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Organisational Therapy

Agile Coach to Organisational Psychotherapist

My thanks to Beatric Düring for her recent Twitter question:

“If I wanted dive deeper into org psychotherapy – what would be crucial knowledge I would have to acquire working as an agile coach? Where can I draw the line requiring professional psychotherapy education/training?”

Is it feasible to transition from an Agile Coach into the Organisational Psychotherapist role?

Considerations

Given that I was an Agile Coach for years before making the shift myself, I’d say it’s demonstrably feasible. Why might any Agile Coach consider making the shift?

Organisation-wide Scope

For me, it was down to an increasing dissatisfaction with the (limited) value I was able to deliver in the role of Agile Coach (and latterly, Enterprise Agile Coach). Over a number of years it was becoming clearer and clearer to me that the real dysfunctions in any organisation lie outside the domain of any one functional silo. In the white space between people, and between silos, if you like. It became obvious that to deliver real change, change that’s worth having, change that makes a significant impact both on the lives of everyone involved and on the bottom line of the organisation, a more holistic, systemic intervention pays major dividends. And the Organisational Psychotherapist role implies the necessary whole-organisation scope to do that more effectively, and more often, than the Agile Coaching role.

It’s the Client’s Agenda That Counts

There was also, for me, the increasing realisation that I was not actually helping things for a client by making suggestions and having an agenda (a bunch of my ideas about what future would be best for them). Organisational Psychotherapy allows us to cut through that particular Gordian Knot.

It’s About The People

Organisational Psychotherapy is about people, and their relationships – with each other and with the collective psyche of the organisation. I hear from many Agile Coaches that this is a dawning realisation that creeps up on us over several years, at least. Process and management issues fade in importance the more we coach. Ultimately, into utter insignificance.

The Questions

So, to Beatric’s two questions:

What Knowledge is Crucial?

What knowledge, accessible to an Agile Coach, is crucial to diving deeper into Organisational Psychotherapy ?

The journey, for me, was eased by various spells as an Enterprise Agile Coach. This helped me acquire a practical angle on the whole Lean / System Thinking / Synergistic perspective, looking at organisations as a whole, rather than being limited to intervention horizons within a single function (most often, the Software Development or Software Engineering function). Maybe an Agile Coach could transition into Organisational Psychotherapy without that system-wide appreciation. I’d be interested to hear about folks’ experiences in that regard.

On the other hand, there’s a whole world (more than a hundred years in some cases) of work and results across the more than 400 different schools of therapy that comprise the world of psychotherapy as it pertains to individuals. Much of my learning has come from reframing individual therapy techniques for application in the organisational context. I wrote a post some time ago, describing some of these, entitled My Organisational Therapy Toolkit.

Where to Draw the Line?

How far can the Agile Coach progress in his or her personal journey towards mastering Organisational Psychotherapy, before it makes sense to seek professional psychotherapy education/training?

As far as I know, there is no recognised professional education or training for Organisational Psychotherapists. I’m entirely self-taught, and most of my most profound learning has come as a result of interacting with real live clients in real live situations. I do try to share my learnings with others, and when the demand is there I’d be happy to make that more formal, if needed.

I guess one could train as a “normal” psychotherapist, although that looks like a six to eight year full-time study commitment, at least. And I wonder just how useful much of that individual-therapy training would be useful in the context of organisational therapy?

Personally, I’ve always favoured apprenticeships or communities of practice over education/training per se.

And then there’s the whole can of worms labelled “certification”. I’m sure I could rattle up a two day “Organisational Psychotherapy Master” (COpM) certification course, with an honest-to-goodness certificate at the end of it. £2000 a pop seems like a fair price for that. But REALLY? Certified Mastery of Organisational Psychotherapy in two days? I doubt. It’s taken me ten years so far, and I’m still only scratching the surface (and being so far from Mastery, even now).

I’d feel more comfortable seeing folks apply themselves to the subject, gain some early practical experience – possibly under the wing of someone with some relevant experience – and build their own skills and experience through application and interaction. I’d suggest the watchword here is “congruence”:

Congruence means that the therapist is genuine and authentic, not like the “blank screen” of traditional psychoanalysis:

The first element [of the three core conditions of the person-centered approach to psychotherapy] could be called genuineness, realness, or congruence. The more the therapist is himself or herself in the relationship, putting up no professional front or personal facade, the greater is the likelihood that the client will change and grow in a constructive manner. This means that the therapist is openly being the feelings and attitudes that are flowing within at the moment. The term “transparent” catches the flavor of this condition: the therapist makes himself or herself transparent to the client; the client can see right through what the therapist is in the relationship; the client experiences no holding back on the part of the therapist. As for the therapist, what he or she is experiencing is available to awareness, can be lived in the relationship, and can be communicated, if appropriate. Thus, there is a close matching, or congruence, between what is being experienced at the gut level, what is present in awareness, and what is expressed to the client. (Rogers, 1980)

– Bob

Further Reading

Carl Rogers On Person-Centered Therapy (pdf article)

Fundamentals of Organisational Psychotherapy

By popular demand, I’ve put together this post, which sets out some of the fundamentals of Organisational Psychotherapy (n.b. by no means all of them).

Note: This is a work in progress: I keenly invite your comments and questions.

Fundamental: The Nature of the Problem

The Marshall Model proposes that organisational effectiveness (productivity, product quality, staff engagement, etc.) stems from the collective assumptions and beliefs of the organisation as a whole. (Oftentimes, assumptions and beliefs of individuals concerned differ from those held collectively).

Thus, for organisations needing to improve their effectiveness, this entails a shift in these collective beliefs and assumptions.

The problem, then, for such organisations is: how to effect such a shift? Who owns the problem, and the resources to tackle it?

Fundamental: Organisational Psychotherapy is a Solution Strategy

Given the above statement of the problem, Organisational Psychotherapy proposes that Organisational Psychotherapy
Is a viable and cost-effective approach to addressing this problem. I.E. Organisational Psychotherapy
provides a means for organisations to effect a shift in their collective assumptions and beliefs (also referred to as the organisation’s collective mindset, psyche, or memeplex).

Fundamental: Points of Leverage In A System

Donella Meadows proposed that maximum leverage for changing a system (such as an organisation) derives from 2) shifting the paradigm or mindset out of which the system arises, and 1) by acquiring the power to transcend paradigms. Organisational Psychotherapy provides a means for organisations to grasp and exercise these particular levers (see diagram, below).

Fundamental: Organisations Each Have a Collective Psyche

Organisational Psychotherapy as a solution is predicated on the assumption that every organisation has a collective psyche (distinct from the psyches of the individuals comprising the organisation). And that this collective psyche is amenable to therapy much as is the individual psyche.

Fundamental: Therapy Techniques for the Individual Psyche are Transferrable

There are over four hundred different types, styles or “schools” of psychotherapy for the individual. Many of these are well-established, well-researched and well documented. And many of these are transferable, in whole or in part, from serving individuals in therapy to serving organisations in therapy.

Fundamental: It’s the Client-Therapist Relationship That Matters Most

Much research indicated that for individuals in therapy, positive outcomes are contingent mainly upon the quality of the relationship between the client and their therapist. Organisational Psychotherapy proposes that the same dynamic holds for organisations in therapy – positive outcomes are contingent upon the quality of the relationship between the organisation and its therapist(s).

Fundamental: The Therapist is a Constant Exemplar of Congruence

In some schools of therapy (Rogerian Therapy, a.k.a. Client Centered Therapy, for example) the idea of congruence looms large. And the role of the therapist in modelling/exemplifying congruence assumes a major significance in the relationship between the therapist and the client.

In engagements with larger clients, where the workload may suggest more than one therapist working with the client during a given period, the body (team) of therapists, as a collective entity, also exemplifies this congruence.

Fundamental: Therapists Have No Agenda

Outwith the basic agenda of accompanying the client of its journey, the Organisational Psychotherapist has no agenda. No pet solutions to suggest, no proposals as to how the client might choose to become better. Simply accompanying the client on their journey, with compassion and empathy, is the thing.

Solutions, strategies, new assumptions, beliefs and behaviours are the domain of the client. It’s not the role of the therapist to suggest “improvements” or changes (as might a coach). Rather, it’s his or her role to lend empathy and emotional support to the client in their journey. A journey which *might* include the client discovering more effective strategies, behaviours, assumptions and beliefs to replace some or all of their original strategies, behaviours, assumptions and beliefs.

Fundamental: Psychotherapy is About Treatment (It’s not Psychoanalysis)

I hesitate to use the word “treatment”, with its connotations that the client is somehow less than health, or needs “fixing”. I find these connotations entirely unhelpful in the context of therapy. Yet the word is sufficiently recognised to retain some explicative utility.

As intellectual understanding blocks empathy (Cf. Rosenberg, Nonviolent Communication), the Organisational Psychotherapist tries to avoid understanding what might be happening within the client’s collective psyche. Empathy without intellectual analysis (nor judgment). Just be there for the client. The world is a scary place, the organisation’s journey can be lonely without a friend.

Fundamental: Avoidance of Dependence

Organisational Psychotherapy aims to proceed toward a future where the client can take care of themselves, without the need for external intervention or support from a therapist. A future in which the client has become sufficiently self-aware and skilled in self-care that it can sustain its journey from its own resources.

The journey to self-sufficiency make take time, and proceeds at the pace with which the client is (more or less) comfortable. That is, the experience of therapy may cause discomfort on occasion, but the pace of progress Is never set, or forced, by the therapist.

Fundamental: The Client (Organisation) Owns Their Progress

As in individual therapy, Organisational Psychotherapy proceeds on the basis that clients deeply want change, even if there might be resistance to varying degrees and from various quarters, from time to time.

– Bob

Further Reading

The Nine Principles of Organisational Psychotherapy  ~ Think Different blog post

The Marshall Plan

I guess most people, when they start a new job or client engagement, have in mind the things they want to do and see happen. Most likely, things they’ve seen or made happen in previous jobs or engagements. Along with, maybe, some things they’ve read or heard about and are minded to try out, given the opportunity. (And what better opportunity than the honeymoon period of a new job or client?)

We might choose to call this an agenda.

My Agenda

I’m no different, excepting perhaps the items that feature on my agenda:

  • Invite participation in discussing “who matters?” (with respect to i.e. the work and the way it works)
  • Empathise with the emergent community of “folks that matter” (not exclusively, but as a priority)
  • Invite folks to listen to each other’s volunteered observations, hear each other’s feelings, and explore each other’s needs.
  • Invite folks to solicit and then begin attending to each other’s requests (explicit and implicit)
  • Offer and provide support to folks and communities in their journeys

Note: I’ve not included on my agenda anything about specific actions that I myself might want to do and see happen, beyond the items listed. Specifically, although I’ve written often about strategies such as Flowchain, Prod•gnosis, Rightshifting, the Marshall Model, self-organising/managing teams, the quality of interpersonal relationships and interactions, etc., I don’t bring these into my agenda. If folks discover these strategies for themselves, they’re much more likely to understand their fundamentals, and maybe come up with even more effective strategies.

The Antimatter Principle is the only strategy I’ve regularly written about that recognisably features on my prospective agenda, and then only by extending invitations to participate in that strategy. (Note: Attentive readers may just notice the tip of the Organisational Psychotherapy iceberg peeking out from the above agenda).

I’ve reached a point in my journey where, keen as my ego is to see all my ideas (strategies) made manifest, my experience tells me that’s not the way to go for the best outcomes for the community as a whole.

As for the Marshall Plan, I believe it’s best, in the longer run, to have the folks involved (in particular, the people that matter) do their own discovery and learning. Discovering for themselves, over time – through means they also discover for themselves – effective strategies for attending to folks’ needs (often including the principles underlying those strategies). I see my role in this Plan as supporting – in whichever ways folks request, or say they need – this collective endeavour. Such support quite possibly to include actively helping the discovery and learning, whenever there’s an explicit (albeit refusable) request for me to do so.

– Bob

Further Reading

The Benefits of Self-directed Learning

Testbash Dublin and Organisational Psychotherapy

As I mentioned in my previous post, I’m just back from presenting an interactive session on Organisational Psychotherapy at Testbash Dublin. Some folks seemed confused as to the relevance of Organisational Psychotherapy to testers and the world of testing, so I’m happy to explain the connection as I see it. (And please note that many of my previous posts on Organisational Psychotherapy may also help to illuminate this connection.)

I’ll start by riffing on something Rob Meaney said during his presentation:

“Significant quality improvements [aren’t] driven by testing. They [are] driven by building relationships and influencing the right people at the right time.” ~ @RobMeaney #TestBash

Quality (and other) improvements come from improved relationships. This has been a theme on this blog for some years now. For example see: The Power of Humane Relationships.

I asked a key (for me) question during my session (several times):

“If we accept that (as per the Marshall Model) it’s the collective mindset of the organisation that determines its relative effectiveness, how do we propose to support the organisation if and when it choses to do something about its mindset?”

Unsurprisingly perhaps, I heard no answers, excepting my own proposal for a means to that end: Organisational Psychotherapy.

I wonder how many folks involved with testing ask themselves and their peers the question “How can our organisation become more effective at testing?”. Or, using the #NoTesting frame, “How can our organisation become more effective at delivering quality products and services?”

Fellowship

Organisational Psychotherapy is not just about improving product quality, however. Through improved relationships, and a shift in how the organisation relates to its people (i.e. from Theory-X to Theory-Y), the quality of life at work also improves. Put another way, we all have more fun, more job satisfaction, and get to realise more of our potential at work. Further, for all the folks that matter, their several needs get better met. And, as a bonus for the organisation itself, it gets to see its people more productive and engaged. What’s not to like?

Incidentally

I’ve also written elsewhere about using the Antimatter Principle in practical ways during software development. For example, during development we eschew requirements gathering in favour of incrementally elaborating hypotheses about the needs of all the folks that matter, and then conducting experiments to explore those needs. I can envisage teams that still need testers adopting a needs-focused approach to driving testing. For example, putting into place various means by which to answer the question “how well does our product meet the needs of the people that matter to us?”.

Practical Applications

On a related note, some folks asked me about practical applications of Organisational Psychotherapy in their day-to-day work as testers. Here’s just a few applications which immediately come to mind:

  • Improving communication with the people that matter (i.e. developers, fellow testers, management, stakeholders, customers, etc.). I find NVC (nonviolent communication) skills and practice particularly useful in this context.
  • Clarifying what works and thus what to do more of (Cf Solutions Focus). This can improve team retrospectives.
  • Helping the people that matter (including ourselves) feel better about what we’re doing (Cf. Positive Psychology).
  • Understanding each other’s strengths, with a view to having the right people in the right seats on the bus (Cf. StrengthsFinder).
  • Eliciting requirements (if you still do that) (Cf Clean Language).
  • Building a community (such as a Testing CoP or a multi-skilled self-organising product team) (Cf Satir Family Therapy).
  • Improved cooperation with higher-ups (empathy, Transactional Analysis, etc.).
  • Dealing with blockers to changing/improving the way the work works.

Invitation

I’d love to hear if this post has helped put my recent Testbash session in context.

– Bob

Change is a Waste of Time

Change is a waste of time. And money. And human potential.

That’s not to say the fruits of change are not sweet, but the cost of those fruits, especially given the way most companies go about change, is egregiously excessive.

Put another way, if we could spend less time, effort, money, management attention etc. on change, the waste would be less. And the fruits more abundant and sweeter.

Despite many saying they want change, few need change. I mean, it’s not like anyone’s job, livelihood, career or self-image depended on it. At least, that’s the perception. And those few who DO need change, are those that seem to be stymied at every turn when trying to introduce it. 

What to do? 

How about we take a leaf out of the Book of Therapy, and simply support the few – the few individuals, the few organisations – that feel the need to change? Maybe their improved wellbeing might then encourage a few others?

– Bob

Beyond the Pale

Digital transformations, Agile adoptions, shifts in collective mindset, Marshall Model transitions and the like general proceed slowly, if at all. Why might this be? What slows or blocks the implementation of more effective ways working, more effective ways of meeting folks needs?

I have found that one of the biggest drags on implementing more effective strategies for getting folks’ needs met is the sheer inconceivability of the new strategies. Literally. unthinkable. And not only are these prospective, more effective ways of doing things inconceivable, they’re often also unmentionable, undiscussable and taboo, too.

Some Examples

Here’s a list of some of the kinds of new strategies I’m talking about:

  • Using throughput accounting rather than cost accounting
  • Delivering value as defined by the customer, rather than the supplier
  • Defect prevention as a preferred alternative to testing
  • Favouring slack and flow over utilisation and busywork
  • Recruiting with humanity (conversations) rather than relying on CVs
  • Funding new product initiatives incrementally rather than with a one-off budget allocation
  • Incrementally trialling new product ideas in the market rather than one time “big launch”
  • Attending to folks’ needs rather than acting as if we know what’s best for others
  • Self-managing and self-organising teams
  • Having teams “own” the product they’re working on, rather than a separate Product Owner
  • Reducing or eliminating the command & control aspects of middle management roles
  • Theory Y over theory X
  • Adopting team-wide measures rather than measuring individuals
  • Seeing people as emotional and social rather than logical and rational
  • Eliminating extrinsic motivators in favour of cultivating intrinsic motivations
  • Adopting whole systems measures rather than local measures
  • Managing and optimising the whole business rather than managing and optimising each part
  • Having folks set their own salaries and bonuses, rather than have remuneration decided by others

And so on…

Promise Unrealised

Each of the above strategies promises to contribute to a more effective business, yet each of them is in itself often inconceivable, unacceptable, unthinkable and even undiscussable. In short, such new strategies are, at a given point in time, considered as beyond the pale.

The First Challenge

When considering Digital transformations, Agile adoptions, Marshall Model transitions and the like, our collective challenge, then, is to progressively broaden and deepen our tolerance and enthusiasm for discussing and embracing these new strategies.To move ourselves to a point where one, some or all of these new strategies is conceivable, discussable and acceptable. Only then can we begin to think about build a true consensus on a specific way forward.

And maybe organisational psychotherapy has a role to play in helping the organisation open itself up and start thinking and then talking about these “tough topics”.

– Bob

Further Reading

Discussing the Undiscussable ~ Bill Noonan
Crucial Conversations ~ Kerry Patterson et al.
Six Ways To Open Up and Talk in Therapy ~ John M. Grohol Psy.D. (article)

Ten Reasons You Don’t Need Organisational Psychotherapy  

You don’t need Organisational Psychotherapy if:

  • you’re already realising the maximum potential and engagement of your people
  • your perspectives and assumptions about business are bringing you as much success as you need right now
  • your organisation’s culture is strong, positive, healthy and fully supportive of your objectives
  • everyone is motivated to do good work, focussed on the things that matter to the people that matter
  • no one in your organisation is stressed out, frustrated or angry
  • folks know how to talk with each other, both socially and to address business issues 
  • there are no blockers to healthy and productive collaboration
  • work is a safe place where everyone trusts each other and looks out for each other’s welfare
  • folks strive to learn and share new knowledge and develop each other’s skills and capabilities
  • everyone’s needs are receiving attention and action

How’s it going, where you are?

– Bob

 

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