Organisational Therapy

The Way Forward

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

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

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

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

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

…and so on, and so on. 

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

– Bob

Win Organisational Psychotherapy Book Bundles!

In my most recent book, “Quintessence”, I draw a blueprint for the quintessential software development organisation. It builds on the previous two books: 

I’d be super delighted to hear about your take on the following topic: 

What  does a quintessential software development organisation (or product development organisation) look like, feel like and work like – from your point of view?

Or put another way, if you have a picture of the ideal organisation you’d desperately want to work for, how do you imagine it to be?

The best (in my assessment) three entries will each receive a full three book Organisational Psychotherapy bundle, free, gratis, and for no charge (a $99.99 value).

There are extensive free samples of each of the books on the Leanpub pages (see links, above), in case you’d appreciate a “starter for ten”.

Please submit your entries before the 31 January 2022. I’ll be announcing the winners shortly after that closing date. Submissions via the comment section on this post, or more privately if you wish via email to:, please.

Thanks, and good luck with your entry!

– Bob

We Can All Be Doing So Much Better

Looking on the bright side for 2022, there’s no real blockers to us and our organisations doing so much better in 2022.

And all it takes is reflecting upon, and surfacing, our collective and individual assumptions and beliefs.


The Rightshifting chart illustrates the awesome scope for “better” in our organisations:

Most organisations cluster around an effectiveness of “1”, whereas a simple shift in our assumptions and beliefs about the world of collaborative knowledge work could take us to becoming “3”, “4” or even “5” times more effective. That sounds like “better”, to me.

Quintessential Organisations

In my recent book “Quintessence“, I describe what organisations to the right of “4”, on the above chart, look like, feel like and work like.

– Bob

The software crisis will NEVER be over unless and until senior management comes to understand software development, and what makes it highly effective (in those extremely rare cases where it IS highly effective).

What will enable that understanding? Not the promotion into senior positions of folks with front-line experience (most have no experience of effective practices).

Coaching/education might do it – when the senior folks seek it out and engage with it themselves.

I believe exemplars can help (which is one of the reasons I wrote Quintessence).

The most promising way forward is normative learning, especially when guided by capable facilitators. How many senior folks are ever likely to go to the gemba and see what’s REALLY effective?

Alternative: Dispense with management entirely. Also highly unlikely, but beginning to gain some traction as an idea. Cf Reinvention Organizations (Laloux 2014), etc.. This approach doesn’t actually address the issue of folks understanding what effective software development looks like, though.

Further Reading

Laloux, F. (2014). Reinventing Organizations: A Guide to Creating Organizations Inspired by the Next Stage of Human Consciousness. Nelson Parker.

Gifting LeanPub Books

Christmas is the season for giving. Maybe you know of someone who would appreciate one of my Organisational Psychotherapy books as a gift this Christmas? Or maybe all three in the series?

Why Give an Organisational Psychotherapy book? 

I guess the most likely recipient might be your boss or manager, or maybe a colleague or friend at work. You might gift a book to them as a quiet hint that things could be better, or perhaps you know they’re already looking for fresh ideas to make things better in the organisation. And if they do pick up on some of the many fresh ideas in my books, then maybe “better” might mean better for you and your teammates, too. 

Also, gifting an Organisational Psychotherapy book might serve to signal your enthusiasm for seeing the organisation improve. (Yes, I know, unlikely for most employees these days, but maybe you’re that special one?)

Which Book Might I Gift?

I guess it depends on your idea of what the giftee might best need:

If they might need ideas on accelerating the pace of change in their organisation, especially the pace of culture change, then Hearts over Diamonds would be a good choice.

If they most need a catalyst for getting change started, via e.g. surfacing and reflecting on the organisation’s collective assumptions and beliefs, then Memeology‘s the thing.

And if their most pressing need is a blueprint – or map – of what a highly effective (software) development organisation looks like and works like, then I’d suggest Quintessence.

Seven Steps to Gifting a Leanpub book

Leanpub has made it easy to buy books and gift them directly to others. Here’s how to gift one or more books:

  1. Sign in to your existing Leanpub account at or create a new Leanpub account if you don’t yet have one.
  2. Find a book you’d like to gift and then “Add a book to your shopping cart” by clicking the blue “Add Ebook to Cart” button.
  3. In your shopping cart, next to each book you want to give as a gift, find the “Edit” button.
  4. Click the Edit button and then tick the box next to “This purchase is a gift”.
  5. Enter the recipient’s email address and an optional note to go along with the gift, and then click the blue “Update” button.
  6. Repeat steps 2 through 5 for each further book you wish to gift. 
  7. When you complete the purchase, the recipient(s) will receive an email with download links for each of the books.

Links to my Organisational Psychotherapy books on Leanpub



Hearts over Diamonds:

3-book Organisational Psychotherapy series bundle:

And A Merry Christmas to You And Your Giftees!

– Bob

I Literally Just Told You

Q: How do we make our organisation more effective?

I literally just told you: Quintessence.

Q: How do we change our organisation’s culture for the better?

I literally just told you: Memeology and Organisational Psychotherapy.

Q: How do we change our organisation’s culture more quickly?

I literally just told you: Hearts over Diamonds.

– Bob

Organisational Psychotherapy Bargain Book Bundle

You might like to know that a special bargain bundle of all three of my organisational psychotherapy books, Hearts over Diamonds, Memeology, and Quintessence, is now available on Leanpub at a special bargain price.

– Bob

Still Rejecting the Idea of the Collective Psyche?

“Cognition extends into the physical world and the brains of others.”

~ Aron Barbey, Richard Patterson & Steven Sloman

A new research paper suggests that efforts to understand human cognition should expand beyond the study of individual brains.

Regularly readers will know that Organisational Psychotherapy rests, in large part, on the idea of the collective consciousness a.k.a. organisational psyche.

Check out this new paper for some conferring research (not that evidence or science sways people).

“Cognition is, to a large extent, a group activity, not an individual one,”

~ Steven Sloman

– Bob

Assumptions and Beliefs

It’s been pretty clear to me for some time (years) now that people don’t see the connection between assumptions and beliefs, and the frustrations they encounter ever day. And between assumptions and beliefs, and organisational productivity and success. 

We have many words for much the same thing:

  • Assumptions and beliefs
  • Mental models (Peter Senge, John Seddon)
  • Mindsets (Psychology, psychiatry and psychotherapy)
  • Memeplexes (Richard Dawkins)
  • Paradigms (Donella Meadows)

No matter what we call it, what we believe colours how we see the world, and constrains our actions. More so that anything else, in fact. 

Shared Assumptions and Beliefs

Similarly, it’s clear to me that the notion of shared assumptions and beliefs also passes people by. Despite its crucial role in all aspects of organisational, group and community behaviour and achievement. Again, we have many words for much the same thing:

  • Collective assumptions and beliefs
  • Shared mental models (Peter Senge, John Seddon)
  • Collective mindsets (Psychology, psychiatry and psychotherapy)
  • Shared memeplexes (Richard Dawkins)
  • Paradigms (Donella Meadows)


Does this blindness bother me? Not so much. Like any good therapist, what my clients believe is their own business (sic). And like any good therapist, it’s not my place to dwell on the mechanism of their pain. Just to help them through they pain and out the other side.

Does this blindness bother my clients? Only insofar as they find themselves continually frustrated in what they’re trying to achieve (whatever that may be).

Does this blindness bother you? It’s all very well fobbing off the responsibility onto others, but how blind are you? Does progress lie in your hands (or mind)? What frustrations do you have that are a product of your assumptions and beliefs?

– Bob

The Organisational Psychotherapy Retrospective

Are you bored with mundane retrospectives? I know I am. And so are the teams I work with.

Scrum Retrospectives

By way of example, let’s take a quick look at the Scrum version of retrospectives.

Scrum describes Sprint Retrospectives thusly:

The purpose of the Sprint Retrospective is to plan ways to increase quality and effectiveness.

The Scrum Team inspects how the last Sprint went with regards to individuals, interactions, processes, tools, and their Definition of Done. Inspected elements often vary with the domain of work. Assumptions that led them astray are identified and their origins explored. The Scrum Team discusses what went well during the Sprint, what problems it encountered, and how those problems were (or were not) solved.

The Scrum Team identifies the most helpful changes to improve its effectiveness. The most impactful improvements are addressed as soon as possible. They may even be added to the Sprint Backlog for the next Sprint.

During the Sprint Retrospective, the team discusses:

      • What went well in the Sprint?
      • What could be improved?
      • What will we commit to improve in the next Sprint?

Even thought the above description mentions assumptions, the bullet list makes no such provision. And I’ve never seen an IRL retrospective that raised the question of assumptions.

A New Hope

So here’s a new kind of retrospective you might like to experiment with – the OP Retrospective.

The OP Retrospective

The concept – and existence – of the Collective Mindset (a.k.a. Organisational Psyche) is foundational to Organisational Psychotherapy. It is the thing with which every OP therapist interacts.

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

Are development teams affected by the organisation’s culture? By their own team culture? By the organisation’s collective assumptions and beliefs? By their own team-local assumptions and beliefs? Are they in a position to shift either?

I’’d say “Yes”.


Given the influence of collective assumptions and beliefs on communication, productivity, teamwork, joy in work, and a host of other individual, team, and organisational concerns, shifting assumptions can lead the team to a more effective place.


But by what means? There’s no specific ceremony in e.g. Scrum to surface and reflect on collective assumptions and beliefs (culture). Maybe our retrospectives can, from time to time, serve this purpose?

If we wanted to use a retrospective (or a part of one) to explore cultural issues, how might we go about that?

I’d suggest my self-help Organisational Psychotherapy book “Memeology” might be one place to start. It’s stuffed full of questions that a team or group can ask themselves to explore cultural assumptions.

Here’s one example meme (meme #15, “Who Matters” – excerpted from the free sample version of the book:

15. Who Matters

Suggested Preamble

Senior managers, stakeholders, team members, the Big Team, customers, users – call them what you will, they’re the people that we’re doing the work for. They’re the people to whom we deliver the fruits of our efforts. They’re the people whose reactions – and emotional responses – decide the success or failure of our endeavours. They’re the people whose needs matter to us.

By way of example, here’s a partial list of the groups and individuals that are candidates for inclusion on a list of who matters:

  • Your organisation’s senior managers and executives (“the higher-ups”).
  • Your organisation’s Core Group.
  • Your immediate manager a.k.a. “boss”.
  • Your project manager (for folks working in project teams or on a project).
  • Your product owner or manager (for folks working in product teams or on a product).
  • Your development team (the team in which you are a member).
  • Other development teams.
  • Operations people (the folks that keep your organisation’s websites, production servers, etc., up and running).
  • The Programme Management Office (PMO – if your organisation has such a thing).
  • Testers (when separate from the development teams).
  • The Process Group (the folks who stipulate how the work should work, or who support teams in their ownership of the way the work work – when separate from the development teams).
  • Quality Assurance (QA) folks (when present).
  • Your business sponsor(s) (internal budget holder, etc.)
  • Other people across your organisation.
  • Your (end) customer(s) (and their purchasing or procurement departments).
  • Commercial partners.
  • Regulators.
  • Wider society.
  • The planet (Gaia).
Suggested Opening Question

Who matters?

Suggested Follow-on Questions

How do we presently go about deciding who matters (and who doesn’t)?

How well (or poorly) does our approach to deciding who matters serve us?

How often do we fail to focus on key groups?

Can we safely exclude some people and / or groups from consideration?

Suggested Wrapping Up

What have we learned or come to realise, maybe for the first time, in our conversation here today on “who matters”?

How far apart or together are we now on the subject of who matters? Has airing the subject eased our concerns?

Is it time for action on who matters? And if so, how might we go about setting some action(s) in train?

Further Reading

Kleiner, A. (2003). Who Really Matters. Currency.

– Bob




Let’s take a look at one (of many) nuanced distinctions between coaching and Organisational Psychotherapy: techniques.


Many coaches will suggest techniques to their coachees, techniques to make their lives easier, and to tackle certain challenges. For example, software coaches might hear their coachees remark that code quality could be better, and invite their coachees to look at TDD as a technique to help the coachees improve it. Or coachees might complain that their code is too difficult to change, and the coach might suggest looking at the idea of connascence, and the techniques derived from that.

Contrarywise, organisational psychotherapists will typically refrain from making suggestions, in this case regarding techniques. Instead, they are likely to ask open, Socratic-style questions inviting reflection, such as: “Are there known techniques techniques that might help improve code quality?” and “Are there ideas that might help with making your code more amenable to change?”

Clean Language formulations of such questions may help further:

Client: “We suspect we have some issues with our code quality.”
Therapist: “What kind of issues are those issues?” …conversation continues…

(Note: The above are rather contrived Organisational Psychotherapy examples, as such topics seem relatively unlikely in the context of Organisational Psychotherapy).


Of course, Clean Language and Socratic questions are not the sole domain of the Organisational Psychotherapist. Both coaches and Organisational Psychotherapists may move on a continuum from leading questions to open questions, and back. The distinction I’m trying to illustrate here is that coaches may tend towards leading questions, therapists toward open ones.

And rigid adherence to purely open (Socratic) questions may rankle with clients and coachees, who may just want a straightforward answer, from time to time. One skill of the therapist and coach both, is to be able to resolve this kind of situation to the best satisfaction of the client.

– Bob

Further Reading

Sutton, J. (2020). Socratic Questioning in Psychology: Examples and Techniques. [online] Available at:

Sea Change

Last week whilst presenting a session on Organisational Psychotherapy (and Memeology) at Lean Agile Exchange 2021 I noted that Organisational Psychotherapy is a “sea change for the software industry, and business more generally”.

Does the software industry need a sea change? Probably not. At least, not on the supply side. Long schedules and high fees make for a cosy business. But on the demand side? Customers of software development seem inured to delays, poor due date performance, low quality, high costs, and a host of other frustrations and dysfunctions.

Inured, yes, but not entirely resigned. Hence attempted adoption of new approaches such as Agile, SAFe, and so on. And yet such attempted adoptions fail in at least 80% of cases. This is hardly news, and compares with some 95% failure rates in attempted Lean adoptions (in manufacturing industries).

So, if for no other reason than moving the needle on success rates in e.g. Lean or Agile adoptions, some fundamental shift in approach seems necessary.

Or do you disagree? Shall we continue to bash our heads against the wall of methods, processes, practices and tools, seeing little to no improvement – or might we seek a sea change in approach? And if the latter, what might that sea change look like, entail?

– Bob


It seems clear to me that my skills, experience and insights have become irrelevant to the majority of folks toiling in the software industries.

No Need

We might say that they have no need of my ideas or my help. 

And as my views and ideas are mostly directed at improving the effectiveness – and results – of software development efforts, I draw the inference that their employers and managers have no interest in such things. 

This seems a relatively recent phenomenon. Even five or ten years ago, organisations and managers seemed at least marginally more interested in productivity, effectiveness, success, and so on.

I suspect it’s connected to COVID and the consequent Great Resignation.

Solutions Ignored

Ironically, my works – Organisational Psychotherapy, the Antimatter Principle, FlowChain, Product Aikido, etc. – are an ideal fit to addressing the issues wrapped up in the Great Resignation. But I guess folks are already too resigned to bother.

What might be more relevant content for these times? “How to Find a Fulfilling Job”? “How to Suck Up to Your Boss”? “How to Give the Finger to the Man”? “How to Whack the Employees You Have Left”? “How to Look Like You”re Doing Something Without Risking Your Credibility”?  Probably more relevant content. But not quite my style.

If you’re one of the very few who haven’t given up just yet, enjoy studying new ideas and learning for its own sake, I’m always happy to help. Pro bono or pro pretio, either, both.

– Bob

The Business Agility conference 2021 is on 2-5 November 2021 (online – 4 x half-day sessions). Pricey tickets – an inevitability given the target market (executives/company wallets), I guess. Too rich for me. Although I might have liked to have been invited to speak about e.g. the role of Organisational Psychotherapy and Memeology in Organisational and “Digital” Transformations.

Q: I wonder if Agile business people have any interest in humane business, effective business?


Visual Walkthrough Explaining Rightshifting And The Marshall Model

For those who prefer looking to reading, here’s a visual explanation (with some annotations) briefly explaining Rightshifting and the Marshall Model.

1. Context: Organisational Transformation

Rightshifting illuminates the tremendous scope for improvement in most collaborative knowledge work organisations. And the Marshall Model provides a framework for understanding e.g. Digital Transformations. Don’t be too surprised if folks come to regard you as an alien for adopting these ideas.

2. Imagined Distribution of Effectiveness

How most people imagine effectiveness to be distributed across the world’s organisations (a simple bell curve distribution).

3. Contrasting Effectiveness with Efficiency

Many organisations seek efficiency, to the detriment of effectiveness.

4. If Effectiveness Were Distributed Normally

5. The Distribution of Effectiveness in Reality

The distribution of organisations is severely skewed towards the ineffective.

6. Some Corroborating Data from ISBSG (1)

7. Some Corroborating Data from ISBSG (2 – Productivity)

8. Some Corroborating Data from ISBSG (3 – Velocity)

9. Rightshifting: Recap

10. Plotting Levels of Waste vs Effectiveness

Showing how increasing effectiveness (Rightshifting) drives down waste.

11. Plotting Levels of Productivity vs Effectiveness

Showing how increasing effectiveness (Rightshifting) drives up productivity.

NB This the the canonical “Rightshifting Chart”.

12. From Rightshifting to the Marshall Model

Starting out with the Rightshifting distribution.

13. The Adhoc Mindset

Collective assumptions and beliefs (organisational mindset).

Ad-hoc organisations are characterised by a belief that there is little practical value in paying attention to the way things get done, and therefore few attempts are made to define how the work works, or to give any attention to improving the way regular tasks are done, over time. The Ad-hoc mindset says that if there’s work to be done, just get on and do it – don’t think about how it’s to be done, or how it may have been done last time.”

14. The Analytic Mindset

Analytic organisations exemplify, to a large extent, the principles of Scientific Management a.k.a. Taylorism – as described by Frederick Winslow Taylor in the early twentieth century. Typical characteristics of Analytical organisation include a Theory-X posture toward staff, a mechanistic view of organisational structure, for example, functional silos, local optimisation and a management focus on e.g. costs and ‘efficiencies’. Middle-managers are seen as owners of the way the work works, channelling executive intent, allocating work and reporting on progress, within a command-and-control style regime. The Analytic mindset recognises that the way work is done has some bearing on costs and the quality of the results.”

15. The Synergistic Mindset

Synergistic organisations exemplify, to some extent, the principles of the Lean movement. Typical characteristics include a Theory-Y orientation (respect for people), an organic, emergent, complex-adaptive-system view of organisational structure, and an organisation-wide focus on learning, flow of value, and effectiveness. Middle-managers are respected for their experience and domain knowledge, coaching the workforce in e.g. building self-organising teams, and systemic improvement efforts.

16. The Chaordic Mindset

The Chaordic mindset believes that being too organised, structured, ordered and regimented often means being too slow to respond effectively to new opportunities and threats. Like a modern Jet fighter, too unstable aerodynamically to fly without the aid of its on-board computers, or sailing a yacht, where maximum speed is to be found in sailing as close to the wind as possible without collapsing the sails, a chaordic organisation will attempt to operate balanced at the knife-edge of maximum effectiveness, on the optimal cusp between orderly working and chaotic collapse.”

17. Transition Zones

As organisations progress towards increasing effectiveness, they encounter discontinuities which the Marshall Model labels as Transition Zones (orange hurdles). In these transitions, one prevailing mindset must be replace wholesale with another (for example, Analytic to Synergistic, where, amongst a host of shifts in assumptions and beliefs, attitudes towards staff transition from Theory-X to Theory-Y). Cf. Punctuated Equilibria.

18. What Each Transition Teaches

A successful Adhoc -> Analytic transition teaches the value of discipline (extrinsic, and later, replaced with intrinsic).

A successful Analytic -> Synergistic transition teaches the value of a shared common purpose.

A successful Synergistic -> Chaordic transition teaches the value of “Positive Opportunism”.

19. The Return-on-Investment Sawtooth

Incremental (e.g. Kaizen) improvements with any one given mindset show ever-decreasing returns on investment as the organisation exhausts its low-hanging fruit and must pursue ever more expensive improvements.

Each successful transition “resets” the opportunities for progress, offering a new cluster of low-hanging fruit.

20. Conversation

What has this walkthrough shown you? I’d love the opportunity for conversation.

– Bob

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