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Organisational Therapy

Hearts over Diamonds Preface

In case you’re undecided as to whether my recently published book on Organisational Psychotherapy will be worth some of your hard-earned spons, here’s the text of the preface to the current edition (full book available in various ebook formats via Leanpub and in paperback via Lulu.


Will This Book be Worth Your Time?

To my knowledge, this is the first book ever written about Organisational Psychotherapy. Thanks for taking the time to have a look. This is a short book. And intentionally so. It’s not that Organisational Psychotherapy is a shallow domain. But this book just lays down the basics. Understanding of the deeper aspects and nuances best emerges during practice, I find.

This book aims to inform three distinct groups of people:

  • Senior managers and executives who might find advantage in hiring and engaging with an Organisational Psychotherapist.
  • Folks who might have an interest in becoming Organisational Psychotherapists themselves, either within their organisations or as e.g. freelancers.
  • Folks within organisations who might find themselves involved in some way in their organisation’s engagement with one or more organisational psychotherapists.

We’re all busy people, so I guess you may be curious, or even a little concerned, as to whether this book will provide a good return on the time you might spend reading it. I’ve tried to arrange things so that you can quickly answer that question.

I intend this book to be easy to understand, and to that end I’ve used as much plain English as I can muster. I guess some folks find the whole idea of Organisational Psychotherapy somewhat intimi‐ dating, and fear the ideas here will “go over their heads”. Let me reassure you that I’ve tried to make this book common-sensical, friendly and down-to-earth.

Foundational

“Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing there is a field. I’ll meet you there.”

~ Rumi

In writing this book, I’ve set out to define the emerging discipline – or field – of Organisational Psychotherapy.

In a nutshell, Organisational Psychotherapy is a response to the growing realisation in business circles that it’s the collective mindset of an organisation (often mistakenly referred-to as culture) that determines an organisation’s overall effectiveness, productivity and degree of success. By “collective mindset” I mean the beliefs, assumptions and attitudes that an organisation as a whole holds in common about work and how the world of work should work.

Roots

Organisational Psychotherapy leverages over a hundred years of research and experience in the field of personal psychotherapy, a field which has evolved from its roots in the Middle East in the ninth century, and later, in the West, through the works of Wilhelm Wundt (1879) and Sigmund Freud (1896). Research and experience which, in large part, can usefully be repurposed from the individual psyche to the collective psyche (i.e. the organisation).

In my career of over thirty years in the software business, I’ve run the whole gamut of approaches in search of organisational effectiveness, in search of approaches that actually work. It’s been a long and tortuous journey in many respects, but I have come to believe, absolutely, that success resides mostly in the relationships between people working together, in the web of informal customer- supplier relationships within and between businesses. And I’ve come to believe that organisational effectiveness mostly comes from the assumptions all these folks hold in common.

Given that, I ask the question:

“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?”

The answer I’ve arrived at is Organisational Psychotherapy. And so, when I’m working with clients these days, Organisational Psychotherapy is my default mode of practice.

But this book does not attempt to make the case for my beliefs. It’s not going to try to persuade you to see things my way. Organisational Psychotherapy may pique your interest, but I’m pretty sure you’ll stick with what you already believe.

So, if you have an open mind, or generally share my perspective already, this book may serve you in getting deeper into the practicalities and benefits of Organisational Psychotherapy, whether that’s as:

  • a decision-maker sponsoring an intervention
  • a potential recruit to the ranks of organisational psychotherapists
  • an individual participating in an Organisational Psychotherapy intervention in your organisation

Relationships Govern Dialogue

A central tenet of Organisational Psychotherapy is that it’s the quality of the relationships within and across an organisation that moderates the organisation’s capacity for meaningful dialogue. As we shall see in more detail later, fragmented and fractious relation‐ ships impair an organisation’s ability to surface, discuss and recon‐ sider its shared beliefs.

Effective Organisational Psychotherapy needs a certain capacity for skilful dialogue within and across an organisation. Absent this capacity, folks have a slow, laborious and uncomfortable time trying to surface and discuss their commonly-held beliefs and assumptions.

In practice, then, any Organisational Psychotherapy, in its early stages at least, must attend to improving relationships in the workplace, and thus the capacity for meaningful dialogue. This helps the organisation have more open and productive dialogues – should it wish to – about its core beliefs and implicit assumptions, about its ambitions and goals, about the quality of its relationships and dialogues, and about its strategies for success. I wholeheartedly believe that:

People are NOT our greatest asset. In collaborative knowledge work particularly, it’s the relationships BETWEEN people that are our greatest asset.

Whether and how the organisation might wish to develop those relationships and dialogues in pursuit of its goals is a matter for the organisation itself. Without Organisational Psychotherapy, I’ve rarely seen such dialogues emerge and thrive.

The Goal

Improving relationships in the workplace, and thereby helping the emergence of productive dialogues, are the means to an end, rather than the end itself. The goal of all Organisational Psychotherapy interventions is to support the client organisation in its journey towards being more – more like the organisation it needs to be. Closer to its own, ever-evolving definition of its ideal self.

We’ll explore what that means in later chapters.

References

Lencioni, P. (2012). The Advantage: Why organizational health trumps everything else in business. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Patterson, K. (2012). Crucial Conversations: Tools for talking when stakes are high. Place of publication not identified: McGraw Hill.

Schein, E. H. (2014). Humble Inquiry: The gentle art of asking instead of telling. San Francisco: Berrett-Koehler.

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? Where are the Red Lines?”

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.

The Design Principles of Organisational Psychotherapy

Some ten years ago now, I began to design an alternative approach to helping collaborative knowledge work organisations become more effective. Typical approaches then in use included:

  • Consultancy
  • Improvement and/or change projects (most often, focussed on one or other part of an organisation, such as sales, manufacturing or product development)
  • Coaching (of individuals or teams)

I had much experience of being involved in supplying each of these different styles of intervention, and had found all of them wanting. And in finding them wanting, I decided to design a style of intervention which reduced or eliminated their shortcomings. Thus evolved the design principles underpinning my alternative approach, which I eventually came to call ”Organisational Psychotherapy”.

By popular demand I briefly describe each of these principles in this post.

Principles

Systemic

As Ackoff, Goldratt and Deming all tell us, attempting to improve any one part of an organisation (unless it’s the constraint) makes the overall performance of the organisation worse. So, Organisational Psychotherapy intervenes at the level of the whole organisation, via the collective mindset or psyche of the whole organisation.

Non-prescriptive

When dealing with people, both psychology and neuroscience illuminate the folly of attempting to coerce, oblige or otherwise cajole people into doing what we want. Organisational Psychotherapy, borrowing a principle from individual psychotherapy, provides for an style of intervention where the organisation has no pre-written manual or handbook, no methods or methodologies its people must follow, and no imposed policies, rules, procedures or ways of working. It’s up to the people involved – initially through their existing organisation structures – to decide what’s optional, what’s mandatory, and who calls the shots.

Freedom to participate (or not)

Another aspect of coercion typical of existing intervention approaches is mandating folks’ participation in the project or programme. Organisational Psychotherapy offers support for voluntary participation.

Context aware

Typical approaches come replete with a one-size-fits-all guide, handbook or set of customary practices. And these practices are generally applied with little or no consideration for the specific context of each intervention. In Organisational Psychotherapy, the client knows their own context, and as with e.g. Clean Language, the therapist is at pains to avoid introducing anything from their own context (previous domain knowledge, experience, etc.)

Normative

Some forms of intervention include elements of training, be that in the classroom or via online tools. As John Seddon eloquently puts it “ Change in a normative experience”. Which is to say, that effective change (of attitudes, assumptions and beliefs) relies on people experiencing things for themselves, and learning from those experiences about which of their assumption are falsey or inappropriate. Such learnings lead to the sought-after changes in behaviours. As the whole organisation experiences things, and learns, during its BAU (Business As Usual), collective assumptions and behaviours change.

ROI

All intervention styles promise a positive return on the necessary investment. Organisational Psychotherapy is no different – let’s not lose sight of the fact that our clients will be looking to see a return on the investment they make. I argue that the return from investing in Organisational Psychotherapy significantly exceeds the return on investment of other, more traditional, and less effective approaches.

Taking Ownership Challenges and Illuminates

Handing over responsibilities to a third party (whether that means consultants, coaches or an internal project team) undermines the ownership of the issues facing the organisation, and absolves e.g. senior management from participating directly in the change efforts. It also provides a cosy distance which generally shields senior management from the disturbing notion of having to change themselves and their own (flawed, outdated) assumptions and beliefs. Organisational Psychotherapy preserves the organisation’s collective ownership of the organisation’s issues.

Self-sustaining

Many intervention styles provide a quick fix (note allusions to narcotics here) which leave the organisation no better able to deal with its issues from its own resources than before the intervention. Another fix requires another injection of outside agency. And another. Ad infinitum. Organisational Psychotherapy seeks to enable the client to become capable in dealing with its own issues.

– Bob

Further Reading

Stances Spectrum ~ Chart comparing different Intervention “stances”
Just One Fix ~ Think Different blog post

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

Ending Therapy

Plan for the Ending

Any therapy relationship is likely to end, sooner or later. Sometimes it’ll be a happy ending, sometime less so. Although the seeds planted during therapy often means the client can continue to grow and develop, becoming more whole, more congruent, in their own time and under their own tutelage.

There are many reasons clients decide to end therapy. Sometimes they’ve reached their goals. Sometimes they need a break. Sometimes the connection with their therapist isn’t there. Sometimes they notice a red flag. Sometimes they’re about to face a new fear or realise a new insight.

Whatever the reason, it’s vital the therapist and the client brings it up as soon as either party becomes conscious of it. Wanting to end therapy is a critical topic to explore. And it could be as simple either the client or the therapist saying “I feel like it might be time to end therapy, I wonder what that’s all about?”.

An end in therapy can be more like a bittersweet parting than a sad, abrupt, or complicated loss. Ideally, clients can have a satisfying closure to therapy that will help them end other relationships well in the future.

Processing negative feelings can be a way to work through maladaptive patterns and make the therapeutic relationship a corrective experience. If clients avoid this conversation by simply discontinuing therapy, they may miss the opportunity for a deeper level of healing resulting from their therapy.

I find it helpful to mention the ending even from the outset of the therapy relationship. If only in the information conveyed as part of the setup of that relationship.

Any particular client may find it a distraction, discomforting, or scary to entertain the idea that the relationship – or, at least, the therapy – might come to an end even as it’s just getting started. So the timing of the broaching of the subject generally depends on how things are going.

Advice for Clients re: Ending Therapy

  1. Examine your reasons

A positive approach to ending therapy is to delve into the possible reasons why you’d like to leave. Is it because you feel disrespected, stuck or incompatible or because of feelings of discomfort in dealing with certain things that the therapist is pushing on me on? It’s common and part of the process of changing problematic patterns, to feel triggered and even angry with your therapist.

  1. Don’t stop suddenly

It’s important for clients to discuss the ending with their therapists, because they may suspect that the desire to part ways is somehow premature. Even if a client decides to leave therapy, processing this can be therapeutic in itself. Some sessions discussing  the subject, including feelings and what kinds of post-therapy experiences the client might go through can help ease the guilt, regret or sadness that often arise.

Plus, honouring the relationship and the work everyone has done together, with some sessions to achieve closure in a positive way can be a very powerful experience in its own right.

  1. Talk in person

Avoid ending therapy with a text, email or voicemail. Speaking directly is an opportunity to practice assertive communication and perhaps also conflict resolution, making it is an opportunity for learning and growth.

  1. Provide honest feedback

If you feel comfortable and emotionally safe doing so, it is best to be direct and honest with your therapist about how you are feeling about him or her, the therapeutic relationship or the approach you’ve been experiencing. After all, this has been a partnership, and part of growth is to embrace that, see the therapist as a human being, and see other folks’ needs met – including the therapist.

When offering feedback, do so without judgment. After all, the therapist will be working with other organisations and your thoughts may change their style and help them to better serve their clients in the future.

A good therapist will be open to feedback and will use it to continually improve.

  1. Communicate clearly

Be as direct, open, and clear as possible. Articulate the exact reasons for wanting to end therapy.

  1. Be ready for dissent

It is not unusual for a therapist to agree with ending therapy, especially if the client has reached their goals and is doing well. But they also might disagree. This disagreement can serve positively, as a spur to enhance the ability for discussing difficult topics.

Every therapy ends, there’s no reason to avoid this reality. Early in therapy, when discussing goals, why not talk about how and when therapy might end.

Advice for Therapists re: Ending Therapy

  1. Invite feedback

Most personal therapists note that having their clients share feedback on their experiences is incredibly valuable. It’s no different in the OP context. Feedback helps therapist  improve and grow as practitioners.

  1. Sometimes we won’t know why

Sometime we won’t get to know why a client ends their therapy. The connection can just fizzle out, with little to no contact or explanation. As we’re very invested in our work and in our relationship with the client, such an ending can be both a puzzle and a disappointment.

  1. Practice letting go

Some clients simply stop, so it’s not easy to know if they’re just ‘done’ with therapy or if we’ve done something to make them want to leave. When this is the case, I just let it go. It’s their issue, not mine, and I don’t need to worry over it when I don’t know the reasons behind it. Of course we could wish it were otherwise, but letting go can be the hardest thing.

  1. Enjoy the experience

When client and therapist are able to have some sessions for proper closure, it becomes a great opportunity to reflect on their work together. These sessions can be highly joyful, for both parties.

Our goal is to support our clients in confronting life and the issues they see as holding them back, blocking them from greater success. If clients have clear reasons to end therapy and we’ve had the time to talk about it and tie up the loose ends, ending therapy is a great time to reflect on our work, invite the client to talk about their future, and discuss what has been accomplished and what hasn’t. We can leave with a sense of closure, without nagging, unresolved issues. And with the sense that the client is now netter placed to tackle themselves new issues that might arise in their future.

Those precious final sessions afford the opportunity to relax, reminisce about our shared experiences, ponder the future, and learn how to be a better therapist for others.

When clients can approach the ending of therapy with respect, dignity and integrity, that sets the tone for other relationship issues. In other words, with proper closure, everybody wins.

In your practice, how often do you plan for the ending?

– 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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