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Another Dark Aspect of Agile: The Erasure of Contributions

đź’ˇ The Agile community has some kudos for promoting collaboration and its revisionary approach to software development. But lurking beneath the surface lies a hidden crisis stalling progress: the deliberate dismissal of invaluable contributions from its very own members.

➡ While the Agile community has made some notable contributions to software development and project management, it’s important to acknowledge that it isn’t without its flaws. One issue that many people don’t discuss is the intentional act of hiding, erasing, and ignoring contributions made by current and former members. These issues contribute to the stultification of the whole field of software development, hindering its growth and improvement.

Addressing this issue requires understanding the community’s strong focus on collaboration and teamwork. The Agile Manifesto itself emphasises “individuals and interactions over processes and tools,” which, at its core, promotes the importance of people and their relationships. However, in practice, this mindset sometimes leads to an environment where individual contributions are overshadowed by the status quo. This can stifle the innovation and creativity needed for software development to evolve beyond the narrow confines of the Agile approach.

Moreover, a more sinister aspect of this erasure exists. Some prominent figures within the Agile community focus more on maintaining their status and reputation, rather than nurturing a healthy, progressive environment. This behavior leads to the intentional sidelining of members who have made significant contributions, especially if they challenge the status quo or introduce innovative ideas that could potentially outshine the work of established figures. This self-serving attitude has stagnated the Agile approach by suppressing diverse perspectives and fresh ideas.

The Agile community might choose to confront this issue, as it contradicts the very principles it represents. The community might choose to cultivate a more inclusive and transparent environment that recognises and uplifts the contributions of all its members, regardless of their background or standing.

As members of the software development community, we might choose to actively advocate for those whose contributions have been ignored, and support a culture of openness and genuine collaboration. By doing so, we can ensure that the software development community continues to evolve beyond the Agile approach, embraces diverse ideas, and continues to progress in a healthy, positive direction.

Insubordination!

The fear of employees ganging up on bosses is a common dread among business owners and leaders. According to a study conducted by the American Management Association, 53% of managers surveyed reported that they were afraid of their employees ganging up on them. The fear of insubordination, disloyalty, and rebellion can lead to a sense of paranoia among bosses, making them feel that they are under constant threat.

The terms “insubordination” and “superiors” suggest a hierarchical power dynamic in which employees are seen as subordinate (and inferior) to their bosses. The use of these terms can create a perception that employees are expected to blindly follow orders and never challenge the boss. However, in modern workplace culture, the relationship between bosses and employees is evolving. Employers are now expected to listen to their employees, value their opinions, and create an inclusive workplace culture where everyone’s voice is heard.

Business owners and leaders should be aware that the fear of employees ganging up on them can negatively impact workplace dynamics, create a toxic work environment, and stifle innovation. These folks may choose to create an open and transparent workplace culture where employees feel comfortable expressing their concerns without fear of retribution.

Communication and collaboration are key to fostering positive relationships between bosses and employees, building trust and creating a productive and successful work environment.

Bottom line: A positive culture is one where everyone’s needs are considered and actively attended to.

 

The Dangers of Projecting Needs onto Others

Projecting needs onto other people without evidence or dialogue can be a dangerous and problematic behavior that can lead to misunderstandings, conflicts, and even harm. Assuming that we know what other people need can reflect a lack of empathy, self-centeredness, and a belief in our own superior knowledge or intuition.

When we project our own needs onto others, we may be blind to their individual experiences, perspectives, and preferences. We may overlook their unique circumstances, cultural background, or personality traits that can shape their needs. Moreover, by stating unequivocally what other people need, we may come across as arrogant, dismissive, or manipulative, and erode trust and rapport.

To avoid projecting needs, we might choose to practice active listening, empathy, and curiosity. Instead of blithely asserting that we know what others need, we can ask open-ended questions, seek clarification, and pay attention to nonverbal cues. By doing so, we can gain a better understanding of their needs and show that we value them and their feelings.

Ultimately, projecting needs onto other people can be a barrier to effective communication, mutual respect, and collaboration. By acknowledging our own biases, limitations, and uncertainties, we can create a more inclusive and compassionate environment where people feel seen, heard, and appreciated.

 

From Exasperation to Excellence: How a Project Manager Transformed His Relationships by Changing Himself

[A real-life scenario]

John had been a project manager for over a decade, and he had seen all kinds of projects come and go. He prided himself on his organisational skills, his ability to coordinate teams, and his attention to detail. But today, as he sat at his desk, surrounded by stacks of paperwork and unanswered emails, he was feeling exasperated.

He had just received an update from his team, and it was not good. They were behind schedule, again. Despite his repeated instructions, they were still making the same mistakes, still failing to meet their targets. He rubbed his temples and quietly yelled “Why won’t they just do what I tell ’em?” into his coffee mug.

John had always been a stickler for following procedures and protocols. He believed that if everyone just did what they were supposed to do, everything would run smoothly. But lately, it seemed like his team was working against him. They were resistant to his suggestions, and even when they did agree to his proposals, they failed to follow through.

John knew that he needed to find a way to motivate his team. He tried to put himself in their shoes, to see things from their perspective. Maybe they were feeling overwhelmed, or maybe they needed more support. He decided to call a team meeting to discuss the situation and see if they could come up with a plan to get back on track.

At the meeting, John listened carefully to his team’s concerns. They were feeling stressed and overworked, and they didn’t feel like they had enough support from management. John realised that he had been so focused on results that he had forgotten to show his team that he valued their input and cared about their well-being.

He apologised for his behavior and invited suggestions for some changes he might make. Everyone agreed to schedule regular check-ins with each team member to discuss their needs and offer support. He also took steps to show his team that he valued their input, by including them in decision-making and taking their suggestions seriously.

Over time, John noticed a significant change in his team’s performance. They were more motivated and more willing to work together to achieve their goals. He realised that by taking the time to listen to his team, involve them and show them that he cared, he was better able to build trust and create a more positive work environment.

In the end, John learned that being a project manager isn’t just about giving orders and expecting people to follow them. It’s about building relationships, understanding the team’s needs, and creating an environment where everyone can thrive.

 

Embracing and Meeting People’s Needs Leads to a Thriving Workplace

Making employees feel highly valued is an essential aspect of keeping a positive work environment. The best way to do this is by attending to their needs. This means creating a culture where employees feel comfortable expressing their needs and have a voice in the workplace.

Dialogue plays a crucial role in surfacing individual needs. Encouraging employees to communicate openly and regularly is key to understanding what they need to feel valued and supported. This could be through regular one-on-one meetings, team meetings, or other forms of communication.

It is also important to listen actively and show empathy towards people’s needs. This could mean providing flexible work arrangements, offering professional development opportunities, or acknowledging their contributions and successes.

By understanding and attending to people’s needs, you create a workplace that is supportive, inclusive, and respectful. This helps to foster a sense of community and enhances job satisfaction, motivation, and engagement. In turn, this leads to improved performance and overall success for the organisation.

#AntimatterPrinciple

The Secret Deeds of Employees that Leave Managers Speechless

Employees can engage in behaviors that managers may find unexpected and even unethical. Some examples include sabotage, defiance, spreading rumors, lying, and selling information. However, it is important to understand that these actions are often rooted in deeper motivations and are not necessarily indicative of malicious intent.

Sabotage, for example, may stem from an employee feeling undervalued or overworked. They may believe that the company or management is not supporting them, and they resort to sabotaging work in an attempt to bring attention to their concerns. In these situations, it is crucial for managers to listen to employee complaints and work to address their concerns.

Defiance can also be a result of frustration with management or company policies. Employees may feel that their opinions, ideas and needs are not being heard, leading them to challenge authority. Again, open communication and a willingness to listen to employee feedback can help resolve these conflicts.

Spreading rumors can be a manifestation of insecurity or a desire for control. Employees may feel that they do not have a direct line of communication with management and resort to spreading rumors to try and gain insight into company decisions or to shape perceptions. Managers can combat this by being transparent in their communications and building trust with employees.

Finally, selling information can be driven by financial need or a belief that the information is not confidential or sensitive. In these cases, it is essential for companies to establish clear guidelines and policies around the handling of confidential information, and to provide employees with the resources they need to succeed.

In conclusion, while employees can engage in behaviors that managers may find unexpected, it is crucial to avoid the Fundamental Attribution Error and understand the underlying motivations. By addressing these motivations and fostering open communication, managers can build a positive workplace culture and minimize the likelihood of unethical behavior.

 

Productive Conversations: A Masterclass in Mutuality, Exploration, and Active Listening

For all those LinkedIn folks who seem incapable of having productive online conversations…

A productive conversation is one where both parties are actively engaged and working towards creating a common understanding or goal. It involves mutuality, where both parties are willing to share their thoughts and ideas, defer judgement, and actively listen to each other. A productive conversation is not just about one person dominating the conversation, but rather, it’s about exploring a topic together.

One of the key elements of a productive conversation is mutuality. Mutuality suggests a willingness to, cooperate, listen and share thoughts and ideas. It suggests that everyone have a chance to speak , contribute and be heard. It also suggests avoiding interruptions or talking over each other, as this can create tension and make it difficult to have a productive conversation.

Another important aspect of a productive conversation is exploring a topic together. This suggest that all parties stand willing to dig deeper into the topic at hand, rather than just contribute shallow observations or off-hand remarks. This can be achieved by asking open-ended questions, which allow for more in-depth discussion. Additionally, it’s important to avoid making assumptions or jumping to conclusions. Instead, take the time to truly understand each other’s perspective.

Listening with intent to understand rather than just reply is also crucial for a productive conversation. It’s easy to get caught up in thinking about what you’re going to say next, rather than truly listening to what the other person is saying. Active listening involves being fully present and paying attention to what the other people are saying. It also involves acknowledging and validating the other people’s thoughts and feelings. Empathy can help much, here.

Finally, active listening is an essential component of a productive conversation. This means that you are actively engaging with the conversation, rather than just passively listening. This can be achieved by making eye contact, nodding, and, especially, paraphrasing what the other person has said to show that you understand. It also involves being open to feedback and making adjustments to your own communication style, if necessary.

In conclusion, a productive conversation is one where both parties are actively engaged and working towards a common understanding or goal. It involves mutuality, where both parties are willing to share their thoughts and ideas, and actively listen to each other. Additionally, a productive conversation is about exploring a topic together and listening with intent to understand rather than just reply. Active listening is also crucial for a productive conversation. With these elements in mind, you can have a more meaningful and productive conversation.

One-on-One Meetings: Focus on Needs to Move From Mediocre to Masterful

One-on-one meetings are crucial for building effective and productive relationships within any organisation. To ensure that these meetings are successful, understand the social style of the person you are meeting with and adapt your communication and behaviour accordingly. One valuable technique for this the Wilson Learning Social Styles Model. This model identifies four different social styles, each with their own unique strengths and communication preferences. By understanding the social style of the person you are meeting with, you can adapt your communication and behaviour to better suit their needs and build a more effective and productive relationship. The model suggests that there are four social styles: the Analytical, Driving, Amiable, and Expressive. Each of these has its own characteristics, communication preferences, strengths, and potential development areas. By understanding the social style of the person you are meeting with, you can adapt your communication and behaviour to better suit their needs and build a more effective and productive relationship.

Additionally, the principle of nonviolence and the practice of Nonviolent Communication (NVC) can also play a key role in making one-on-one meetings more effective and productive. NVC emphasises the importance of understanding and expressing our own needs and feelings, as well as listening deeply to the needs and feelings of others. By using NVC techniques, we can communicate in a way that is more compassionate and understanding and avoid the use of blame, criticism, or judgement. This helps to create a more positive and open environment for communication. Additionally, by approaching conflicts and disagreements with a non-violent mindset, we can avoid escalating tensions and find more constructive solutions.

Another valuable technique for one-on-one meetings is Nancy Kline’s Time to Think (and More Time to Think). This approach emphasises the importance of giving people enough time to think and reflect before responding, rather than expecting immediate answers or solutions. By creating a safe and quiet space for people to think and actively listening without interruption, we can help them to access their own wisdom and insights. Additionally, by encouraging people to share their thoughts and ideas, we can tap into the collective wisdom and potential of the group. This can foster a more collaborative and productive working relationship.

In summary, the key to great one-on-one meetings is a combination of understanding the social style of the person you are meeting with, incorporating principles of nonviolence and NVC, and using techniques like Time to Think. By implementing these approaches, you can create a more conducive environment for effective communication and problem-solving in one-on-one meetings, resulting in better outcomes for all parties involved.

#NoPlanning

I’ve lost count of the number of folks I’ve encountered that see planning as sacrosanct, as gospel. I’ve also lost count of the number of occasions I’ve attempted to broach the subject with offers of e.g. dialogue and mutual exploration, only to be stonewalled.

In support of #NoPlanning, I offer the follow Ackoff quote:

“If you have the capacity for response to the unexpected, then you don’t have to plan for it. The important thing to do then is to continuously increase the capacity to respond to whatever occurs in the future.”

~ Russell Ackoff

I posit that #NoPlanning is the epitome of business agility.

Would you be willing to talk about it?

– Bob

Getting Upstream

When we consider change, we often overlook the context for that change, and the necessity to change the context to facilitate the change(s) we have in mind.

Shifting Left

For example, in the context of improving testing, the testing community invites us to “shift left”; to shift our focus to earlier phases of software delivery – to the left, in the stream of software delivery activities – where leverage is assumed to be greater. In other words, getting upstream of where testing activities have traditionally taken place.

The Broader Context

In a broader context, that of software delivery more generally, getting upstream means considering the context in which software delivery takes place.

What is this context? For me, as an organisational psychotherapist, it’s about the collective assumptions and beliefs of the host organisation. Collective assumptions and beliefs – or culture – that constrain how the work works.

Root of Failure

I have yet to see an approach to software delivery that considers this wider context, let alone provides a means to address these broader contextual issues. I attribute most of the failures of e.g. Waterfall, Agile, etc. to this absence of consideration for context.

Put another way, approaches to software delivery that fail to cater to the (thorny) issues of adoption are about as useful as chocolate teapot in the Sahara. This idea seems alien to all the methodologists I know of.

Organisational Psychotherapy

Organisational Psychotherapy provided just such a means. It invites folks considering changes, changes to the way they approach software delivery, to consider the broader context as an integral part of the change. Through dialogue, surfacing these broader contextual issues and inviting shared reflection on them, organisations considering change can get upstream of the changes under consideration.

(You can find out more about Organisational Psychotherapy and what “Getting Upstream” of the software delivery challeng looks like in my books (Marshall 2018, Marshall 2021, Marshall 2021).

As Einstein observed:

“No problem can be solved from the same level of consciousness that created it.”

~Albert Einstein

I like to think he was talking about getting upstream of the immediate problem.

– Bob

Further Reading

Marshall, R.W. (2021). Quintessence: An Acme for Software Development Organisations. [online] leanpub.com. Falling Blossoms (LeanPub). Available at: https://leanpub.com/quintessence/ [Accessed 6 Jul 2022].
Marshall, R.W. (2021). Memeology: Surfacing And Reflecting On The Organisation’s Collective Assumptions And Beliefs. [online] leanpub.com. Falling Blossoms (LeanPub). Available at: https://leanpub.com/memeology/ [Accessed 6 Jul 2022].
Marshall, R.W. (2018). Hearts over Diamonds: Serving Business and Society Through Organisational Psychotherapy. [online] leanpub.com. Falling Blossoms (LeanPub). Available at: https://leanpub.com/heartsoverdiamonds/ [Accessed 6 Jul 2022].
Marshall, R.W. (2021). Organisational Psychotherapy Bundle 1. [online] Leanpub. Available at: https://leanpub.com/b/organisationalpsychotherapybundle1 [Accessed 6 Jul. 2022].

Why I Blog

Thare’s a few key reasons why I’ve been consistently and regularly blogging for the best part of fifteen years now:

  1. To invite conversation. I love conversations. I love personal interactions and the exchange of perspectives. Blogging has not served me too well in this regard, so far.
  2. To clarify my thoughts. I find writing my thoughts down serves to refine and clarify them.
  3. To change the world. Some ideas, such as nonviolence, fellowship, love and dialogue have the possibility to change society in general, and the world of work in particular, for the better. I feel privileged to invite folks to encounter these ideas.
  4. To listen to and learn from others, and experience their alternative perspectives.
  5. To share my experiences. I probably have more experience in software delivery (and life) than most. Maybe my sharing equips readers with extra experiences, albeit vicariously.

– Bob

Quintessential Applications – Come Join Us!

What do we need to see in applications from potential Quintessential fellows? Well, we definitely don’t want to see a CV or resume. We don’t grok how what you’ve done in the past speaks to your potential in the future. We choose to see our fellows as capable of anything, given the necessary support and environment.

We would like to be surprised by the things you feel represent your best. Maybe a list of the things you’ve read and found insightful, such as blog posts, articles, books and so on. Or the times you’ve most enjoyed getting together with others to deliver great software and great experiences. Or maybe the topics in which you have the most interest, and some contributions you’ve made or intend to make in those areas. Maybe you’d be willing to share your take on Quintessence, on Organisational Psychotherapy, or some intriguing questions or practical experience you may have regarding excellence in software delivery. Opinions are way less interesting to us, compared to evidence.

It might be interesting to hear about the terms and conditions you guess you might be needing, including things like pay, hours, locations, equipment, team mates, etc..

Take a look at the list of skills we consider most useful, and tell us about your own skills and aspirations in those areas, or even in other areas you feel may be relevant. Although some “hard” tech skills such as coding and UX might be interesting, we’d love to enroll fellows with outstanding soft skills – these rank higher in our priorities. For example, the Antimatter Principle is as the heart of everything we do – so we’d love to hear about your experiences with attending to folks’ needs.

We’d also love to hear about times when you’ve taken care of something or someone. And how that felt – bot for you and for them.

Above all, we invite you to share with us why you see yourself as a good fit for our community of fellows, and the ways in which you will contribute to moving our whole community forward – improving the principles and practices of software delivery. And your take on excellence, too.

Go wild! Express yourself. If words and text ain’t your thang, maybe video, or audio, or music, or art, or Zen koans, or haikus, or however you best express yourself.

Our declared purpose is to make a dent in the universe, to make the world a better place through outstanding excellence in software delivery. To bring Alien Tech to the service of human beings. We’d love to hear what these things means to you. And how you see yourself contributing.

We appreciate we’re asking you to dedicate some non-trivial amount of time to representing yourself. And we’ll reciprocate by dedicating our time to paying attention to your application. And we will happily help you evolve your application from e.g. small beginnings, incrementally. No need for a one-shot big- bang application. Doing things together is, of course, a hallmark of The Quintessential Group.

We’re looking forward to hearing from you – whatever the medium, whatever the format. As Marshall McLuhan said, the medium is the message.

– Bob

First Step Towards Quintessence

Taking a look at the idea of Quintessence can seem overwhelmingly daunting. Changing the culture of a whole organisation? Shifting assumptions and beliefs of an entire workforce, managers and executives included? Wow. Some herculean task?

Formidable Challenge

The challenge can seem truly formidable. Yet the benefits look appealing. 

How to take that first step? What is the most useful and reassuring first step?

The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.

~ Lao Tzu

Surfacing And Reflecting

The clue is on the cover of my second book, “Memeology“. The subtitle reads

Surfacing and reflecting on the organisation’s collective assumptions and beliefs.

I find a useful first step is talking with peers. And listening to what they have to say. Discovering if there’s an appetite for such surfacing and reflecting. Uncovering their challenges of the moment, and sounding out potential allies. Persuasion comes later, if at all.

The status quo has a powerful grip on busy people. It’s easy to dismiss calls for change in the midst of daily stressors such as fire-fighting and chasing targets.

Timbre

What’s the timbre of dialogue in your organisation? Progressive or regressive? Inviting or dismissive? What timbre might best suit the kinds of dialogue implied by Quintessence? How might y’all affect that timbre? And could you use some help with that?

Chatting Is The First Step

To recap – simple chatting with friends, neighbours, peers and colleagues can be the vital first step. And “Alien Tech” can sometimes serve as an icebreaker, if you feel you need one.

– Bob

 

How Do You Set Up A Salary Model That Has Everyone’s Approval?

Remuneration policy reflects an organisation’s culture. It’s a calling card for your company and a key element of employer branding. Given current recruiting challenges, it also determines who wants to join or stay with your company.

What Is A Salary Model?

A salary model, or remuneration policy, is a system of guidance that an organisation uses to determine each employee’s remuneration (a.k.a. package). A typical salary model takes into account things like merit, length of employment, and pay compared to similar positions.

Everyone’s Approval?

You can please some of the people all of the time, you can please all of the people some of the time, but you can’t please all of the people all of the time.

~ John Lydgate

Salary models are almost always contentious, and the source of frequent fractious arguments and ill-will. Few people favour being treated just like everybody else, seeing themselves as individuals. Yes, fairness has a role to play – humans and capuchins both being acutely attuned to the notion of fairness. But who adjudicates what is fair when it comes to salaries and other remunerations?

At Familiar, and now at TheQuintessentialGroup, we seek to treat people as adults, and encourage adult-to-adult interactions. Accordingly, we believe that only the individual in question is at all placed to decide what is fair, and thus to determine their personal individual salary or other remuneration. Our experiences at Familiar showed this idea as entirely workable, and helped us learn the amazing up-side to such a salary model.

This perspective also aligns with the Antimatter Principle: “Attend to folks’ needs”. Who else but the individual can truly decide what their needs are, salary-wise? Needless to say, the Antimatter Principle stands proud at the heart of TheQuintessentialGroup’s approach to community-building, and to business.

So, for clarity, this salary model states:

Each fellow decides his or her own salary (or other remuneration, depending on engagement model). Each fellow is free to change salary or other remuneration levels as and when – and as often as – they see fit.

Note: This particulalr salary model is the salary model of choice for TheQuintessentialGroup.

Wrinkles

One wrinkle that did emerge at Familiar, given the totally alien nature of this salary model, was the difficulty some folks had in deciding on the specifics of their package. We discovered that support and dialogue amongst fellows (along with full transparency for all) helped greatly with resolving this difficulty.

Another, more general wrinkle is the collective assumptions and beliefs of the decision-makers and those that sign off – or don’t – on the salary model. The headline of this post is about winning everyone’s approval. Managers and executives that have a sublimated Theory-X view of the world probably won’t approve of this salary model. Which I find sad, for the people and for the performance of the workforce (and thus, of the organisation).

– Bob

Afterword

“Has everyone’s approval” seems to me a pretty low bar. I’d prefer to see a salary model that “everyone loves and raves about”. How about you?

Twelve Invitations for Fellowship

  1. We’ll have a face-to-face catchup (1:1) at least as frequently as once a week. Either of us can cancel whenever we agree to. It’s our time.
  2. Our 1:1 agenda will be in our meeting invite so we remember important topics. But either of us remains free to use the time for whatever’s on our minds.
  3. When we schedule each catchup, we’ll state *at the time we schedule it* what it’s meant to be about. We prefer to avoid chatting without an agenda. The agenda can be as simple as e.g. “social”.
  4. When we drop into each other’s DMs, we’ll always say hello, and what”s on our minds. No suspense. No small talk while we are wondering what the DM is going to be about.
  5. We will share directly any face-to-face news or announcements that significantly impact e.g. us, our several relationships, our teams or our community, not via a big meeting, recorded video or mailshot.
  6. We’ll share feedback when it’s fresh. Feeedback is about our needs and the extend to which they’ve been met (or not). There will be no hint of performance reviews or other judgements.
  7. We trust everyone to manage their own time. No one is expected to clear with anyone in advance re: their time or place.
  8. We will attend to folks’ needs by way of informing them of our whereabout and times of availability – if and when they have a need to know.
  9. Things gets done the way we decide is best. Our focus is on folks’ needs, not outcomes or outputs. Once we’ve agreed on where we’re going, how to get there is up to each of us, in agreement.
  10. A team is most effective when it has a shared purpose, moves forward together, looks after one another, and takes care of each other and all the folks that matter. We choose to continuously look to our left and to our right for opportunities to help our fellows. We request help whenever we need it. Nobody has to do things in isolation except by choice.
  11. There are no reporting lines, chains of command and control, hierarchy, etc. We talk with each other and anyone about anything we feel is relevant.
  12. We attribute credit when attribution serves folks’ needs. We will never exaggerate our own roles or minimize others’ contributions.

If all of this sounds like it might serve your needs, I invite you to reciprocate by giving of the one thing we all need most. Attention to folks’ needs.

I want to hear your feedback, to know when someone’s needs are going unattended, or are being well-attended to. To know when and how we can bring more joy into folks’ lives.

We always welcome folks’ thoughts, listen patiently, and never respond defensively.

If we attend to each other’s needs, we can learn and grow and bond together. That’s how I need to connect with what’s alive in you.

– Bob

Quintessential Ways Of Working

I’m sure folks hearing about Quintessence wonder what it’s all about, and how it differs from other ways of working in the software development domain.

There’s much to absorb in my books on the subject, especially Quintessence itself.

But for those who prefer an “in a nutshell” explanation…

Foundations

Culture

Products, designs, solutions, services – these are all a consequence of our culture. 

So the quintessential organisation focuses on its culture, not on its processes, technical practices, competencies, etc.. And builds cultural awareness and shift into its business-as-usual, into its ways of working.

As Kevin Weiss so kindly says in his foreword to Quintessence:

This is the real challenge to readers of this book – to consider these ideas as a wholly different way of working, rather than an à la carte menu of possibilities. If you can do that, you may have what it takes to be a leader in your company’s transformation. 

And if you do, jump at the chance! It will likely be the most rewarding time of your career. 

~ Kevin Weiss

Interpersonal relationships

Part of the quintessential way of working centres around the relations between people. Between individual teams members. Between teams and the folks they serve. Between folks inside the organisation and those in customer and supplier organisations. Between folks on the front line, and their managers and executive. The way the work works, whomsoever owns it, is oriented towards increased opportunities for dialogue, and fellowship, relationship- and community-building. Not so much towards producing stuff, like designs, solutions, code, etc..

Continuous Reflection

Regular dialogue enables the surfacing of and reflecting upon the organisation’s collective assumptions and beliefs – another key aspect of the way the work works in aspiring quintessential organisations. Such dialogue is literally built into the ways of working of quintessential organisations.

Attending to folks’ needs (the Antimatter Principle) also serves to strengthen and deepen interpersonal relationships.

Excellence

A key principle in the quintessential way of working is excellence. The desire to do and be the best one can. No tolerance of complacency or slacking-off here. 

Working Together

Quintessential organisations feature people working together. I hesitate to say collaboration, because I have some reservations about that notion. But working together is an essential element of the quintessential organisation. Gone are the days when the heroic individual could make some lone breakthrough or discovery. Our world has become more complicated than that.

Systems Thinking

Quintessential organisations recognise themselves as complex adaptive systems, not just a collection of quasi-independent parts. Decisions are made and actions taken with this perspective fully in mind. And systems thinking permeates all aspects and all levels of the way the work works.

Risk

One aspect often overlooked in non-quintessential organisations is the formal management and control of risk. Many of the Folks That Matter within an organisation seek certainty and predictability, but rarely are the risks threatening those needs explicitly managed. See also: (DeMarco and Lister 2003).

Normative Learning

See: Toyota Kata (Rother 2010).

Social Sciences

The quintessential organisation draws on discoveries from many of the social sciences, including:

  • psychology
  • psychotherapy
  • group dynamics
  • cognitive science
  • neuroscience.

And builds the discoveries and practices from these fields into the way the work works.

Summary

The above are just the stand-out aspects of ways of working observable in quintessential organisations.

Take a look at Quintessence (the book) if you’d like to understand more and dive deeper.

– Bob

Further Reading

Rother, M. (2010). Toyota Kata: Managing People For Continuous Improvement And Superior Results. Mcgraw-Hill.

Demarco, T. and Lister, T.R. (2003). Waltzing With Bears: Managing Risk On Software Projects. Dorset House Pub.

Culture Shifting

For the past twenty years my work has been focussed on helping tech organisations shift their culture towards something more aligned to their aspirations and objectives. I have found that few indeed are the tech organisations that understand the role of culture, and its importance to their results.

The Role of Culture

Many business leaders over the years have emphasised the primacy of culture. Here’s a few:

The only thing of real importance that leaders do is to create and manage culture.

~ Edgar Schein

The thing I have learned at IBM is that culture is everything. It took me to age fifty-five to figure that out.

~ Lou Gerstner, CEO, IBM

If you get the culture right, most of the other stuff will just take care of itself.

~ Tony Hsieh, CEo, Zappos.com

What is Culture?

Culture is the collective programming of the mind which distinguishes the members of one group from another.

~ Geert Hofstede

According to Ed Schein, culture is a shared set of basic assumptions and beliefs:

Culture is the deeper level of basic assumptions and beliefs that are shared by members of an organisation, that operate unconsciously and define in a basic ‘taken for granted’ fashion an organisation’s view of its self and its environment… 

It’s a pattern of shared basic assumptions invented, discovered, or developed by a given group. 

~ Edgar Schein

The Organisational Psychotherapy Viewpoint

Organisation Psychotherapy asserts that culture is no more, and no less, than a read-only manifestation of an organisation’s collective psyche – of its collective assumptions and beliefs. Read-only because culture cannot be manipulated directed, but only via changes to those underlying collective assumptions and beliefs. (Marshall 2021).

Organisational Psychotherapy provides the context, the means and the tools to address changing such collective assumptions and beliefs.

The Culture In Your Organisation Today

Here’s a few questions you might like to bring up next time your peers discuss organisational culture:

  1. What does the term “organisational culture” mean to the folks in your organisation? 
  2. Does everyone share the same meaning, or are folks “all over the map”? 
  3. What impact does your organisation’s culture today have on your ability to achieve your purpose, your goals?
  4. How might you describe your organisation’ culture, as it is, right now?
  5. If you decide you need to effect some changes to your culture, how might you go about doing that? 
  6. To what extent are your senior folks and decision-makers agreed on the relative importance or significance of organisational culture? And the rest of the folks in the organisation? 
  7. What’s the impact of culture on financial performance (your bottom line)? 
  8. What’s the interplay between culture and the way the work works? 
  9. What’s the interplay between culture and the structure of the organisation? 

– Bob

Further Reading

Schein, E.H. (2016). Organizational Culture and Leadership. John Wiley & Sons. 

Hofstede, G.H. (1991). Cultures and Organizations Software of the Mind. Mcgraw-Hill. 

Marshall, R.W. (2021). Memeology: Surfacing And Reflecting On The Organisation’s Collective Assumptions And Beliefs. [online] leanpub.com. Falling Blossoms. Available at: https://leanpub.com/memeology/ [Accessed 11 Feb. 2022].

How often do we see folks touting “tech innovation” with nary a mention of e.g. relationship innovation, and innovations in “being human”?

Here’s some valuable non-tech innovations you could be pursuing:

  • Nonviolent Communication (Marshall Rosenberg).
  • Empathy.
  • Compassion and Compassionomics.
  • Zen.
  • Nancy Kine’s Thinking Environments.
  • Dialogue skills.
  • Appreciation of Power Dynamics in the workplace.
  • Reflection and surfacing one’s own assumptions and beliefs.
  • Attending to folks’ needs..
  • Apprciation of the role of the Domination System and the Myth of Redemptive Violence.

The Way Forward

By way of a counterpoint to my previous post “What’s Holding Us Back“, I’m interested in the way forward for the software industry, businesses, and society in general.

It’s become delightfully obvious to me that a whole raft of helpful assumptions and beliefs constitute that way forward.

In my most recent books (Memeology, Quintessence) I detail these helpful assumptions and beliefs at length, and again in keeping with my preference for short blog posts, I’ll just summarise, here…

Here’s some of the major assumptions and beliefs helpful to enabling organisations better achieve success:

  • Generalising specialists form the core of quintessential organisations (see e.g. Paint Drip People).
  • Continual small changes in assumptions and beliefs (kaizen), with occasional larger step changes (Kaikaku) are the way to effect improvements.
  • Change is desirable, best left to serendipity, and better seen in small daily increments.
  • Dialogue is at the core of improvements, in relationships and the way the work works, both.
  • Everyone’s needs matter (at least for all the Folks That Matter). See also: the Antimatter Principle.
  • Clarity and honesty on what constitutes “success” is the only way to align folks and see everyone’s real needs are being attended to.
  • Culture is the visible by-product of the invisible set of prevailing assumptions and beliefs, and is amenable to intentional change through eg Organisational Psychotherapy (be that facilitated or via self-help).
  • There are many possible organisational structures other than hierarchy. They have all be tried at one time or another. Most have proven more successful that hierarchy.
  • Change always requires revisions to existing policies and rules. See: Innovation ALWAYS Demands We Change the Rules.
  • Talent is unnecessary when we have thriving relationships, and a focus on the way the work works.
  • Interpersonal relationships are core to success.
  • Interesting work and the prospect of community, meaning, and other “soft” elements trumps high pay as a motivator and attractant, every time.
  • Productivity ensues from optimising the way the work works, which in turn requires a focus on collective assumptions and beliefs.
  • Efficiency is a distracting red herring, effectiveness is the path to productivity and success.
  • Business problems are almost never the fault of certain individuals.
  • Breaking the organisation into parts and managing these parts separately is a recipe for significant sub-optimisation and shortfalls in success.
  • In collaborative knowledge work, intrinsic motivation is much more powerful than extrinsic motivation. The latter serves as a demotivator.
  • The social dynamic and listening are the only means to effect changes in people’s behaviours.

…and so on, and so on. 

All the above assumptions have been proven time and again through decades of research. By listening, experimenting and being interested in the science and outliers, our ignorance can be assuaged and enlightened.

– Bob

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