Strategies, Effective and Ineffective

Strategies, Effective and Ineffective

[Tl;Dr: The effectiveness of any organisation is a function of the alignment between folks’ collective beliefs and assumptions about business, and the realities of business.]

I’m not sure this post is going to tell you anything new, but I did hear recently someone appear to misunderstand one of the the basic premises of the Marshall Model. So, for the benefit of clarity…

The Marshall Model – Recap

The Marshall Model asserts that there are four basic collective mindsets in organisations. For ease of reference, the model labels these collective mindsets, in order of increasing effectiveness: Ad-hoc, Analytic, Synergistic and Chaordic.

These various collective mindsets – and by “collective” I mean shared, more or less, by everyone within a given organisation – dictate the strategies in use in that organisation. And by “strategies in use” I mean, when making every kind of decision, from the most senior manager to the lowliest worker, the approaches used to make or inform those decisions.

Put another way, in any organisation, a multitude of decisions come up every day:

  • Which and what kind of business opportunities to pursue.
  • Who to please (and who to ignore or disappoint).
  • Which market segments to focus on.
  • How to serve those markets.
  • How to finance the business.
  • What kinds of people to hire (and fire).
  • Which trading partners to work with (and which to compete against).
  • HR policies.
  • Management policies.
  • Sales methods.
  • Engineering approaches.
  • Budgets.
  • And on and on.

How to decide? Most always, folks will approach making these decisions within the frame of their existing beliefs and assumptions. Existing beliefs and assumptions which have become the basis for their more or less automatic responses. Kahneman calls these “fast” or “system 1” responses.

And various psychological pressures conspire to ensure any one person’s beliefs and assumptions remain “congruent” with the collective assumptions and beliefs of the organisation as a whole (for example, nobody wants to be seen as an outsider).

The Effectiveness Lever

Any organisations where people work together are by, their nature, complex adaptive systems.

The Marshall Model implies that relative organisational effectiveness is a direct function of how closely the prevailing collective mindset matches the reality of organisations. If the prevailing collective mindset enables decision-makers to choose approaches and strategies well-suited to the realities of complex adaptive systems, those decisions will be more likely to be effective. If the prevailing collective mindset constrains decision-makers to approaches less well-suited to the realities of complex adaptive systems, those decisions will be more likely to be ineffective. Both as individual decisions, and in aggregate.

So, it’s not the organisations that are Ad-hoc, Analytic (a.k.a. mechanistic), Synergistic or Chaordic systems. It’s the collective thinking of the people within those organisations that conform to one of these four labels. The organisations themselves are always complex adaptive systems. And, for the clients I work with, collaborative knowledge work systems, too.

I hope this post has served to clarify. Would you be willing to let me know whether it’s achieved that aim? And for the sake of further clarity, I’m happy to address any and all questions that this post might bring to mind.

– Bob

Further Reading

Thinking, Fast and Slow ~ Daniel Kahneman

On Espoused Theory, Theory-in-Use, and “Effective Theory” ~ Mark Federman (blog post)

4 comments
  1. Menelaos Beskos said:

    Hello! I find your site very interesting and well informed on the theories of organizational counseling. I can ask for your psychotherapeutic approach and education?

  2. Two questions:
    Can you observe / understand the collective mindset while being part of it?
    And how do you figure out if it enables decision-makers do be more effective without asking them?

    • Hi, thanks for your questions.

      1) I would say yes, we can observe / understand the collective mindset while being part of it, but it requires a certain detachment – which may come naturally or be acquired through conscious effort and practice. Personally, I find it much easier to NOT be part of the collective mindset, although this in itself raises other challenges.

      2) Asking them is always an option. But I find it matters little what I think – it’s what they think (their sense of becoming more effective) that matters far more.

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