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Organisational effectiveness

Simples

I can’t pretend I’m not frustrated with the software community for its limited engagement with the question of organisational performance. Given that organisational performance is inextricably linked with the quality of life of folks working in software and IT departments everywhere, and with the health of society more broadly too. This post explores the (simple) connection between organisational performance and Organisational Psychotherapy.

Organisational Performance

I’m using the term “performance” here more broadly than might be regarded as common (but consistent with e.g. the Wikipedia entry).

Aside: In the vocabulary of the Antimatter Principle, we define organisational performance (somewhat opaquely, to be sure) as:

“The relative impact on all the needs of all The Folks That Matter™, of meeting all the needs of all The Folks That Matter™”

For the purposes of this post, I’m using the term to cover:

  • Financial performance (profits, revenues, return on assets, return on investment, debt ratio, etc.)
  • Shareholder value (total shareholder return, economic value added, share price, etc.)
  • Sales and market share
  • Customer and supplier (including employee and management) satisfaction
  • Corporate Social Responsibility
  • The well-being of the Core Group (probably the most crucial, yet least openly discussed)

The Proposition

Organisational Psychotherapy is a very simple proposition, really. Let’s lay it out and see who agrees or disagrees with the line of reasoning at any point:

  1. The assumptions and beliefs held in common (i.e. collectively) within an organisation drive every aspect of the behaviours of that organisation.
  2. The behaviours of an organisation, in toto, govern the performance of that organisation.
  3. To increase the performance of an organisation in any or all of the dimensions of organisational performance requires some changes in its behaviour.*
  4. Any and all changes in behaviour come from changes in the collective assumptions and beliefs held by the organisation.
  5. Organisations rarely have the competence (skills) to examine, change their collective assumptions and beliefs
  6. Outside intervention (i.e. the Organisational Psychotherapist) can help kick-start the organisation in its internal dialogue, introspection and acquisition of the skills necessary to examine and change its collective assumptions and beliefs.

*Note: Excluding considerations of external factors beyond the control of the organisation.

Put another way, Organisational Psychotherapy reduces the risks, costs and timescales of an organisation changing its collective assumptions and beliefs, and thereby reduces the risks, costs and timescales of improving the performance of the organisation.

Diagrammed

Here’s a diagram illustrating the above line of reasoning:

Graphic representation of the line of reasoning

 

Further Reading

Who Really Matters: The Core Group Theory of Power, Privilege, and Success ~ Art Kleiner
The Five Capitals – a framework for sustainability ~ Forum For the Future article
Productivity ~ Think Different blog post

Some Familiar Experiences

[Note: I regard this post as unfinished – I’m publishing it now in the hope that some kind readers will help me in bringing it to something nearer completion. Also, you might like to check in now and again for possible updates.]

A Conversation

Here’s a transcript of a conversation that didn’t take place, but could have, in the vicinity of Reading, England, circa 1999.

Sam: Thanks for allowing me to get some insights into Familiar and what makes it different from other software houses.

Bob: Thanks for showing an interest. We feel the UK software industry would serve society better if more folks had some exposure to what we’re doing here, and maybe take on board some of the principles that have guided us so far.

Sam: I’d like to start with the one thing that intrigues me most. The way you set salaries here. I’ve heard you allow people to set their own salaries? Is that true? Can you explain why you do that?

Bob: Surely. When we set up Familiar, some three years ago now, we all decided we wanted a company that felt more like a family, both for the folks working in the company, and for all the other folks involved – our suppliers and customers, for example. That’s reflected in one aspect of the name “Familiar”, of course (I won’t go into the other aspects of the name, just now). At the time, I was reading the book “Families and How To Survive Them” by John Cleese and Robin Skynner. That book led me to Eric Berne’s work on Transactional Analysis. Berne’s work got me thinking about building a community where Adult-Adult interactions and relationships were the norm.

Sam: So how does having folks set their own salaries play into that idea?

Bob: Well, our approach to salaries – and the same with equipment, working times, locations and the nature of the relationship between the community and the individual – is to have people choose for themselves. If we want folks to behave more often like adults, it makes sense to us to treat them like adults. Folks capable of making their own decisions about the things that matter to them, and to the community as a whole. Moreover, who is at all equipped to decide what salary, etc., suits their needs – other than each individual?

Sam: That sounds really out there. How do people find it?

Bob: It’s true it’s not without its challenges. Firstly, people just starting with us often haven’t thought very much about their commercial value. In other words, at what level they might set their salaries. What might be “fair”. And if someone asks for any given salary, cap-in-hand like, I push back. As far as I’m concerned – and speaking on behalf of the community, too – it’s not a negotiation. Someone announces their intent to bill at a certain rate, or get paid a certain monthly stipend, and that’s what happens. I see it as a positive, all round – for them, others, and the community as a whole – for someone to think about what they charge. You might say “what they’re worth” – but that’s too crass a phrase for me. And then there are other challenges, too.

Sam: Such as?

Bob: Folks billing or getting paid too little. Strange as it seems, our overall staff costs are rather lower than we expected for a software house such as ours. Nobody’s complaining, really. But I’d like to see folks reap greater financial rewards, not just the – less tangible but no less important – rewards of community, fellowship and interesting projects. Americans call wages “compensation” – I guess folks here don’t have to receive as much compensating for the crap as in other companies.

Sam: So you don’t get anyone “trying it on”?

Bob: Not to date. We subscribe to McGregor’s Theory-Y, which invites us to believe that employees are internally – or ‘intrinsically’ – motivated, enjoy their job, and work to better themselves without a direct (financial) reward in return. We’ve found this to be a valid assumption in our case. We strive to make Familiar a place when folks love to get together and do interesting, meaningful things. As our Credo states: “Familiar exists for folks to come together and explore what ‘fulfilment’ means for each one, individually”.

Sam: And as for the other things folks can choose? You mentioned equipment, locations, working times, and the nature of the relationship with the community?

Bob: Again, we want folks to feel like we regard them as adults, with the capacity to choose what’s best and most suitable for them, and thus for the (extended) community too. So everyone gets to choose their development computer(s), monitors, keyboards, etc., and development platform (operating system, tools, languages and such). Some folks have their own kit, and for others Familiar buys some or all of the kit. Some interoperability considerations apply, of course, and the customer often has some requirements relating to the operational/production environment. Project teams organise themselves to factor all this into the mix as part of their development process.

Sam: And locations?

Bob: Everyone works where they feel most comfortable, convenient or productive. Different issues affect different people. And folks are invited to vary their location as they see fit – and as suggested by the nature of the task they’re involved with at a given hour or on a given day. We have our office here, of course, with the public cafeteria, bookable meeting rooms, and our private community office space divided into bullpen, library/lounge with couches, a number of personal offices and the kitchenette. But folks work from home – and each others’ homes – as often as not. We also make a point of getting out as a group, both for meals and drinks in local restaurants and pubs, and for longer weekends away at comfy hotels. One chap who would otherwise have a long commute has a satellite office nearer to his home location. Again, “everybody’s different” – and capable of making their own choices.

Sam: Working times and the relationship with the company/community?

Bob: Folks work the hours that suit them, with the only proviso that the clients’ schedules get consideration. We have some early birds, some late birds, and some bird-of-a-feather (folks who like to regularly pair or work in sub-groups). The latter means they coordinate (self-organise) their schedules and locations, to some extent. As for relationships with the community, I’m talking about what some other companies might describe as the “contractual relationship”. We have some hour- and day-rate “contractors”. Some weekly paid and monthly paid “employees”, and a couple of folks – like myself – whose relationship falls outside those categories. And while we’re talking about pay, I guess I could mention the bonuses. We don’t have any formal bonus scheme as such, but when a particular project goes well, folks get together to consider the costs and revenues and decide if a team bonus is appropriate and what level and split would suit.

Sam: Would you do anything different if you found yourself involved in a different community in the future?

Bob: Nothing significantly different. Excepting that circumstances prevailing when we started Familiar allowed us the opportunity to trial these “wacky” ideas in practice. Such circumstances may not present themselves next time around. Folks have to be open to the ideas of doing things differently, or I suspect a similar scenario might never even get off the ground.

Sam: Do you have any advice for others thinking about building this kind of environment for their businesses?

Bob: I hate giving advice – I find it rarely followed. But one thing I would say – don’t underestimate the time needed for, and the value of, supporting folks who might feel uneasy from time to time about the choices they’re enabled to make. I’ve put in much time supporting people here when the way forward has seems unclear for them personally. But I feel it’s never been enough support, and I always want us to do more. And one word of caution: Time. It’s taken us three years of daily practice to even begin to understand how these ideas all fit together. The benefits are definitely there, we’re demonstrated that, but few companies seem to have a longer-term view. Along the way, we have discovered some useful shortcuts.

Sam: Thanks, Bob, for sharing your experiences with me, and my readers.

Bob: My thanks to you also, Samantha. It’s been fun.

[End]

– Bob

Further Reading

The Starting of Familiar ~ Think Different blog post

Better Antimatter Customers

[Some years ago I wrote a post entitled “Better Customers“. This is an update of that post, reframed using the AntimatterPrinciple]

More effective organisations need better Folks That Matter™. Where “better” means more demanding discerning. Less gullible.

Folks that demand their needs are met, or as a minimum, attended-to, not tech, nor features, nor hand-wavy “value”.

Folks that refuse to pay when their needs are ignored, met poorly, or not addressed at all.

Folks that hold a healthy skepticism for unevidenced claims and promises.

Folks that disrupt the cosy hegemony of the technologists (see e.g. #NoSoftware).

Folks that push back against complex and expensive non-solutions.

Folks that push through the embarrassment of failure to call suppliers to account.

Folks that understand THEIR Folks That Matter™, and look for partners that want to help them in that.

Folks who see the value in relationships, trust, and evidence, whilst rejecting faith-based arguments.

Folks that buy on criteria other than lowest (ticket) price (cost being just one need amongst many).

Folks that embrace the human element and humane relationships in the world of business.

Folks that understand their own strengths – and their weaknesses, and act accordingly.

Folks that generously share the laurels of success, and share responsibility for failure too.

There are so many folks that feel a need to do better, but desperately need the support of their Folks That Matter™ to make that happen. Without better Folks That Matter™, the reforms and improvements we need will indeed take a long time in coming.

– Bob

 

Three Questions

There are three questions I like to ask my clients upon our first meeting. You might find them equally useful in your own dialogues within your particular organisation. Here are the three questions:

1. Is anyone in your organisation at all interested in productivity (or quality, or effectiveness)?

Note: Many folks will express an interest in productivity, quality or effectiveness, but not act congruent with this espoused interest. You might like to look into the work of Chris Argyris to learn more about this phenomenon (see: espoused theories vs theories-in-use). You may also care to look at what’s really happening within the organisation for evidence of actual interest in e.g. productivity.

If your true answer to question 1 is “no”, then there’s not much point proceeding to the next question.

But if there are folks in your organisation at all interested in productivity (or quality, or effectiveness), then question 2 is:

2. Do all interested parties agree that folks’ collective assumptions and beliefs about work, the world of work, and how work should work is at the root of effectiveness a.k.a. productivity?

If your answer to question 2 is “no”, then I propose you might like to look elsewhere for your answers, rather than proceed to question 3.

But if there are enough folks in your organisation who can agree that collective assumptions and beliefs about work, the world of work, and how work should work is at the root of organisational effectiveness a.k.a. productivity, then question 3 is:

3. How will you go about affecting this collection of shared assumptions and beliefs – in ways which translate to meeting folks’ needs for increased productivity (or quality, or effectiveness)?

Note: In some organisations, maybe there are already some initiatives or actions in train intended to bring about such a change in shared assumption and beliefs.

I’d be very interested to hear your answers.

– Bob

The Evolution Of An Idea

Many people have expressed an interest in learning more about the evolution of Organisational Psychotherapy. This post attempts to go back to the roots of the idea and follow its twists and turns as it evolved to where it is today (January 2020).

Familiar

Around the mid-nineties I had already been occupied for some years with the question of what makes for effective software development. My interest in the question was redoubled as I started my own software house (Familiar Limited) circa 1996. I felt I needed to know how to better serve our clients, and grow a successful business. It seemed like “increasing effectiveness” was the key idea.

This interest grew into the first strand of my work: Rightshifting. I had become increasingly disenchanted with the idea of coercive “process” as THE way forward. I had seen time and again how “process” had made things worse, not better. So I coined the term Rightshifting to describe the goal we had in mind (becoming more effective), rather than obsessing over the means (the word “process”, in my experience, conflating these two ideas).

“Rightshifting” describes movement “to the right” along a horizontal axis of increasing organisational effectiveness (see: chart). Even at this stage, my attention was on the organisation as a whole (and sometimes entire value chains) rather than on some specific element of an organisation, such as a software development team or department.

Circa 2008 I began to work on elaborating the Rightshifting idea, in an attempt to address a common question:

“What do all these organisations (distributed left and right along this horizontal axis) do differently, one from the other?”

Subsequently, the Marshall Model emerged (see: chart). Originally with no names for the four distinct phases, categories or zones of the model, but then over the space of a few months adding names for each zone: “Ad-hoc”, “Analytic” (as per Ackoff); “Synergistic” (as per Buckminster Fuller); and “Chaordic” (as per Dee Hock).

These names enabled me to see these zones for what they were: collective mindsets. And also to answer the above question:

Organisations are (more or less) effective because of the specific beliefs and assumptions they hold in common.

I began calling these common assumptions and beliefs a “collective mindset”, or memeplex. This led to the somewhat obvious second key question:

“If the collective mindset dictates the organisation’s effectiveness – not just in software development but in all its endeavours, across the board – how would an organisation that was seeking to become more effective go about changing its current collective mindset for something else? For something more effective?”

Organisation-wide Change

Organisation-wide change programmes and business transformations of all kinds – including so-called Digital Transformations – are renowned for their difficulty and high risk of failure. It seemed to me then (circa 2014), and still seems to me now, that “classical” approaches to change and transformation are not the way to proceed.

Hence we arrive at a different kind of approach, one borrowing from traditions and bodies of knowledge well outside conventional management and IT. I have come to call this approach “Organisational Psychotherapy” – named for its similarities with individual (and family) therapy. I often refer to this as

“Inviting the whole organisation onto the therapist’s couch“.

I invite and welcome your curiosity and questions about this brief history of the evolution of the idea of Organisational Psychotherapy.

– Bob

Further Reading

Memes Of The Four Memeplexes ~ A Think Different blog post

Discretionary Effort

“Discretionary effort” is a term often uses to describe the extra effort that some folks choose to put into whatever they’re doing. In the context of the workplace, it can mean things like working extra (unpaid) hours, attending to things outside of one’s immediate responsibilities, helping folks in addition to doing one’s own work, and so on. It’s a close cousin of that bête noire of organisations everywhere: “Employee engagement”. (Engaged employees are those employees who, amongst other things, contribute by way of discretionary effort).

I’ve worked with numerous managers and executives that ache to see more discretionary effort from their people. But discretionary effort is just that – discretionary. At the discretion of the folks involved.

When folks choose to put in extra hours, they do so because they’re motivated to do so. Sometimes this motivation is intrinsic (e.g. joy or pride in the work), and sometimes it’s extrinsic (e.g. bonuses, praise, threats – whether real or implied, etc.).

Of those managers and executives I’ve worked with, none have understood the psychology behind discretionary effort. Many have tried to incentivise it or exhort their people to greater discretionary efforts. Few have sought the psychological roots of intrinsic motivation (for which see e.g. Dan Pink’s book “Drive” – which explains these roots as “autonomy”, “mastery” and “purpose”).

Aside: Intrinsic motivation, and the conditions which help it to emerge, is the hallmark of the Synergistic mindset, and conspicuous by its marked absence in the working conditions fostered by the Analytic Mindset – Cf. the Marshall Model.

If we but think about it for a moment, extrinsically-motivated discretionary effort is not actually discretionary at all (although we do all have a choice in the face of workplace violence). Extrinsically-motivated extra effort is coerced, forced, obliged – or done for the reward(s), in which latter case it’s not “extra”, unpaid, effort per se.

So, real discretionary effort, much sought after as it is, is down to intrinsic motivation only. And as my popular post “Six FAQs” explains, we cannot coerce or force intrinsic motivation. We can but set up the conditions for intrinsic motivation to happen, and thereby hope for discretionary effort to emerge.

We can’t change someone else’s intrinsic motivation – only they can do that.”

And, by extension, we can’t increase someone else’s discretionary effort – only they can choose to do that.

So, if like so many other managers and executives, you’re aching for more discretionary effort, what will you do about it? What will you do about understanding the psychology behind intrinsic motivation, and about creating the conditions for intrinsic motivation to emerge?

– Bob

P.S. I’ve conscious chosen to NOT explore the morality – and rationally – of expecting employees to contribute “free” hours above and beyond their contractual terms of employment. I’d be happy to pen another post on the pressures of business, and in particular the pressure of the “runway” – a common cause of such urges for “Beyoncé time”-  given sufficient interest and demand.

Further Reading

What exactly is Discretionary Effort? ~ Jason Lauritsen (blog post)

Your REAL Job

Students of Ackoff and Deming will be aware of Deming’s First Theorem:

“Nobody gives a hoot about profit.”

W. E. Deming

This reminds us that senior executives are demonstrably less interested in the welfare of the organisations they serve than in their own well being.

“Executives’ actions make sense [only] if you look at them as taken in order to maximise the executive’s well being.”

~ Russell L. Ackoff

Of course, it can be career-limiting to bring this issue to general attention. As the well-known psychiatrist R D Laing said:

“They are playing a game. They are playing at not playing a game. If I show them I see they are, I shall break the rules and they will punish me. I must play their game, of not seeing I see the game.”

~ R. D. Laing

And yet, if we look at the implications for “doing a good job” – a preoccupation of many in employment, we can draw the following conclusion:

We’re doing a good job when we’re maximising our executives’ (our bosses’) well being. We’re not doing a good job when we ignore that in favour of focussing on e.g. making the company successful or profitable. This probably rings true with you if you but think about it, in your own context, for a few moments.

This underscores a hidden reality for many: our declared job is a FAUX job. Our REAL job is undeclared, unexamined, unspecified – and being good at THAT is therefore a matter of pure dumb luck and random chance. How often do you have a conversation with your senior executives about how you might contribute to maximising their well being? How can we attend to their needs – as folks that matter – without such a dialogue?

– Bob

Further Reading

Nobody Gives a Hoot About Profit ~ The W. Edwards Deming Institute Blog post

Getting Started as an Organisational Psychotherapist

A number of folks have asked me recently about my suggestions for getting started in Organisational Psychotherapy, i.e. as a practitioner (a.k.a. therapist).

This post sets down a few pointers in that direction.

Blog Posts and Books

I’ve written many posts over the past five years and more exploring the subject of Organisational Psychotherapy from various viewpoints. More recently, I published a book on the subject, which I regard as foundational in the field of Organisational Psychotherapy. The book is titled “Hearts over Diamonds” and you can find it on LeanPub (ebook version), the Apple book store (also an ebook), and in print form at Lulu.com.

To find all the Organisational Psychotherapy posts on my blog, you can use the Organisational Therapy category link, or search for e.g. “Organisational Psychotherapy“ using the WordPress search feature.

Other Entry Points

To reduce the likelihood of anchoring your own practice to my personal perspective, you might like to first enter the field via routes other than my blog posts and books. When I started, I hadn’t written anything on the topic (obviously), so I myself started with:

  • Reflections on the core purpose of what I I only later came to call Organisational Psychotherapy (particular the foundational question, see “Foundations”, below)
  • Research into some of the many schools of individual therapy (for example, the work of Carl Rogers, Marshall Rosenberg, Virginia Satir, etc.), and the nature of therapy in general
  • Reflections on my own experiences of being “in therapy”
  • Selection of a few key schools of therapy, schools which particularly resonate with you
  • Reflections on repurposing individual therapies to the field of Organisational Psychotherapy
  • Practical application in client engagements (these were, for me, mainly coaching-type engagements, at the outset)

A Game Plan

I’m pretty sure you’ll want to formulate your own “game plan” for acquiring skill, experience, and capabilities in the field of Organisational Psychotherapy. For myself, my game plan has consisted of a repeating alternation between reflection and practise, reflection and practise.

Foundations

How have I arrived at my relationship with Organisational Psychotherapy today? Having been in the world of software development, and the business of software development, for more than forty years, I’ve come to see that any significant progress towards increased effectiveness depends on organisations fundamentally shifting their collective assumptions and beliefs. You can read about this via Rightshifting, and the Marshall Model.

Given this, the question becomes:

“What kind of intervention could help organisations and their people with uncovering their existing, collectively-held, beliefs, assumptions and attitudes? With discussing those, seeing the connection with their business and personal problems and challenges, and doing something about that?”

My own personal answer to this question is, nowadays, Organisational Psychotherapy. In the context of getting started, I invite you to find your own question (or feel free to adopt mine), and then search for your own answer.

– Bob

OP 101

I note I have a tendency to explain things in detail or at length without necessarily setting down the fundamentals of an idea. This post attempts to set down the fundamental of OP – Organisational Psychotherapy. (For the details, or a lengthy tour through the subject, there’s a whole passel of other posts on this blog, plus my recent book “Hearts over Diamonds”).

Tl;Dr

The performance of any knowledge work organisation is a function of its collective assumptions and beliefs about work. Significant improvements to organisational performance requires a fundamental shift in these assumptions and beliefs. Organisational Psychotherapy makes this shift both feasible and economic.

The Basic Premise

The basic premise of Organisational Psychotherapy is that the performance of any and all knowledge work organisations is a function of the collective mindset of the organisation. For significant improvements in the performance of the organisation, the collective mindset has to undergo a step-change.

P = ƒ(Collective mindset)

Collective Mindset

In Organisational Psychotherapy, “collective mindset” (a.k.a. collective or shared memeplex) we mean “the set of assumptions and beliefs held in common by more-or-less everyone in the organisation”. Assumptions and beliefs concerning work, and how work should work (i.e. how work should be organised, directed and managed).

This set of assumptions and beliefs held in common are rarely held consciously, more often existing below the level of consciousness of the organisation and its individuals, both.

Culture

We often call the manifestation of the collective mindset the “culture” of the organisation – the typical behaviours and actions of individuals and groups driven, subconsciously, by their underlying, commonly-held, assumptions and beliefs.

The Performance Challenge

Many organisation may be happy with – or at least resigned to – their status quo. These organisations do not seek to understand the roots of organisational performance. For the fewer number of organisations that do seek to improve their performance, questions such as “what makes for better performance” and “what could we do to improve performance” begin to surface.

The challenge, then, for this latter group of organisations, is to find some levers to pull, levers by which to affect the organisation’s performance in the desired direction(s).

Some yet fewer number of organisations may come to understand the connection between their collective mindset and their performance – current and aspirational. For these organisations, the challenge becomes:

“How can we shift our collective assumptions and beliefs in a direction – or directions – that support our aspirations for e.g. improved performance?”

Organisational Psychotherapy

So to the main focus of this 101 unit:

How might those organisations that see the connection between their collective assumptions and beliefs, and their performance, go about shifting those assumption and beliefs?

For individuals faces with this challenge in their daily lives (“How might I as a person go about having a happier or more productive life? How might I shift my assumptions about relationships, people, myself, etc. to see that come about?”), psychotherapy is one option they may consider, and thence embark upon.

So it is with organisations. Asking themselves the question:

“How might I as an organisation go about having a happier or more productive life, see improved performance, greater success?”

leads to the challenging question:

“How might I/we shift my/our collective assumptions and beliefs about relationships, people, myself/ourself, etc. to see that come about?”

At this point, Organisational Psychotherapy is one option the organisation may consider, and embark upon.

The Bottom Line

Until recently, organisations have not had the option of Organisational Psychotherapy. Even now it’s an option little known and still in its infancy. So organisations have been constrained to other options, such as tackling the above question “How might I/we shift my/our collective assumptions and beliefs about relationships, people, myself, etc.” from within their own resources, or with the aid of e.g. external consultants. Not being well-versed in the fields of Organisational Psychotherapy, psychology, sociology, group dynamics, etc., this path can consume much time and attention, many resources, inflate business and reputational risks, and generate high levels of waste and stress. Witness: the huge number of business books on organisational change, Digital Transformation, and so on.

Organisational Psychotherapists offers a degree of competency in these fields (psychology, sociology, group dynamics, etc.) not natively present in most organisations. This competency eases the path to the kind of change (or shift) they seek, saving time (time is money), missteps, reducing the risks, and lowering stress levels for all involved.

A Request

Whether you have found this explanation of the fundamentals of Organisational Psychotherapy useful or useless, I would be delighted and thankful to hear your comments and questions.

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