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Organisational effectiveness

Little Islands

Trawling the seas of knowledge

Note: This is one of those rare posts )for me) where I have few to no suggestions as to how to proceed.

Islands of Ignorance

In my travels, I have seen many organisations from the inside, and many more from the outside. 

In almost all cases, these organisations strike me as like little islands of ignorance in a huge sea of knowledge. As a mariner myself, I’m well aware of the bounty of these seas. So, maybe better placed than most to see the shortfalls in our organisations’ uptake of this bounty.

Seas of Knowledge

It’s never been easier to keep up with developments (sic) in praxis – in whatever fields of human endeavour interest us. And that’s probably even more true for the fields of collaborative knowledge work, software development and product development than for any other.

And yet, almost every organisation I see operates on principles – from the executive management suite to the workers at the coal face – utterly disconnected from the seas of knowledge surrounding them. Principles grown stale and musty with the dust of ages past.

Some organisations, having an inkling of their disconnection, make token efforts to bring outside knowledge in – with brown bag sessions, encouraging folks to attend meet-ups and conferences, hiring consultants from time to time, and so on. But like fishermen on the shore with fishing poles and spears hooking the occasional fish, this ain’t so effective. Few indeed are the organisations that build trawlers and send them out with nets, sonar, radar and the like to harvest the plenty of the seas.

Why is This?

What makes organisations so inept at finding and using the huge repositories of knowledge out there – in books, on the internet, in people’s heads, and so on?

Beats me. 

I have some suspicions that the education system is partly to blame. I’ve seen many graduates who, upon doing the workforce, act as if their learning days are behind them. 

And short-termism, the bane of UK industry in particular, contributes. With the implicit idea that learning, being more valuable in the longer term, has little or no value in meeting next week’s delivery schedules, or this month’s financial targets.

I guess, too, that like navigating our planet’s vast oceans, the seas of knowledge are so vast now that special navigation equipment is necessary to tackle the challenge. And whilst a fish is a fish, a idea or item of know-how is a much more slippery thing. How to sort the wheat from the chaff? Maybe systematic experimentation can help (see e.g. Toyota Kata, or Popcorn Flow from Claudio Perrone)

Appeal

So. There you have it. No elegant ideas for addressing the situation. Just an appeal to you, dear readers, to share your experiences, perspectives, and maybe a hint or tip or two for the rest of us.

– Bob

Further Reading

The Fifth Discipline ~ Peter M. Senge
Peter Senge and the Learning Organization ~ Infed article
On Dialogue ~ David Bohm

The Edge of Intolerable

In your workplace…

How tolerable is it to trust developers (and others) to manage their own time?

How tolerable is it to trust developers to talk with customers?

How tolerable is it for people to simply “play”?

How tolerable is it to trust people to do what they believe is best for the company and its present, and future?

How tolerable is it to have people set their own salaries, hours, locations, and tools?

How tolerable is it for people to choose who they’ll team with?

How tolerable is it for teams to choose where to focus their efforts?

How tolerable is it to spend time on improving the way the work works, on improving quality, on not shipping a product or feature right now?

How tolerable is it to use logic and data to direct efforts rather than rely on the opinions of the highest paid people?

How tolerable is it to ask these kinds of questions?

The Tolerability Envelope

If you’re looking to make a difference, ask not “What is the best we can do?” but rather “What is the best we can do that will be tolerated here?”

And to make a major difference, would you be willing to start a movement towards making more things more tolerable?

– Bob

Congruence

What if the last twenty years has been another classic example of software developers solving the wrong problem?♥

What if “agility” was never the issue as far as business was and is concerned? What if business agility is NOT the most useful response to, or strategy for, life in a VUCA world?

We hear so much about the need for agility. It’s now a given, an unchallenged assumption. Maybe even an undiscussable assumption? Well, I’m challenging it. And in the spirit of this blog – always having an alternative to offer – I propose congruence as a more useful response to the challenges of a VUCA business environment.

Agility: the power of moving quickly and easily; nimbleness.

Congruence: Similarity between self-image and actual experience.

Carl Rogers stated that the personality is like a triangle made up of the real [or actual] self, the perceived self, and ideal self. According to Rogers, when there is a good fit between all three components, the person has congruence. This is a healthy state of being and helps people continue to progress toward self-actualisation.

Applied to organisations, we can say that an organisation is made up of the real [or actual] organisation, the organisation as it perceives itself, and its ideal self. When there is a good fit between all three components, the organisation has congruence. This is a healthy state of being and helps the organisation progress toward being all it can be.

Without congruence, organisations won’t know what to do with agility, or how to get it. Without congruence, a VUCA environment presents challenges which incongruent organisations are poorly equipped to meet.

So, forget the past twenty years and the search for agility. Congruence is the thing.

– Bob

Footnote

♥ It was a bunch of software developers that invented and promoted the idea of agility (for software development) some twenty years ago now. Businesses everywhere have seized on this prior art in their attempts to cope with the upswing in perceived volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity in the business environment.

PS

The same argument also applies to the birthplace of the agility meme: the software development silo. Forget the past twenty years and the search for development agility. Congruence is the thing.

A Star is Born

I’d like to tell you about my new book, “Hearts over Diamonds”. Moreover, I’d love for you to tell your friends about it, too. And about the new field it illuminates: Organisational Psychotherapy.

A New Star

Not a “celebrity” kind of star. And certainly, not me. No, a True North kind of star. A guiding star. A shining beacon in the darkness of the enduring 50+ year Software Crisis.

I’m talking about Organisational Psychotherapy, and specifically the birth of a new approach to organisational change. The kind of organisational change necessary for tackling – and maybe even ending – the Software Crisis. The kind of change necessary for organisations, finally, to start getting to grips with challenges like exploiting digital technologies, implementing business transformations, and conducting effective product development.

Organisational Psychotherapy is a new field. Some have called it revolutionary. Although grounded in over a century of global psychotherapy and group dynamics research and practice, the idea of applying therapy techniques to organisations is not widely known or understood. In the hope of making these ideas more accessible and raise the profile of this revolutionary new field, may I invite your to take a look? 

Hearts over Diamonds – the Book

It’s been ten years in the making, and a year in the writing, but it’s finally done. My new book on Organisational Psychotherapy, that is. The book is not about software development, product development or even Digital Transformation as such. Its scope is much broader, and answers the question “How might we go about building highly successful organisations wherein everyone’s needs are met?”.

The book’s title is “Hearts over Diamonds”, and you can find it on Leanpub. The title refers to the newly-dawning reality that when organisations focus on compassion, joy, meaningful relationships and humanity (hearts), their bottom line (diamonds) improves significantly. 

As Dr. Martin Seligman puts it:

”If you want wellbeing, you will not get it if you care only about accomplishment [e.g. profit]. If we want to flourish, we must learn that the positive business and the individuals therein must cultivate meaning, engagement, positive emotion, and positive relations – as well as tending to profit.”

~ Dr. Martin Seligman, Director of the Penn Positive Psychology Center

Current approaches to change, and to building effective collaborative knowledge-work organisation, are not working. I commend Organisational Psychotherapy to you as an alternative approach that offers the prospect of more success. My book aims to inform you as to why that might be.

– Bob

Management Must Manage

Years ago, when I was starting out in my study of management methods, I came across ITT and its then president, Harold S. Geneen. Setting aside his connection with Phil Crosby and the ZeeDee (Zero Defects) quality movement, Geneen was famous for many things, including one quote which has stuck with me ever since I first heard it:

“Management must manage.”

What a soundbite!

Taken at face value, it’s a homily. Management must manage. Those with management responsibilities must execute those responsibilities (rather than dicking around with other things). “Well, of course. What else would they do?”

But there’s another meaning I choose to also find within. Management must manage: when we have people appointed to management positions, those people are the ones that must manage, not some others.

The whole Agile shambles, most often labelled AINO (Agile In Name Only), stems largely from ignoring this second interpretation of Geneen’s admonition.

Early Agilists, wanting to escape from the oversight of managers who had different opinions about how to manage software development, created Agile to wrest de-facto management responsibility from those managers. Thus grew the lame-assed version of self-organisation and self-managed teams so widespread today. I say lame-assed because almost no Agile team is self-managed. How could they be, when managers still have the authority and positional power to manage?

So we have instead a festering conflict of responsibilities, causing confusion and resentment all around, and dragging down engagement and productivity. Agile can “work” when the split of management responsibilities are made crystal clear for all concerned. And when that split has the blessing of management. This is almost never the case.

So, management must manage. Not developers. Not dev teams.

That sucks. Until we realise that it can be no other way. And even then, it still sucks, unless dev teams themselves have the responsibility and authority to manage. Where the dev teams are the management. Then we have the best of both worlds. A world of autonomy, mastery and purpose. A world of engaged people aligned to a common purpose and a common approach.

– Bob

Effectiveness

I recently had a bit of a wake-up call via Twitter. I asked the following question:

“What’s the one thing /above all/ that makes for an effective organisation?”

My thanks to all those who took the time to reply with their viewpoint. The wake-up call for me was the variety of these responses. All over the map might be a fair description. Which, given I’ve been writing about effectiveness in the context of organisations for more than a decade now, tells me I’ve some way to go to get my perspective across. Not that I’d expect folks to respond by simply parroting my definition, of course. And nor do I claim any special authority over the term.

Goldratt defines (in)effectiveness as:

“Things that should not have been done but nevertheless were done.”

Drucker defined it as:

“Successfully aligning behaviour with intentions.”

Aside: It’s been my experience that (organisational) effectiveness gets little attention or focus in most organisations. And seeing as how in most organisations things are so ineffective, I’ve come to believe that those making the calls don’t see a need for effectiveness.

Spectra

Effectiveness is a spectrum. From highly ineffective through to highly effective. Note that this spectrum is orthogonal to the spectrum of organisational success (by whatever measure you might choose for success: revenues, profits, social impact, personal kudos, joy, employee satisfaction, customer satisfaction, quality, returns to shareholders, executive bonuses, w.h.y.).

Effective organisations are not necessarily successful, and successful organisations are not necessarily effective. I posit that effectiveness can help create, contribute to, and sustain success. I seem to be in a minority.

Survey Results

Here’s the responses I received to my question:

  • @FragileAgile: “Folks needs being intentionally met.”
  • @andycleff: “+1 to Trust. Foundation for all the things.”
  • @LMaccherone: “Happy paying customers”
  • @stuart_snelling: “Accurate, contextual and meaningful data that is readily accessible.”
  • @ChangeTroops: ”Growth mindset.”
  • @allygill: “Effective people who understand the needs of their customers (internal and external) and each other.”
  • @KarimHarbott: “Totally and utterly dependent on what they are trying to achieve.”
  • @ArnoutOrelio: “People”. “Their ability to improve things; their creativity.”
  • @gertveenhoven: “Trust.”
  • @ferigan: “A team structure that doesn’t require effort to collaborate in and allows work to flow well.”
  • @anam_liath: “Common vision and ideals.”
  • @rogersaner: “Empowering your people.”
  • @sourabhpandey05: “I would say ‘Culture’ of the organisation. Culture which promotes1 the values trust, transparency, respect for everyone.”
  • @heybenji: “Ingenuity.”
  • @joserra_diaz: “Mindset of the owner.”
  • @ard_kramer: “Autonomy for individuals and a common understanding of what is of value for the organisation.”
  • @martinahogg: “Alignment.”
  • @briscloudnative: “Love.”
  • @barryfarnworth: “Understanding purpose….”
  • @mikeonitstuff: “Ultimately I think it’s leadership. The leaders set the stage for the culture and the vision for the organization. Poor leadership can destroy value and morale, great leadership creates the conditions for high performance.”
  • @EricStephens: “Uniform Commitment to the mission.”

For each of the above, I invite you to apply this litmus test: “if we had this, would we then necessarily be effective?”

Rightshifting

Some folks asked me for my “answer”, so here it is:

Rightshifting and the Marshall Model both attribute (relative) organisational effectiveness to the prevailing collective mindset. That’s to say, what an organisation collectively believes about how the world of work should work will absolutely dictate how effective that organisation will be. Any organisation wishing to become significantly more effective faces the formidable challenge of changing its collective assumptions and beliefs about work (in the broadest sense of the term). In other works, change the prevailing paradigm, or better yet, acquire the power to transcend /any/ particular paradigm.

For clarity then, the one thing above all that makes for an effective organisation is its collective mindset a.k.a. memeplex.

This echoes the famous “Twelve Leverage Points to Intervene in a System” by Donella Meadows:

– Bob

The Relevance of Giants – 2. O Sensei (Morihei Ueshiba)

On most every occasion when I’m speaking in public – at conferences, workshops, and the like – I tend to mention one or more of my “Giants” of Rightshifting. Men and women who, through their lives and work have contributed significantly to my understanding of work, and in particular to my understanding of effective collaborative knowledge work.

Many folks express interest in these Giants, but I do wonder if they appreciate the relevance of the ideas and experiences of these Giants to their own daily lives at work.

I mean, what relevance does, say, O Sensei have to developers, testers, operations staff and the like? Which aspects of any of these Giants’ work could be useful or helpful or simply comforting to these folks?

In this occasional series of posts I’ll be exploring some of the Giants’ relevance to folks other than theorists, managers, consultants and the like. I’ll be sharing some insights into their work, and specifically, the likely relevance.

With these posts I hope to pique your curiosity just a little. Let’s continue, with this second post in the series, with O Sensei.

O Sensei

Morihei Ueshiba

(December 14, 1883 – April 26, 1969)  (See also: Wikipedia entry)

I’m not going to dwell on his early life and experiences in the Japanese Army, his adventures in Mongolia, nor his experiences in Manchuria and Japan during the time of World War 2.

Aikido

I suggest the primary relevance of O Sensei to most folks working in the field of software development (and production operations) is Aikido – the martial art he developed. Excepting it’s less a martial art, and more a philosophy for life, and for harmonising with others.

Unlike many other martial arts, Aikido is focussed on caring for others, as emphasised by the translation of the three kanji: ai-ki-do as the Way of Unifying Spirit or the Way of Spiritual Harmony. O Sensei envisioned Aikido as an expression of his personal philosophy of universal peace and reconciliation. O Sensei’s goal was to create an art that practitioners could use to defend themselves while also protecting their attacker from injury.

Blending“, one of the core techniques of Aikido, invites us to look at conflicts from the perspectives of the other person – or people – involved. For me, this has a direct connection with empathy – as promoted by e.g. Marshall Rosenberg and others of the nonviolent community.

“Life is growth. If we stop growing, technically and spiritually, we are as good as dead.”

~ Morihei Ueshiba

Where’s the Relevance?

How do we make it more likely that we’re all spending our time on stuff that matters? How do we go about attending to folks’ real needs? I find blending a great asset in identifying with the needs of others. As I blend, I see their perspective, and their needs, more clearly. And in turn, they can feel more listened-to. And choose to reveal other things, crucial things, that means we get to understand more about what matters to us all. With this knowledge – and goodwill – we have a better chance of focusing on what matters, and of reducing the chance of wasting some or all of our time on the inconsequential, on detours, and on dead ends.

Practical Investigation

You might like to join an Aikido dojo, to practice the physical forms of the techniques. And to discuss the philosophy with like-minded people wha have already started the journey. Beware, though, of those dojos and sensei that emphasise the physical forms at the expense of Aikido philosophy.

– Bob

Further Reading

The Life We Are Given ~ Michael Murphy, George Leonard
The Way of Aikido ~ George Leonard
It’s A Lot Like Dancing ~ Terry Dobson

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