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Organisational Therapy

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.

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

Solutions Demand Problems

I’m obliged to Ben Simo (@QualityFrog) for a couple of recent tweets that prompted me to write this post:

BenSImoTweets

I very much concur that solutions disconnected from problems have little value or utility. It’s probably overdue to remind myself of the business problems which spurred me to create the various solutions I regularly blog about.

FlowChain

Problem

Continually managing projects (portfolios of projects, really) is a pain in the ass and a costly overhead (it doesn’t contribute to the work getting done, it causes continual scheduling and bottlenecking issues around key specialists, detracts from autonomy and shared purpose, and – from a flow-of-value-to-the-customer perspective – chops up the flow into mini-silos (not good for smooth flow). Typically, projects also leave little or no time, or infrastructure, for continually improving the way the work works. And the project approach is a bit like a lead overcoat, constraining management’s options, and making it difficult to make nimble re-adjustments to priorities on-the-fly.

Solution (in a Nutshell)

FlowChain proposes a single organisational backlog, to order all proposed new features and products, along with all proposed improvement actions (improvement to the way the work works). Guided by policies set by e.g. management, people in the pool of development specialists coalesce – in small groups, and in chunks of time of just a few days – around each suitable highest-priority work item to see it through to “done”.

Prod•gnosis

Problem

Speed to market for new products is held back and undermined by the conventional piecemeal, cross-silo approach to new product development. With multiple hands-offs, inter-silo queues, rework loops, and resource contentions, the conventional approach creates excessive delays (cf cost of delay), drives up the cost-of-quality (due to the propensity for errors), and the need for continual management  interventions (constant firefighting).

Solution (in a Nutshell)

Prod•gnosisproposes a holistic approach to New Product Development, seeing each product line or product family as an operational value stream (OVS), and the ongoing challenge as being the bringing of new operational value streams into existence. The Prod•gnosis approach stipulates an OVS-creating centre of excellence: a group of people with all the skills necessary to quickly and reliably creating new OVSs. Each new OVS, once created, is handed over to a dedicated OVS manager and team to run it under day-to-day BAU (Business as Usual).

Flow•gnosis

Problem

FlowChain was originally conceived as a solution for Analytic-minded organisations. In other words, an organisation with conventional functional silos, management, hierarchy, etc. In Synergistic-minded organisations, some adjustments can make FlowChain much more effective and better suited to that different kind of organisation.

Solution (in a Nutshell)

Flow•gnosis merges Prod•gnosis and FlowChain together, giving an organisation-wide, holistic solution which improves organisational effectiveness, reifies Continuous Improvement, speeds flowof new products into the market, provides an operational (value stream based) model for the whole business, and allows specialists from many functions to work together with a minimum of hand-offs, delays, mistakes and other wastes.

Rightshifting

Problem

Few organisations have a conscious idea of how relatively effective they are, and of the scope for them to become much more effective (and thus profitable, successful, etc.). Absent this awareness, there’s precious little incentive to lift one’s head up from the daily grind to imagine what could be.

Solution (in a Nutshell)

Rightshifting provides organisations with a context within which to consider their relative effectiveness, both with respect to other similar organisations, and more significantly, with respect to the organisation’s potential future self.

The Marshall Model

Problem

Few organisations have an explicit model for organisational effectiveness. Absence of such a model makes it difficult to have conversations around what actions the organisation needs to take to become more effective. And for change agents such as Consultants and Enterprise Coaches attempting to assist an organisation towards increased effectiveness, it can be difficult to choose the most effective kinds of interventions (these being contingent upon where the organisation is “at”, with regard to its set of collective assumptions and beliefs a.k.a. mindset).

Solution (in a Nutshell)

The Marshall Model provides an explanation of organisational effectiveness. The model provides a starting point for folks inside an organisation to begin discussing their own perspectives on what effectiveness means, what makes their own particular organisation effective, and what actions might be necessary to make the organisation more effective. Simultaneously, the Marshall Model (a.k.a. Dreyfus for Organisations) provides a framework for change agents to help select the kinds of interventions most likely to be successful.

Organisational Psychotherapy

Problem

Some organisations embrace the idea that the collective organisational mindset – what people, collectively believe about how organisations should work – is the prime determinant of organisational effectiveness, productivity, quality of life at work, profitability, and success. If so, how to “shift” the organisation’s mindset, its collective beliefs, assumptions and tropes, to a more healthy and effective place? Most organisations do not naturally have this skill set or capability. And it can take much time, and many costly missteps along the way, to acquire such a capability.

Solution (in a Nutshell)

Organisational Psychotherapy provides a means to accelerate the acquisition of the necessary skills and capabilities for an organisation to become competent in continually revising its collective set of assumptions and beliefs. Organisational Psychotherapy provides guidance and support to organisations in all stages of this journey.

Emotioneering

Problem

Research has shown conclusively that people buy things not on rational lines, but on emotional lines. Rationality, if it has a look-in at all, is reserved for post-hoc justification of buying decisions. Most product development today is driven by rationality. What are the customers’ pain points? What are the user stories or customer journeys we need to address? What features should we provide to ameliorate those pain points and meet those user needs? Upshot: mediocre products which fail to appeal to the buyers emotions, excepting by accident. And thus less customer appeal, and so lower margins, lower demand and slower growth.

Solution (in a Nutshell)

Emotioneering proposes replacing the conventional requirements engineering process (whether that be big-design-up-front or incremental/iterative design) focusing as it does on product features, with an *engineering* process focusing on ensuring our products creaate the emotional responses we wish to evoke in our customers and markets.

The Antimatter Principle

Problem

How to create an environment where the relationships between people can thrive and flourish? An environment where engagement and morale is consistent through the roof? Where joy, passion and discretionary effort are palpable, ever-present and to-the-max?

Solution (in a Nutshell)

The Antimatter Principleproposes that putting the principle of “attending to folks’ needs” at front and centre of allof the organisations policies is by far the best way to create an environment where the relationships between people can thrive and flourish. Note: this includes policies governing the engineeringdisciplines of the organisation, i.e. attending to customers’ needs at least as much as to the needs of all the other Folks That Matter.

– Bob

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