that all human beings have the capacity for compassion and only resort to violence or behavior that harms others when they don’t recognize more effective strategies for meeting needs.”

~ Wikipedia entry

Further Reading

Nonviolent Communication: A Language of Life ~ Marshall B. Rosenberg

Cognitive Biases

I find it helpful to share the knowledge of our human fallibilities (biases in judgement and decisions-making) with the folks in an organisation. Wikipedia has an extensive list of cognitive biases. Many folks are unaware of the many ways in which the human mind can systematically deviate from rationality or good judgement. And even with awareness, we can often still sucker ourselves into making poor judgements.

One key aspect of effective organisational therapy is the organisation getting to understand itself better. Knowledge of the mores of the human brain is but one aspect of this journey towards enlightenment.

Further Reading

Thinking, Fast and Slow ~ Daniel Kahneman
Predictably Irrational ~ Dan Ariely

Action Science (Chris Argyris)

Chris Argyris‘s concept of Action Science begins with the study of how people design their actions in difficult situations. Although not strictly part of Action Science – which itself is more of a field than a tool – I use various “tools” from Argyris from time to time, including Ladder of Inference and Left-hand Column.

Cognitive Dissonance Theory (Leon Festinger)

Cognitive dissonance is the term used in modern psychology to describe the state of holding two or more conflicting cognitions (e.g., ideas, beliefs, values, emotional reactions) simultaneously. More specifically, the term refers to the sensation of unease or discomfort arising from such a state. Cognitive dissonance is one of the most influential and extensively studied theories in social psychology.

The idea of organisational cognitive dissonance is the collective-psyche analog of individual cognitive dissonance. I posit that an organisation can collectively suffer a sense of discomfort or unease when finding itself having to hold two or more conflicting cognitions simultaneously. One classic example of this is when an Analytic organisation finds itself host to an outbreak of alien, synergistic thinking during an Agile adoption or Digital Transformation.

Organisational cognitive dissonance theory warns that organisations have a bias to seek consonance among their cognitions. Much of what goes on in the organisation can be regarded as “dissonance reduction”.

Coaching for Performance (Sir John Whitmore)

In his popular book “Coaching For Performance“, Sir John Whitmore (a co-founder of the Inner Game Ltd.) argues for the use of effective questions to raise awareness and (self) responsibility. And, in the context of business coaching, for “a fundamental shift in management style and culture”. Some of the key tools I have used from this corpus, over at least the past 25 years, include:

  • ARC (Awareness -> Responsibility -> Commitment)
  • GROW (Goals -> Reality -> Options -> Will) Coaching Model (ex- Graham Alexander and Alan Fine)
  • Team Development Model (with exercises)

Much of this has direct application to psychotherapy at the organisational level.

The Inner Game (Timothy Gallwey et al)

The “Inner Game”, developed by Tim Gallwey and friends, suggests that an individual makes accurate, non-judgmental observations of what they are doing, so that the person’s body will adjust and correct automatically to achieve best performance. A staple of e.g. sports coaching, I have adapted this basic principle to the organisational context. I posit that if an organisation uses accurate, non-judgmental observations of what it is actually doing, it will (to some extent) adjust and correct automatically to achieve best performance. This seems to me congruent with the “make it visible” vibe of e.g. personal kanban.

Further Reading

Effective Coaching: Lessons from the Coach’s Coach ~ Myles Downey

Theory of Constraints (Goldratt)

The Theory of Constraints is a philosophy developed by Dr. Eliyahu M. Goldratt, for application in organisations wishing to change for the better. Whilst not addressing issues of organisational health directly, Theory of Constraints provides a number of “Thinking tools” useful to the Organisational Therapist, including:

  • Evaporating Cloud – a means to finding a resolution to conflicting points of view.
  • Current Reality Tree – a focussing tool to help understand problematic situations
  • Future Reality Tree – a means to explore the impact of proposed solutions
  • Negative Branch Reservations – a complement to the Future Reality Tree
  • Pre-requisite Tree – a means to plan the implementation of solutions

Note that much of the Theory of Constraints is congruent with various aspects of positive psychology.

Further Reading

The Goal: A Process of Ongoing Improvement ~ Eliyahu M. Goldratt
It’s Not Luck ~ Eliyahu M. Goldratt

Systems Thinking (Ackoff)

When dealing with whole organisations, and the collective organisational psyche, it makes little to no sense to work on parts of the organisation in isolation. Professor Russell L Ackoff created both Reference Projection and Interactive Planning as means to tackle whole-system change coherently.

Further Reading

Re-creating the Corporation: A design of organizations for the 21st century ~ Russell L Ackoff

Group Dynamics (William McDougall et al)

Group dynamics refers to a system of behaviours and psychological processes occurring within a social group (intra-group dynamics), or between social groups (inter-group dynamics). Group dynamics are at the core of understanding a range of social prejudices and discriminations. The history of group dynamics has a consistent, underlying premise: ‘the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.’ In organisational psychotherapy, this is a very congruent premise. The term was invented by Kurt Lewin (to describe the positive and negative forces within groups of people).

William McDougall was an influential early twentieth-century psychologist who wrote in his 1920 book, “The Group Mind“:

“We can only understand the life of individuals and the life of societies, if we consider them always in relation to one another. . . each man is an individual only in an incomplete sense.”

~ William McDougall, The Group Mind, 1920 (p.6)

Further Reading

An Introduction to Social Psychology ~ William McDougall
The Group Mind ~ William McDougall

Systems Archetypes (Senge)

System Archetypes, as describe by Peter Senge in his seminal book “The Fifth Discipline“, help people understand the interconnections and interrelations between e.g. the various parts of their organisation. We might compare this to the way in which neuroscience helps us understand the interconnections and interrelations between e.g. the various parts of our brains. Such an understanding can help elaborate the context for organisational psychotherapy.

The Fifth Discipline Fieldbook has many useful exercises and techniques for the organisational therapist, particularly in workshop settings.

Further Reading

The Fifth Discipline: The Art and Practice of the Learning Org. ~ Peter M. Senge
The Fifth Discipline Fieldbook ~ Senge, Kleiner, Roberts, Ross & Smith

Lateral Thinking (Edward de Bono)

Edward de Bono‘s key idea in his work on lateral thinking is that effective creative thinking requires us to take conscious steps to transcend our natural, logical, linear and critical mode of thinking in favour of a mode which recognises how the brain works. Some of the tools he has created for this include:

  • Six Thinking Hats
  • Po (Provocative Operation)
  • Straatals
  • Septoes
  • DeBono Code Book

Further Reading

The Mechanism of Mind ~ Edward de Bono
I Am Right, You Are Wrong~ Edward de Bono
Discussion of the Method: Conducting the Engineer’s Approach to Problem Solving ~ Billy V. Coen

Managing Transitions (William Bridges, Kurt Lewin passim)

Managing Transitions is a book by William Bridges. In the book, he explore the psychology of change and presents an approach not unlike Kurt Lewin’s Unfreeze-Change-Freeze change model. The ideas in the book sit very comfortably with The Marshall Model’s idea of “Transition Zones”.

“The main strength of the [Bridges] model is that it focuses on transition, not change. The difference between these is subtle but important. Change is something that happens to people, even if they don’t agree with it. Transition, on the other hand, is internal: it’s what happens in people’s minds as they go through change. Change can happen very quickly, while transition usually occurs more slowly.”

Further Reading

The Bridges Transition Model: A Summary (pdf)
The Bridges Transition Model –

Client-Centered Therapy (Carl Rogers)

Carl Rogers was amongst the founders of the humanistic approach to personal therapy, and known for the concept of unconditional positive regard – accepting a person without negative judgment of their basic worth. In this, his work has many similarities with that of his student, Marshall Rosenberg (Nonviolent Communication). I choose to apply much of Rogers’ approach in the context of Organisational Therapy. That is to say, practicing an unconditional positive regard for the organisation as a whole.

Rogers did much research into what makes therapy effective, and found just three necessary “Characteristics of a Helping Relationship”:

  • An unconditional, warm, positive regard for the client
  • Genuineness and “congruence” on the part of the therapist
  • Empathy and empathic understanding

Rogers expressed his Theory of Personality by way of Nineteen Propositions. Here are those Nineteen Propositions, but re-cast for the organisation:

  1. All organisations (systems) exist in a continually changing world of experience (phenomenal field) of which they are the center.
  2. The organisation reacts to the field as it is experienced and perceived. This perceptual field is “reality” for the organisation.
  3. The organisation reacts as an organised whole to this phenomenal field.
  4. A portion of the total perceptual field gradually becomes differentiated as the (organisational) “self”.
  5. As a result of interaction with the environment, and particularly as a result of evaluational interaction within its “self”, the structure of the (organisational) self is formed – a coherent, fluid but consistent conceptual pattern of perceptions of characteristics and relationships of the “we” or the “us”, together with values attached to these concepts.
  6. The organisation has one basic tendency and striving – to actualize, maintain and enhance the experiencing organisation.
  7. The best vantage point for understanding behavior is from the internal frame of reference of the organisation-as-a-whole.
  8. Behavior is basically the goal-directed attempt of the organisation-as-a-whole to satisfy its needs as experienced, in the field as perceived.
  9. Emotion accompanies, and in general facilitates, such goal directed behavior, the kind of emotion being related to the perceived significance of the behavior for the maintenance and enhancement of the organisation (organisational homeostasis).
  10. The values attached to experiences, and the values that are a part of the self-structure, in some instances, are values experienced directly by the organisation, and in some instances are values introjected or taken over from others (other organisations or sub-units or individuals within the organisation), but perceived in distorted fashion, as if they had been experienced directly.
  11. As experiences occur in the life of the organisation, they are either, a) symbolized, perceived and organized into some relation to the (organisational) self, b) ignored because there is no perceived relationship to the self structure, c) denied symbolization or given distorted symbolization because the experience is inconsistent with the structure of the (organisational) self.
  12. Most of the ways of behaving that are adopted by the organisation are those that are consistent with the concept of (organisational) self.
  13. In some instances, behavior may be brought about by organic experiences and needs which have not been symbolized. Such behavior may be inconsistent with the structure of the (organisational) self but in such instances the behavior is not “owned” by the organisation.
  14. Psychological adjustment exists when the concept of the (organisational) self is such that all the sensory and visceral experiences of the organism are, or may be, assimilated on a symbolic level into a consistent relationship with the concept of (organisational) self.
  15. Psychological maladjustment (dysfunction) exists when the organisation denies awareness of significant sensory and visceral experiences, which consequently are not symbolized and organized into the gestalt of the (organisational) self-structure. When this situation exists, there is a basic or potential psychological tension (a.k.a. organisational cognitive dissonance).
  16. Any experience which is inconsistent with the coherence of the structure of the (organisational) self may be perceived as a threat, and the more of these perceptions there are, the more rigidly the (organisational) self-structure is organized to maintain itself.
  17. Under certain conditions, involving primarily complete absence of threat to the (organisational) self-structure, experiences which are inconsistent with it may be perceived and examined, and the structure of (organisational) self revised to assimilate and include such experiences.
  18. When the organisation perceives and accepts into one consistent and integrated system all its sensory and visceral experiences, then it is necessarily more understanding of itself and its constituents (sub-units, individuals) and is more accepting of itself and its constituents and their respective, several needs.
  19. As the organisation perceives and accepts into its (organisational) self-structure more of its organic experiences, it finds that it is replacing its present value system – based extensively on introjections which have been distortedly symbolized – with a continuing organismic valuing process.

Rogers believed that every person can achieve their goals, wishes and desires in life. When, or rather if they do so, self-actualisation takes place. I believe this applies to organisations too. Although rarely. Sigh.

Further Reading

Six Amazing Things Carl Rogers Gave Us~ Dr Stephanie Sarkis
Carl Rogers ~ Saul McLeod
On Becoming a Person: A Therapist’s View of Psychotherapy ~ Carl Rogers
Client-Centred Therapy ~ Carl Rogers
Growth-promoting Relationships ~ Jon Russell

Ram Dass

Ram Dass is the author of the “counterculture bible” Be Here Now, and “one of America’s most beloved spiritual figures”.

“It is important to expect nothing, to take every experience, including the negative ones, as merely steps on the path, and to proceed.”

~ Ram Dass

Integrative Therapy (Jeffrey Kottler)

Jeffrey Kottler reminds us that therapists are people too. In his work with Integrative Psychotherapy, he focuses on both integration (fusion) of different therapies, and on integrating the personality – making it cohesive and bringing together the “affective, cognitive, behavioral, and physiological systems within a person”.

I have embraced and adapted this approach to the organisation, believing that much of the dysfunction, stress and lack of effectiveness in knowledge-work organisations stems from a lack of coherence and integrity (here, in the sense of: the quality or condition of being united, whole or undivided; completeness.)

Further Reading

On Being A Therapist – An Interview with Jeffrey Kottler (article)

Transactional Analysis (Eric Berne)

Transactional Analysis (“TA”) is an integrative approach to the theory of (individual) psychology and psychotherapy. TA places an emphasis on curing the patient (relieving them of their neuroses or psychoses), rather than just understanding them (or having them understand themselves).

I find TA has significant applications in the context of organisational psychotherapy, for example  the role the organisation too often plays as Parent in relation to its employees-as-Children. Note: The TA roles are reinforced from early an early age by our traditional systems of education.

Further Reading

Families and How to Survive Them ~ Robin Skynner and John Cleese
I’m OK, You’re OK ~ Thomas Anthony Harris

General Semantics (Korzybski)

Count Alfred Korzybski founded the field of General Semantics, and in particular the premises of:

  • Non-Aristotelianism
  • Time Binding
  • Non-elementalism
  • Infinite-valued determinism

“We need not blind [and bind] ourselves with the old dogma that ‘human nature cannot be changed’, for we find that it can be changed.”

~ Alfred Korzybski

Drawn from his work with General Semantics, D David Bourland, Jr. created E-Prime to address the “structural problems” – as determined by Korzybski – of using various forms of the verb “to be”. I find E-Prime to be (sic) a useful addition to the Organisational Psychotherapist’s toolkit.

Further Reading

Science and Sanity: An Introduction to Non-Aristotelian Systems and General Semantics ~ Alfred Korzybski
The Institute of General Semantics – Home page

Action Research, Force Field Analysis (Kurt Lewin)

“Action research is a term which refers to a practical way of looking at your own work to check that it is as you would like it to be. Because action research is done by you, the practitioner, it is often referred to as practitioner based research; and because it involves you thinking about and reflecting on your work, it can also be called a form of self-reflective practice. The idea of self reflection is central. In traditional forms of research – empirical research – researchers do research on other people. In action research, researchers do research on themselves. Empirical researchers enquire into other people’s lives. Action researchers enquire into their own.”

~ McNiff, 2002

Kurt Lewin is known as one of the modern pioneers of social psychology, industrial and organisational psychology, and applied psychology, including Group Dynamics, Action Research and Organisational Development. He specified Lewin’s Equation for behaviour: B=ƒ(P,E).

Force field analysis provides a framework for looking at the factors (forces) that influence a situation

“In the late 1930s Kurt Lewin and his students conducted quasi-experimental tests in factory and neighbourhood settings to demonstrate, respectively, the greater gains in productivity and in law and order through democratic participation rather than autocratic coercion. Lewin not only showed that there was an effective alternative to Taylor’s ‘scientific management’ but through his action research provided the details of how to develop social relationships of groups and between groups to sustain communication and co-operation… Action research was the means of systematic enquiry for all participants in the quest for greater effectiveness through democratic participation.”

~ Clem Adelman

Chris Argyris acknowledges the roots of his “Action Science” (co-developed with Robert W. Putnam) in Lewin’s Action Research (and in the work of John Dewey).

Further Reading

Kurt Lewin and the Origins of Action Research ~ Clem Adelman (pdf)
Leadership and the New Science ~ Margaret Wheatley

Thinking Environments (Nancy Kline)

Nancy Kline, in her book “More Time to Think“, makes the case for creating a “Thinking Environment”, and identifies a number of “components” (with associated techniques) to help achieve this:

  • Attention
  • Equality
  • Ease
  • Appreciation
  • Encouragement
  • Feelings
  • Information
  • Diversity
  • Incisive Question
  • Place

Other Influences in my Practice

  • Patrick Lencioni (Trust, team-building)
  • Dan Pink (Intrinsic Motivation)
  • Morihei Ueshiba (Aikido philosophy, harmony)
  • Buddha (Zen)
  • Lao Tsu (Taoism)
  • Gandhi (Compassion, nonviolence, integrity)
  • Karl Marx, Georg Hegel (Alienation)
  • CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy)
  • REBT (Rational Emotive Behaviour Therapy – Albert Ellis)
  • Mark Federman and the concept of Ba

– Bob

Quackery, Snake Oil and Local Fixes

Someone observes how local “fixes” do little or nothing to improve things in businesses. The roomful of consultants nod their heads vigourously. If we could harness the energy of those nodding heads, our planet could forgo wind- and wave-power entirely.

And yet, how many consultants and consulting companies ever do more than offer local “fixes”? So-called “solutions”, often packaged and labelled for eager consumption by managers too harassed, or too myopic, to understand their own problems and find their own solutions.

And it’s not just consultants. Coaches, contractors, and service providers of all stripes make the same choice. And why should it be different, how could it be different, when clients rarely demand other than local fixes from their suppliers?

A Medical Analogy

Consider a medical analogy:

When a person has a pain, they may take Tylenol (Paracetamol). If the pain exceeds their threshold for tolerance, they’ll likely go see a Doctor. The Doctor may have to prescribe stronger drugs, or even a surgical intervention. In the most serious of cases, the Doctor may advise a fundamental change of lifestyle.

So we have a continuum: Temporary pain relief -> treatment -> addressing root condition(s).

We’d at least like to think that responsible doctors attempt to diagnose their patients’ root conditions – for example, through examination of symptoms and knowledge of common pathologies – before prescribing treatment. Business “doctors” rarely conform to this responsible ideal. Business “medicine” seems much more like medicine in the Eighteenth or Nineteenth Centuries. Quackery abounds.

I don’t doubt these folks’ sincerity, good faith and desire to make a difference. But I do wonder if they’re acting in ways most likely to see their own needs met? Let alone the needs of their “patients”.

“A reputable physician does not promise a cure, demand advance payment, advertise.”

~ US Public Health Service poster

And I don’t dispute that sometimes a “quick fix” is the necessary thing to do. Temporary pain relief undoubtedly has its merits. My issue is with the way in which pain-relief (whether containing active ingredients or just a placebo) is too often sold as something more solid, more permanent, more positive. As a “bankable” improvement.

“In determining whether a person is committing quackery, the central question is what is acceptable evidence for the efficacy and safety of whatever treatments, cures, regimens, or procedures the alleged quack advocates. Because there is some level of uncertainty with all medical treatments, it is common ethical practice…to explicitly state the promise, risks, and limitations of a medical choice.”

~ Wikipedia entry

How many consulting companies undermine their own ambitions, their own needs – as a business, and as individuals – by continuing to “play the game” of (mis)selling local fixes?

“Quackery is characterized by the promotion of false and unproven health schemes for profit and does not necessarily involve imposture, fraud, or greed… Practitioners use unscientific practices and deception on a public who, lacking complex health-care knowledge, must rely upon the trustworthiness of providers. Quackery not only harms people, it undermines the scientific enterprise and should be actively opposed by every scientist.”

~ William T. Jarvis

And I’ll not today get into Ackoff’s observation that “all local optimisations in business only ever lead to sub-optimisation of the whole [business]”.

“In addition to the ethical problems of promising benefits that can not reasonably be expected to occur, quackery also includes the risk that patients may choose to forego treatments that are more likely to help them, in favor of ineffective treatments given by the ‘quack’.”

~ Wikipedia entry

I understand the pressures of business, the perceived need to “make the numbers” and sell things that sometimes add little or no value to clients and customers. I just doubt that this is good business. Ethically, psychologically, socially or commercially.

“You can fool all the people some of the time, you can fool some of the people all the time, but you can’t fool all the people all the time.”

~ Abraham Lincoln, (attributed)

– Bob

Further Reading

Quackery – Wikipedia entry
Pseudoscience – Wikipedia entry

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