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Organisational Self-Therapy

[Note: I regard this post as incomplete. I’m publishing it now in the hope that getting some feedback will encourage me to finish it.]

For some years, DIY seemed all the rage. I’m not so sure that’s true in home decorating any more, but it does seem to be increasing in popularity in the therapy domain. Individual self-therapy seems like it’s become more popular and more acceptable, both.

I have for some time been thinking whether self-therapy for organisations might be possible, beneficial even. Maybe self-therapy would be a viable alternative to engaging a therapist?

In my Organisational Psychotherapy assignments to date, most of my engagement time with client organisations has been spent sitting in with them during their Business As Usual (BAU – meetings, conversations, lunches, etc.), observing their social dynamic and modes of interaction. Such observations lead me – as therapist – to find questions that I can share with the organisation, questions which invite reflection and discussion on e.g. unsurfaced assumptions and beliefs. (This being the essential practice of therapy, both organisational and other kinds). 

The Challenge

For any organisation, making space and time for group reflection can be problematic. In most organisations, folks struggle to find time for all their scheduled responsibilities, let alone more esoteric activities like reflection and discussion of assumptions and beliefs. On the face of it, where’s the point – where’s the value – in spending any time on such “esoteric” things?

Anyone who’s been following this blog for any length of time may know of my focus on organisational effectiveness. And my explanation for organisational effectiveness in terms of Rightshifting and the Marshall Model. [links] 

Observing clients during their BAU is all very well. It doesn’t take up any of their time and, aside from the marginal financial cost of having a therapist present, doesn’t detract from folks’ day jobs or the work of the organisation. 

But when it comes round to the therapist finding and putting questions to the organisation, there’s at least a couple of issues we face:

  1. Finding the time to get together (Organisational Psychotherapy invites group discussions) to listen to the questions and reflect and discuss them as a group.
  1. The disconnect (in time, attention) between the point of observation and the point of reflection and discussion.

So, I’m presently focused on ways to ameliorate the impact of these issues.

Addressing the Issues of Having a Therapist

Improvements on each of the above issues: 

  1. Integrating the asking of therapist’s questions into BAU (having the folks in the organisation ask themselves questions).
  2. Reducing or elimination the disconnect in time and attention between the point of observation and the point of reflection and discussion (integrating Organisational Psychotherapy into BAU whilst promoting useful group discussions and reflections).

It’s Good To Talk

As BT were wont to tell us: “It’s good to talk”.

But many organisations believe (or at least, assume) they don’t have time to talk. And certainly not the time for “talking for the sake of talking” (which is what many might regard talking in order to surface collective assumptions and beliefs – and then reflect on and discuss). That’s why Organisational Psychotherapy in practice takes place amongst the daily ebb and flow of regular meetings and conversations happening in the course of the organisation’s business-as-usual. No need to shoehorn off-sites or special meetings for the necessary conversations happen. Although off-sites and dedicated meetings can help, too. 

Leveraging Valuable Discussions

So, recently I’ve been thinking about means to stimulate group reflections and discussions, in the course of doing things that clearly have immediate business value. For example, many organisations spend (an inordinate, perhaps) amount of time and management attention on coming up with mission statements, visions statements, and the like.

In decreasing order of “unarguable value”:

Purpose

Most organisations spend at least some time, effort and management attention considering and communicating the “shared purpose” of the organisation. Indeed, the Mission Statement is a favoured format for this effort. This then feeds into PR, marketing, branding, positioning and other such MarComms activities. Aside: Simon Sinek describes this kind of thing in terms of the “Golden Circle”. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Jeg3lIK8lro

I’ve been involved in many such initiatives over the years, both with clients and my own companies. I’ve not, however, seen the agendas for such initiatives include time for examination and reflection on the organisations assumptions and beliefs. It’s almost as if the purpose existing in glorious isolation. “Here we are, this is our purpose, handed down from God (or the CEO)”. There’s obviously scope for reflecting on the assumptions and beliefs that underpin the announced Purpose, or Mission Statement. 

Effectiveness 

Most organisations spend at least some time, effort and management attention on becoming more effective. Most often, this resolves to question like “How to cut costs?”, “How to improve quality?”, “How can we increase our market share?” and so on.  Rarely, though, do such discussions “go meta” and delve into the roots of organisational effectiveness. If they did, though, we could imagine questions such as “What makes for an effective organisation?”, “What kinds of effectiveness are we seeking?“ and “Is effectiveness more than just a WIBNI?”

Agility

Generally, little time is spent on the question of “Let’s go Agile” and even less on what “Agile” means. Most often, the decision is a de facto edict from a HiPPO, handed down to the software folks as a fait accompli. 

Doctrine

[TBD]

Others

[TBD]

– Bob

Gratitude

Joy, for me, is helping folks in ways that they have a need to be helped. So I feel appreciative, moved and thankful when someone takes the time to let me know how my help has made a positive contribution to their lives.

I regularly have folks quietly letting me know about how I’ve made some contribution to their journey. Most recently, Andy Tabberer (@ConsultantMicro on Twitter) has been kind enough to share his experiences, and with his permission, share with you.

In this case, it’s particularly pleasing, both because he’s representative of my primary audience (tech management) and because my chosen style has resonated with him. Here’s his unexpurgated words:

I first heard of Bob Marshall – @flowchainsensei – through Twitter. I cannot remember how exactly, but I guess it was a question, the type of searching question that comes easilyi to Bob, that piqued my interest. Since then, Bob has taken me, indirectly, on a journey of self-improvement through his questioning and prompting on Twitter and through his blog.

Why am I telling you this? Well, a while ago, Bob asked his followers if anything he had tweeted or blogged had been of any use, had anything he’d produced been used to do something good.

This is my reply to that question.

My examples are:

The blog that encouraged me to challenge the status quo in my work was What are Non-Obvious Systemic Constraints?. Among other constraints listed, the ‘Business As Usual’, ‘Mandatory optimism’ and ‘Fear of conflict’ examples really resonated with me. It felt like I was able to hold my company up to the light for the first time and see its true colours.

I felt compelled to reconsider the role of the management team, of which I was a part. Bob’s examples helped me to show others how our company was failing in ways we could not see. It emboldened me to challenge our conventional thinking and our hierarchy and its “remarkable impact on the ability of the organisation to evolve, improve, and raise its effectiveness”.

Bob’s blog also introduced me to Eli Goldratt. After a quick google search, I landed on a review of a graphic novel of the Goal, an easy to read version of Goldratt’s seminal work. It was quickly added to my Christmas list. This book changed my view of the workplace and in particular how bottlenecks impact our productivity. So many of my former colleagues have Bob to thank for being branded bottlenecks, a few of them would even thank him.

Finally, I have Bob to thank for an introduction to Deming. This name kept popping up again and again. I eventually went off in search of material to read – I have Four Days with Deming lined up to read next – and I alighted at the Deming Institute blog. After a little browsing, I settled down to watch the following video by David Lanford -> blog.deming.org/2013/08/attrib. The impact of this video was so profound that it eventually led to a programme of organisation-wide quality goal setting – that I instigated – and, ultimately, my resignation and my decision to move onto pastures new.

I’d like to finish by saying that Bob makesii me think every day. Sometimes I find him frustrating because he answers with a question, never giving advice. This, however, leads me to what I suppose is Bob’s biggest impact on me, which is the path to improvement is forged through questioning. I guess I’ve never encountered anyone who sought only to help others improve rather than dispense self-serving advice designed to reinforce one’s own view of one’s worth or to confirm one’s place in the hierarchy. I’m grateful for that, Bob.

Notes:

i) These questions may seem to come easily, but often they take time, effort and consideration. Not to mention empathy.

ii) I’d be happier to say “invites” rather than “makes” (might be misinterpreted as compulsion or obligation).

In closing, I’d like to thank Andy again, and invite others to contribute their experiences, too.

– Bob

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