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Cost of Focus

Or, more specifically, the cost of suboptimal focus – the cost of focusing on some (less relevant) needs of some Folks That Matter to the detriment or neglect of other (more relevant, valuable) needs of other Folks That Matter.

If we commit our (always limited) resources ineffectively, our returns (we might call this ROI) will likewise fall short of what would be possible if we committed our resources effectively, or optimally.

How Do We Decide?

How we as a individual, team, group or organisation decide who we’re trying to please, delight, satisfy, or otherwise engage with and deliver to?  How do we get to know what folks need, and who to ask about the details of those need? How do we choose whose needs we can successfully discount or defer when the inevitable resource (time, money, effort) crunches come? Who matters and who does not? Which needs are more relevant, valuable (with respect our chosen Goal) and which, less?

It might be useful to have some heuristics, or policy, or other forms of guidance, to guide us in decisions on including, excluding and prioritising folks and their needs? Personally, if it were entirely up to me, I’d go with the general principle describe by Goldratt and summarised in my post “What is Value?“.

By way of a quick summary of that post:

Focus on those things that relax the customers’ constraint, so as to increase the overall throughput of their business (a.k.a. “Mafia Offers”). And focus on the customers, or market segments, that you understand best – or at least can work with to find such understanding.

Our aim: to optimise the Needsscape a.k.a. the needs we meet (for example, need for revenue, profit, cost reduction, etc. often sits at top of mind).

Relevance For Workers

This post is not just about decisions made by executives and managers. Everybody has the same dilemma: how do I/we decide where to focus? Which code module would it be better to deliver first? Which tests are more valuable that others? Who would it be better to work with first, to understand their needs (a.k.a. constraints, requirements, or whatever)? Where we choose to focus absolutely determines how others see us and our efforts.

Bottom Line

The bottom line is: the more effective we are at focussing on things that contribute to our personal or business goal (Cf. Goldratt), the more of our goal we’re likely to get. (Is that self-serving? Only if our goal is self-serving. Choose wisely).

– Bob

Further Reading

The Goal ~ Eliyahu M. Goldratt
It’s Not Luck ~ Eliyahu M. Goldratt
Focus ~ Think Different blog post
What is Value? ~ Think Different blog post

Pay Me To Play

The default basis of the usual contract of employment – paying people to work – has gone unexamined for far too long.

What is it organisations want from their waged employees?

In knowledge work at least, the enlightened organisation wants directed learning, collaborative learning, and learning focussed on getting better at understanding and meeting the needs of customers.

“The purpose of business is to create and keep a customer.”

~ Peter F. Drucker

And to make that happen, it’s helpful to attend to the needs of everyone involved in the enterprise.

So why do we expect “a fair day’s pay for a fair day’s work”? (I find it ironic that this comes from the labour side of the contract.)

More explicitly, why the near-universal assumption that the equation should be about paying people to work?

Richard Branson has recently adopted an “as much holiday as you like” non-policy for Virgin HQ staff. Netflix also does not track holidays taken by its staff – and has found that “staff morale, creativity and productivity have all risen” as a result.

Here we begin to see an ever-so-tiny crack in the pay-for-work hegemony.

Extrapolating, why maintain the fiction that so many workers have been seeing through for years? Salaried people don’t get paid for work – they get paid to turn up. Put another way, they’re a fixed cost. And with the continuing changes in the nature of work, where merely turning up has less and less relation to the adding of value, let alone the meeting of needs, why maintain this fiction any longer?

At Familiar, we encouraged people to set their own terms and conditions, including pay rates, hours, etc.. If I was doing the same kind of thing today, I’d go one step further and break the ties between work and pay entirely.

A New Take on Remuneration

How then might we remunerate people? Absent some universal payment from e.g the state to all its citizens, allowing them to pursue their own ends, their own dreams, free from the fetters of having to earn a living, how might a business “employ” people in the pursuit of its purpose?

If it were me, I’d invite each person to set a “retainer” – a level of remuneration sufficient to meet their needs and allow them freedom from the worries of keeping a roof over their heads. Plus a fair share in the rewards of the collective endeavour. Perhaps via a blockchain crypto-equity arrangement.

What about the loafers?

I was in Switzerland recently, and touched in discussion upon the topical idea of a basic “stipend” for all Swiss citizens. It seems this is not popular amongst those already in work. I suspect this is down a fear that (other) people will take advantage and loaf. Another case of the Fundamental Attribution Error? Or maybe people are just a bit more Theory-X than they’d like to admit to themselves.

“Accept the fact that we have to treat almost anybody as a volunteer.”

~ Peter F. Drucker

As far as any one organisation goes, does it really make sense to hire people that are only there for the money? That don’t find some intrinsic motivation – joy, even – in the actual work? I don’t think so. Of course, there will always be the occasional pathological exception. The occasional person that “takes advantage”. But let’s not make the Analytic-minded mistake of defining policy to cater to the worst possible scenario. What would happen is we just treated everyone like they were a volunteer?

Yes. And pay them, as well?

Pay to Play

If we’re no longer hung up on paying people to work, then how else might we choose to characterise the relationship?

Coming back to the purpose of business, if it’s fundamentally about learning, and the best way to learn is to play, then we’re on the threshold of pay-for-play.

That would suit me. I know I’m most useful, most valuable, when I’m happily playing with things. Like ideas. And playing together, with others, like the social animals we are.

After all, we’re not shifting pig-iron here, right?

– Bob

Further Reading

A CEO letter to the Board…long overdue ~ Henry Mintzberg

Shifting Mindset – The ROI Is There

What’s the return on investment (ROI) in shifting an organisational mindset?

Let’s be more specific about what we’re talking about here.

What’s the Investment?

Normally in ROI calculations we’re talking about investment in terms of money – or proxies for money, such as effort, resources, capital or operational expenditure, and so on.

For effecting a shift in mindset, money-related investment will include:

  • Staff time
  • Opportunity costs
  • Specialists (coaches, therapists, facilitators, etc.)
  • Increased waste as folks work through the change.
  • Training
  • Incidentals (revisions to policies and policy documents, changes to internal processes, etc.)

And in shifting an organisational mindset, we’re also faced with the personal – that is to say, emotional – investment from everyone, across the organisation, in self-examination, unlearning (of old assumptions) and new learning (of a new frame, perspective or viewpoint). Ultimately, even a new way of being in the world of work.

What’s the Shift?

Depending on the current organisational mindset, the shift – I’ll call it a Rightshift, to indicate the desired direction of the shift, to the right, towards a more effective organisation – can in fact be one of several major shifts.

  • For organisations with a currently Adhoc mindset, the desirable shift will be to an Analytic Mindset.
  • For organisations with a currently Analytic mindset, the desirable shift will be to a Synergistic Mindset.
  • For organisations with a currently Synergistic mindset, the desirable shift will be to an Chaordic Mindset.

And this is not something that can be delegated or bought-in. Leaders must model the shift themselves, yet bring the rest of the organisation along with them, lest they become seen as alien and bizarre.

What’s the Return?

For each shift in mindset, the approximate return is a 200% increase in organisational effectiveness. That’s to say, the whole organisation can reduce its operating costs by a factor of three, or increase its throughput by a factor of three with no increases in operating expenses or inventory (including CapEx).

Aside: Reducing operating costs is a bit of a fool’s errand, though, as, especially in knowledge-work businesses, this may mean reducing headcount, and as the organisation wins new business with its improved competitiveness, quality, service, etc., those apparently surplus yet skilled and experienced people will soon be needed again, to deliver against the uplift in demand. See also: the Porsche manufacturing turnaround story.

How do these amazing, incredible, unbelievable levels of return come about? Where do they come from?

  • Increased morale and employee engagement leading to higher levels of discretionary effort, lower social loafing, etc.
  • Reduced cycle times leading to reductions in e.g. costs of delay and improved flow of value.
  • Reductions in WIP leading to reductions in inventory / carrying costs.
  • Improved relationships skills leading to more effective working relationships, reduced coordination costs, etc..
  • Improved product and service quality leading to improved customer focus, better customer experiences and gain in market share.
  • More organisation-time spent on things that matter.
  • More focussed CapEx investment leading to higher CapEx ROI overall.
  • Reduced debt levels leading to reductions in debt-servicing costs.

You may wish to take a look as some earlier posts on this blog, and in particular the Marshall Model, to understand the challenges involved in realising this kind of fundamental shift in organisational mindset, and thereby achieving the stated ROI.

– Bob

Per Diem

time is money

[Tl:Dr: On what I charge, and why I charge it.]

Towards the end of his life, Picasso was charging around $2500 per minute for his work. And folks paid it. They knew that his work was worth it. Not (just) aesthetically. But commercially, too. A piece by Picasso would obviously fetch enormous sums at auction.

Now, I’m no Picasso, not even in my own field (organisational psychotherapy). And I don’t charge $2500 per minute for my work. Actually, I’m pretty sure Picasso didn’t have a per diem or per minutem rate in his head when he set his price for a piece.

But sometimes folks ask me for a per diem rate for my work. I guess it’s what they’re used to from “consultants”.

Aside: I run pell-mell away from that kind of label, and its implicit associations.

I guess my reluctance to talk per diem numbers also loses me work from time to time. I’d rather that than play the per diem game.

But recently, in line with making no more stupid punts, I’m resigned to being more open about what I charge. Of course I’d like to charge by outcomes. Or “value add”. I have offered a guarantee of value for some twenty years now. And I do a lot of work for free, too. It’s not like I want to be rich, or even that I see my income as some gauge of my personal worth as an individual. The work is by far the biggest reward, in itself. By which I mean the opportunity to work with others – yes, people – on things having meaningful purpose.

Yes, money affords us options. I’m acutely aware of how my stance limits my options. Never more so than now, in fact.

So for the record, my considered response to the question “what is your day rate” is now, for simplicity: “My daily rate is variable – generally from £400 to £1500 per diem (plus expenses) – mainly depending on how much I want to do a thing”.

At least this can serve to get the ball rolling.

Ultimately, the client is the judge of the worth of whatever I do. And, in psychotherapy in particular, the client is the deciding factor in the value of the outcome itself. Even more so than in, say, software development.

I remain, however, aware of the value of a healthy organisation over a sick one. And few organisations seem capable of healing themselves. Many folks baulk at the pay rates of CEOs for example, yet those closer to the reality of typical organisations understand just how much the CEO affects the health of his or her organisation, for good or ill.

Aside: Would I like to be a CEO again? Sometimes I think yes, and sometime no. I guess, like so many other opportunities that come along, it depends.

Factors

In case you’re wondering here’s a list of the factors involved in me setting my per diem rate:

  • How busy I want to be: I assume higher rates will limit the number of days I work.
  • Job satisfaction: I assume lower rates will increase the opportunities to work with engaged, curious clients, and enthusiastic people.
  • A clear brief: Clarity makes for a happier me, so “compensation” is less necessary
  • Suitable information, tools and equipment to do a good job: Nickel-and-diming on facilities means a higher rate to compensate for the unpleasantness.
  • Opportunities to be busy: I love what I do, at least, when I’m doing what I love, and am happy to take home less for that opportunity.
  • Feedback: Feedback helps me to improve. The more feedback I get (in a form that I can use) the happier I am and thus the lower the rate.
  • Humane relationships: When folks see me as a person, I’m happier, and so a lower rate is no biggie.
  • Growth: The chance to learn, grow and share (publicly) makes me happy, so again a lower rate works for me.
  • Appreciating my contribution.
  • Seeing others benefit.
  • A likeminded community – executives and workers both.
  • Making friends, and meaningful connections thereby.
  • Frank discussions about progress
  • Length of assignment: Longer assignments mean I spend less (unpaid) time looking for new work, and so lower my rates.
  • Travel. I dislike travelling, so raise my rate where much travel (either frequency or distance) is involved. Also, who gets to carry the cost of the time spent in travelling?

– Bob

Forecasts, Estimates and Cost Accounting

[Draft – please expect further updates]

#NoEstimates?

I’ve tried to avoid getting involved in the ongoing #NoEstimates debate. It seems more like a religious war than a discussion with much prospect of a useful outcome. And a classic case of the Analytic-minded folks butting heads with the Synergistic-minded (and a few Ad-hoc perspectives thrown in for extra confusion).

For me, it also seems like a non-argument. By which I mean that all the knowledge is out there, should folks only but seek to look. For myself, I have several perspectives, drawn from these bodies of knowledge, that I shall continue to apply in the context of estimating and #NoEstimates.

The Theory Of Constraints Perspective

I don’t recall much in Goldratt’s teachings about estimates, per se. But he has written much about the futility of forecasting, e.g. customer demand for products. I suggest his arguments also hold true for forecasting costs (estimating). For more info you might like to take a look at his books, and in particular “It’s Not Luck”.

The Systems Thinking Perspective

Systems Thinking has a relevance to cost estimation, in that systems thinking (c.f. Goldratt, Ackoff) observes that a system is a collection of parts, such that improving the performance of the parts of a system taken separately will negatively impact the performance of the whole. In fact, such “local” improvements can entirely destroy an organization.

Cost Accounting assumes that the cost of each part, each operation, can be known separately (“local costs”). This is a false assumption. I suggest that this means the estimation of costs can, in reality, only produce useful numbers when considered in the context of the system (organisation) as a whole.

See also: “Throughput Accounting” ~ Corbett

The Nonviolent Communications Perspective

From this perspective, we can choose to see folks’ requests for estimates as a means for meeting some of their needs. I’d suggest that some other folks see this means as sub-optimal, in that these other folks believe that there are better means for those folks to get their needs met than through estimates and estimating. And I’d also suggest that for those other folks, having to provide estimates is not meeting their needs. Which is triggering in them various negative feelings, possibly including anger, frustration, hostility and anxiety.

Feelings Inventory

So, applying this knowledge, we might choose to discuss what needs all these folks have, which ones are being met and which not, and some options for effective means for getting everyone’s needs met. Hopefully this might lead to an outcome where folks can agree on a mutually joyful way forward.

The Covalent Perspective

In any non-trivial endeavour, there may be some number of different stakeholders and stakeholding communities, each with their own set of needs. These different needs can and will, at least from time to time, conflict in possibly mutually-exclusive ways. The Covalent approach recognises this and focuses on making folks’ needs explicit and visible, such that these conflict can be resolved, to the extent that is ever possible.

See also: “Competitive Engineering” ~ Tom Gilb

– Bob

Productivity

For all the angst and discussion around how to make organisations, teams and people more productive, we might be forgiven for thinking that the idea of “productivity” was commonly understood and agreed.

However, this is not so.

For example, classical economics has a markedly different definition than does Theory of Constraints (TOC). And if you ask someone – in particular managers demanding “higher productivity” – for an operational definition, you may get a blank look, or other definitions again.

“An operational definition is a procedure agreed upon for translation of a concept into measurement of some kind.”

~ W. Edwards Deming

I’m not arguing for one, common, consistent, clear definition. Rather, I’m drawing attention to the confusion over the term – confusion compounded by many folks taking it for granted that they’re all talking about the same things, that they’re all using the same definitions.

“There is no true value of any characteristic, state, or condition that is defined in terms of measurement or observation. Change of procedure for measurement (change of operational definition) or observation produces a new number.”

~ W. Edwards Deming

Here are just some (differing) definitions I found on the Web:

So, what is productivity? I’m confused now. Are you?

My Own Definition

When I’m talking about productivity, for example in my presentations and workshops on organisational effectiveness and Rightshifting, I have a particular definition clearly in mind:

“Productivity is the act of bringing a company closer to its goal”

~ Jonah, in The Goal by Eliyahu M Goldratt

Personally, although fully agreeing with Goldratt on this definition, I find it’s hard to use in an explanation or discussion, especially with folks unfamiliar with Goldratt’s work. As the Jonah character goes on to say:

“Productivity is a meaningless concept unless the folks in an organisation understand what their goal is.”

And the book (The Goal) takes a whole book to explain how to discover the Goal in any given organisation.

Aside: This definition of productivity makes it closely congruent with “organisational effectiveness”. See this chart:

So for the purposes of discussion, I sometimes use another definition, derived from the TOC formula:

Productivity = Throughput / Operating Expenses

where:

Throughput = Sales – Totally Variable Costs

(a.k.a. the rate at which the system generates money through sales).

and

Operating Expenses = all the money the [organisation] spends in order to turn inventory into throughput.

So, my simpler definition is:

Productivity is how much it costs an organisation to move one unit (measurable step) closer to its goal (whatever its goal may be – for example, getting a particular product to market).

Note: “Cost” here, and below, is in the most general of terms, maybe a composite function of the Five Capitals, and not necessarily just in financial terms e.g. money or cash.

Or, as an (almost) operational definition, where the goal is (improving) organisational effectiveness:

Cost to move the organisation one unit (say, 0.1 of a rightshifting index point) to the right on the effectiveness axis of the Rightshifting chart.

Note: This is much the same as the Rightshifting measure named “Drag”.

Productivity is a Property of the System

By which I mean, that productivity is never a property of an individual or team, but of the whole system of work within which individuals and teams do their work. This is often referred-to as Deming’s 95% rule.

Productivity in Knowledge Work

Taiichi Ohno said “People don’t go to Toyota to ‘work’ they go there to ‘think’”.

If we take this at face value, then The Goal of Toyota, at least from Ohno’s point of view, was to get its people to ‘think’ (which I take to mean, study the system – the way the work works – and improve it).

Make it Clear

So next time, and every time, the topic – or issue – of productivity comes up, think “Are we all on the same page about what this word actually means?”

Some discussion, to ensure everyone is talking about the same thing, pays major dividends. And, yes, increases productivity.

– Bob

Postscript

Since I first wrote this post, it occurs to me that some readers may infer that I believe productivity is an “unalloyed good thing”. Inasmuch as productivity meets the needs of some folks in an organisation, we might choose to accept this at face value. Personally, I reject worshiping at the altar of productivity, and chooser rather to appreciate that a blind pursuit of productivity at the expense of folks’ wider needs can do much more harm than good.

Further Reading

Cost Accounting is Productivity’s Public Enemy Number One – Abonar’s Blog
Theory of Constraints: Bottom Line Measurements – TOC Guide

The Shrink is IN

I have struggled for many years to find a model for positive and effective engagement with organisations looking to improve their effectiveness. Agile coaching has not worked for me – or for clients, much – because of its generally limited (i.e. individual, team or departmental) scope. Ditto Scrum Mastering (and this compounded by a widespread misconception about what Scrum Mastering even means, and just why it might offer any value).

Consulting likewise misses the mark, not least because clients rarely understand how to get anything like the best out of consultants and consulting advice. It’s often like the organisation needs consulting on how to use consultants. Of course great consultants should and can do this – clients permitting – but Sturgeon’s Law tells us these folks are rare.

So I’ve been on the lookout for a model of engagement that affords the following opportunities:

  • Models positive behaviours, such as fellowship, mutual respect and collaboration.
  • Promotes introspection and self-renewal, allowing folks to find their own way.
  • Respects the individual.
  • Avoids compounding common dysfunctions, such as parent-child dynamics (c.f. Transactional Analysis) and alienation.
  • Replaces dependency and learned helplessness with self-reliance and self-confidence.
  • Congruent with positive psychology (i.e. PERMA): Positive emotions, Engagement, Relationships (social connections), Meaning (and purpose) and Accomplishment.
  • Offers incremental and tangible progress at a pace set by the folks involved.
  • Therapeutic (i.e. healing, curative, but also sometimes preventive or supportive).
  • Social and humane.

Accordingly, I have come to regard “therapy” as a model closely matching these attributes, and specifically, “psychotherapy“. But, from a systems thinking perspective, the clients or “patients” are not the individuals in an organisation, but the organisations themselves.

So these days I choose to call myself an “Organisational Psychotherapist”. What does that mean, exactly? What does Organisation Psychotherapy look like in practise? And how can an approach founded on the principles of therapy help  organisations improve their effectiveness?

Aside: We have to assume that an organisation wants help, wants to improve its effectiveness (or maybe some other aspect of its “personality”, functioning, or well-being). If thirty years of coaching has taught me one thing, it’s that there’s no helping folks (or organisations) that don’t want to be helped.

Why Therapy?

Maybe the first question folks have is “why therapy?”. Why take a therapy stance when most other folks choose to act as consultants, or coaches? Fundamentally, it’s because I believe an organisation, as a whole, has to work its issues through, and take responsibility itself for doing that. Too often, consultants get hired to shoulder responsibility on behalf of the organisation. And when these consultants leave, clients all too often find themselves back at square one – or worse. Like a game of Snakes and Ladders.

snakes and ladders

So, to organisational psychotherapy. As an analogy, we might consider the work of Virginia Satir, widely regarded as the “Mother of Family Therapy”.

“Families and societies are small and large versions of one another. Both are made up of people who have to work together, whose destinies are tied up with one another. Each features the components of a relationship: leaders perform roles relative to the led, the young to the old, and male to female; and each is involved with the process of decision-making, use of authority, and the seeking of common goals.”

~ Virginia Satir, Peoplemaking, ch. 24 (1988).

“It is now clear to me that the [organisation] is a microcosm of the world. To understand the world, we can study the [organisation]. Issues such as power, intimacy, autonomy, trust, and communication skills are vital parts underlying how we live in the world. To change the world is to change the [organisation].

~ Virginia Satir (paraphrased)
The New Peoplemaking, ch. 1 (1988)

Organisational Psyche

In The Nine Principles of Organisational Psychotherapy, I stated as principle 3:

3. Organisations Have a Collective Psyche that Responds to Therapies

Organisational therapy procedes on the basis that the collective psyche of an organisation is similar in nature to the psyche of the individual, and is similarly amenable to therapeutic interventions (although the actual techniques and underlying concepts may differ).

That’s to say, the collective consciousness of an organisation is a thing in its own right, and we can examine it, interact with it and (help) alter it, for better – or worse.

“…the qualities that all human beings need and yearn for in other humans, a sense of being cared for, valued, wanted, even loved…what for a lifetime, human beings strive to find. Some of the most important :  empathic concern, respectfulness, realistic hopefulness, self-awareness, reliability and strength –  the strength to say ‘yes’ and the strength to say ‘no’.

~ Stanley S. Greben

I believe organisations, too, need these qualities. All too often organisations – in part or as a whole – come to regard themselves with some degree of self-loathing.

Where’s the Value?

Paul DiModica, in his excellent book “Value Forward Selling” suggests that people appreciate a clear communication of the value of an idea or proposition. To that end, here’s what I believe is the (unique) value in taking a therapy stance with respect to e.g. improving organisational effectiveness (a.k.a. Rightshifting):

The organisations with which I work consider therapy because some aspect or aspects of their “cognitive (brain) functioning” is not working as well as they would like. Despite these organisations’ basic competence, they have not been able to resolve these issues to their own satisfaction, from their own resources.

With improved functioning comes an improved ability to cope, to grow, to mature, and to build necessary capabilities. And with these comes increasing effectiveness, revenue growth, margins, and customer, employer, employee and shareholder satisfaction. Not to mention organisations which are able to play a more positive role in wider society.

How Does It Feel?

So, what does it look like and feel like to be an employee of an organisation that has chosen to work with an organisational therapist?

Firstly, it’s probably useful to understand that therapy does not try to “fix” anyone or anything. Personally, I most often choose  to approach a new engagement from a perspective akin to Solution Focused Brief Therapy:

“SFBT focuses on what [the client organisation] wants to achieve through therapy, rather than on the problem(s) that made it seek help. The approach does not focus on the past, but instead, focuses on the present and future. The therapist/counselor uses respectful curiosity to invite the client to envision their preferred future and then therapist and client start attending to any moves towards it – whether these are small increments or large changes.”

Given that we’re talking about organisational therapy, there’s the added dimension of working with many different folks within the client organisation – as opposed to working with just one person in individual therapy, or maybe half-a-dozen or so people, in family therapy situations.

This typically involves helping these folks improve their ability to think collectively and purposefully. I believe the key to this is the – often missing – ability to have effective, purposeful dialogue. For those (very few) organisations already skilled in this, little need to be done, but for the majority, basic work on dialogue, and thence to focus, shared visions, etc. will be required.  

What to Expect From Organisational Therapy

Some folks might have some experience of one-to-one, or group, therapy. But few indeed will have had any experience of organisational therapy. Here’s a brief run-down of what folks might reasonably expect from organisational therapy.

Who Receives Psychotherapy

Most organisations, at one time or another need some help. For some organisations, talking together, and assisted by a therapist, helps them understand ways they can improve things. Sometimes organisations seek therapy at the advice of a consultant, coach, executive or investor. Sometimes it is overwhelming stress or a crisis that causes an organisation to decide to choose therapy. In addition, many times organisations might choose therapy to gain insight and acceptance about themselves and to achieve growth and improved well-being. Therapy offers these benefits to any organisation that is unhappy with the way it acts, performs or feels, and wants to change.

What Is Organisational Psychotherapy?

Organisational Psychotherapy is a relationship in which an organisation, as a whole, works with a professional in order to bring about changes in its feelings, thoughts, attitudes, and/or behaviour. The task of the therapist, therefore, is to help the organisation as a whole make the changes it wishes to make. Oftentimes the organisation entering therapy knows changes are needed but does not know what changes to make or how to go about making them. Often, too, the organisation is fragmented not used to holding an organisation-wide “internal dialogue”. The organisational psychotherapist helps the organisation figure these things out. Therapists help clients in many ways. Exactly how depends on the orientation (approach to therapy). Here the therapist’s training and beliefs on how therapy should work can have some influence. The most common therapy approaches I use are Positive Psychology, Solutions Focus, Dialogue, Scenario Modelling and Clean Language, with influences from Eastern wisdom including Buddhism, the Tao, and Zen.

Positive Psychology

“We believe that a psychology of positive human functioning will arise, which achieves a scientific understanding and effective interventions to build thriving individuals, families, and communities.”

~ Professor Martin Seligman and Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi

Positive Psychology involves the use of findings from positive psychology research. It helps organisations to change – in the ways they would like to change. Positive Positive psychologists seek “to find and nurture genius and talent”, and “to make normal life more fulfilling”. There is an emphasis in positive psychology on promoting well-being, as opposed to treating illness.

Solutions Focus

While the method and scope of the Solutions Focus approach to organisational therapy are wide-ranging and comprehensive, the basic principles are simple:

  • identify what works and do more of it
  • stop doing what doesn’t work and do something different.

The Solution Focused approach was developed in America in the 1980s. Two simple ideas underpin Solutions Focus organisational therapy:

  • Even organisations with major dysfunctions will occasionally do good things, and achieve positive results. Solutions Focused practitioners will help uncover these exceptions –  whatever the organisation is already doing, which might contribute to progress on, or resolution of the issue(s) at hand.
  • Knowing where you want to get to, makes the getting there much more likely. Solutions Focused practitioners ask lots of questions about what life might be like if the problem was solved. As the answers to these questions gradually unfold the client begins to get a picture of where the organisation should be focusing.

Choosing a Therapist

“A psychoanalyst’s personality is his [or her] major therapeutic tool.”

Henri F. Ellenberger

You will probably want to ask potential therapists about their orientation. Ask them what this will mean for your therapy experience. Most therapists are not rigid in their orientations. You should also ask a potential therapist about use of evidence based practice. Ask them if they use methods that have been found to have evidence that they work for organisations like yours. Organisational therapy is provided in many ways, with a prevailing focus on the  organisational psyche, not individuals per se.

“…it is becoming increasingly obvious that the (psycho)therapist’s personality is a more decisive factor than the school to which he belongs.”

~ Arthur Koestler 

“Psychotherapy…is a craft, the aptitude for which derives more from a general experience of living than is generally supposed.”

~ Peter Lomas

What Happens in Psychotherapy?

The therapy process varies depending on the approach of the therapist. It also differs for each individual organisation, and its situation. However, there are some common aspects of therapy that organisations are likely to experience when they enter a therapy relationship.

The first session with a therapist is often a consultation session. This session does not commit the organisation to working with the therapist. This session helps you to find out whether psychotherapy might be useful to you. In addition, you decide whether this particular therapist is likely to be helpful. During this session, you may want to discuss any values that are particularly important to you and your organisation. This first session is a time for you to decide if you and your organisation will feel comfortable, confident, and motivated in working with this particular therapist.

You should also feel that you can trust and respect your therapist. You should feel that your therapist understands your organisation’s situation. This is also the time for the therapist to decide whether he or she is a good match for your organisation. At times, a therapist may refer you to another therapist who may be able to work better with your organisation.

After an initial assessment stage, the rest of therapy is to help your organisation gain insight and address current problems. It can also help your organisation alter the emotions, thoughts, and/or behaviours it wants to change. The therapy process focuses on the goals which the organisation surfaces during therapy. How these goals are met depends on the orientation of the therapist and the methods the therapist may use.

Organisational therapy typically requires more activity than just talking about particular issues. These activities may include such things as role-playing or homework assignments. This is where parts of your organisation can adopt and develop the new skills it decides are valuable for the future.

The amount of therapy an organisation receives will vary depending on the orientation of the therapist and the specific treatment plan used. Some interventions are relatively short. Others require a longer time commitment.

Each session of therapy usually lasts about an hour, with members of some part of the organisation. Longer sessions, with wider participation, are also sometime advised. The therapist will generally visit with your organisation once or twice a month. However, therapy timelines are rarely rigid (or predictable). Your organisation may change the schedule to fit the needs of various groups and/or the therapist.

It is a good idea to ask your therapist about the general methods he or she may use with you in therapy. Also, ask about the length and frequency of therapy you might expect.

Some therapists suggest other treatments in addition to talking therapy. These may include workshops, off-sites, conferences, reading or other things. They may also use support groups, with members drawn from different organisations.

After a period of time, you and your therapist may agree that therapy has been successful in helping your organisation achieve its immediate goals. Even after therapy has ended, some therapists may suggest a follow-up e.g. several months later to check on how you are doing. If your organisation has new problems or feel that past problems still are not better, it may choose to return to therapy.

One important thing to remember is that all types of therapy do not automatically work for every organisation. You should always consider other options when a particular therapy is not working.

What Makes For Good Therapy?

Even as far back as the 5th Century BC, Hippocrates had apparently expressed the greater importance of studying the patient than of studying the patient’s disease.

Rather than assert my own opinion directly, allow me to share the selected views of some noted folks:

“Experience has taught me to keep away from therapeutic ‘methods’ as much as from diagnoses … everything depends on the man and little or nothing on the method.”

~ Carl Gustav Jung

“Some years ago I formulated the view that it was not the special or professional knowledge of the therapist, nor his intellectual conception of therapy (his ‘school of thought’), nor his techniques which determine his effectiveness. I hypothesised that what was important was the extent to which he possessed certain personal attitudes in the relationship.”

~ Carl R. Rogers

“…the crucial factor in psychotherapy is not so much the method, but rather the relationship between the patient and his doctor or … between the therapist and his patient. This relationship between two persons seems to be the most significant aspect of the therapeutic process, a more important factor than any method or technique.”

~ Victor E. Frankl

“…however much therapists may focus on the technical aspects of their procedures, an increasing body of evidence suggests that it is the personal relationship between themselves and their patients which is experienced by the latter as the most potent therapeutic force.”

~ David Smail

“There are many schools of psychotherapy but results appear to depend on the personal qualities, experience and worldly wisdom of the therapist rather than on the theoretical basis of the method. … There is growing evidence that effectiveness in (psycho)therapy is primarily dependent on the quality of the relationship between the quality of the relationship between therapist and patient and that, in turn, depends on the quality of the therapist.”

~ Robert M. Youngson

“If any single fact has been established by psychotherapy research, it is that a positive relation ship between patient and therapist is positively related to therapy outcome.”

~ Irvin D. Yalom

Organisational therapy works as it does because it is not a pseudo-science, magic or a kind of medical treatment, but simply because it is a highly refined method of therapeutic co-operation, both between the therapist and the organisation’s psyche, and between the folks in the organisation itself.

– Bob

Further Reading

How Psychotherapy Works ~ Online article

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