Author Archives: Chris Jones

About Chris Jones

Thinker. Author. Instigator. Passionate about learning in the workplace, and in the classroom. Founder of #smchat, #ecosys and #orgdna Twitter based communities.

Culture Unraveled: The Semantics of “Purpose” .. a Tale of Many Threads

After 3 lively #orgdna chats on culture since August, you’d think we’d be out of things to talk about. Yet the opposite is true. The more we discuss, the more we find to discuss. Each chat opens new ideas and new threads for exploration.

In discussing patterns of culture, we spent much time on semantics. Vivid concepts like “power” and “fear” often fought with broader and more abstract notions like “purpose” and “ethical behavior” that more of us would prefer to aspire to. This particular thread from friends & contributors Mark Britz and Bruce Waltuck rung especially true as I reread the transcript.

Like Wittgenstein, I’ve always been a stickler for care our word choices. Last month we talked quite a bit about somewhat abstract notions that get appropriated for nefarious agendas, good words like collaborationtransformation and even values.  I believe it was Noah or Jim who commented on purpose needing to be saved.

But it occurs to me that a change agent has little more than relationships and words to drive transformative change. The ability to inspire a team to action based on common ground requires that we shape that common ground carefully. What do we seek to accomplish? What are the hurdles? What can we all agree to?  There’s a fine line between manipulation and inspiration for the change agent, who, in my view, needs to alter semantic interpretations at the edges to create a coalition. Facts are facts, to be certain. But abstract ideas leave room for interpretation. A skilled change leader helps shape that agenda, recruiting all the while.

So what ARE the skills of a change agent? What must happen for them to become masters in undestanding and navigating “attractors of meaning” as Bruce noted last time, in the tweet above? Let’s discuss.

  • Q1. Define “attractors of meaning” in the cultural context
  • Q2. How does a change agent build common ground when everyone has their own semantics? a diverse cultural lens?
  • Q3. Utlimiately, what are the skills of a change agent?

Here’s an aggregation of our recent #orgdna culture transcripts, with a participant # and a tweet # for each:

We are slowly unravelling the tapestry of organization culture. We’ve got planning threads open in both Twitter dm’s and Slack. Lmk if you’d like to join us there.

Hope to see you !! MON 11/14/16, at 9pm EST.  Should be another great one.

Chris (aka @sourcepov)


Cultural Patterns in Org Design: Can specific elements mark our Path to Success?

Loved the ideas circulating during and after our September 19 #orgdna chat on the “Price of Growth” (transcript here).

We talked about the downside organizational impact of scale, namely, the loss of close relationships and nimbleness enjoyed when a company is new and small. Some of this, we concluded, is just driven by access. More people. More connections to make. Less time to get everyone in the loop.

But we also concluded a culture shift can also be tied to the changing nature of relationships and a shift of focus. I especially loved this comment by Mark Britz on this:

In our 10/17 #orgdna, let’s discuss several patterns of culture that will impact success as we seek to design and enhance how our organizations work.  It’s a focus core to organization effectiveness, key topics for OD and HR practitioners across industry groups.

We’ll include Mark’s input on a “social” archetype (Q1) and a few others surfaced historically by Charles Handy (Q2-Q5) and more recently by Jon Husband (Q6). Here’s our outline:

  • Q1. Discuss Social archetype. Seen where collaboration embraced. Values relationships. Other characteristics?
  • Q2. Discuss Command archetype. Seen in military & the CEO’s office. Values loyalty.
  • Q3. Discuss Silo-expertise archetype. Seen in Fortune 500 & Academia. Values consistency.
  • Q4. Discuss Network archetype. Seen in customer service and ER’s. Values learning.
  • Q5. Discuss Practitioner archetype. Seen in SMB. Values independence and flexbility.
  • Q6. Discuss Wirearchy-connecting archetype. Evolving. Where is this likely to work? Similar to Q1? Q4?

Our virtual think tank has been at this since 2012.  Four years and going strong.

Hope you will join us, 9:00pm ET for the chat, 8:30pm for the pre-game. Just add #orgdna to all your tweets at the appointed hour. We recommend a streaming Twitter app like Tweetdeck, so you can see the full conversation in real time.

Looking forward.

Chris (aka @sourcepov)


The Price of Growth: Losing Our Edge, and the Impact(s) of Org Culture

We’ve all seen organizations change as they’ve grown. This is a part of any group’s natural evolution. With scale organizations encounter new demands, acquire new talent, and find ways to navigate the many new relationships that form. But what is lost in the process?

What are the forces that cause us to lose those advantages that entrepreneurs and small businesses hold dear?

Is an organization’s culture part of the answer, or part of the problem?

Important ideas are circulating here, very much aligned with our past few #orgdna conversations on cultural forces. Major thanks to #orgdna member Mark Britz for his recent blog post that’s helped us frame this topic. We’ve been viewing organization change and culture through a system thinking lens, to help us understand the dynamics. Along the way, we’ve started to apply a complex systems overlay to the dialog, to help us understand the interactions that happen with large groups.

Now we focus on the impact of scale.  Let’s take a look at some of the forces.

Span of Influence.  First, its worth reflecting that as organizations scale, the number of relationship multiples rapidly. The communication among leaders and members that is possible when very small starts to break down with growth. So intermediate sub-leaders are appointed, and specialization of roles and functions begins. There is a natural evolution of complexity as small organizations get larger. This challenges any leader to rethink their approach and processes, on all management topics ranging from motivation to communication to strategy setting.

Cultural Loopback.  Second, it helps to understand culture is both an emergent outcome of an organization, while at the same time providing a set of guiding principles back to that organization as it evolves.  That means culture is both influencing and influenced by the people that make it up. If that sounds complex, it’s no wonder. Linear cause and effect forces don’t work in large groups, because the dynamics are so intertwined as to make outcomes unpredictable. It’s why leaders usually struggle to drive transformation agendas. It’s why culture change is so difficult.

But this is just the starting point. Expanding relationships and the 2-way dynamics of culture are only two forces that occur with growth. There are likely many more.

In our M 9/19 9pm ET chat, let’s exlore the implications, expanding on some of Mark’s questions:

  • Q1. What are additional drivers of change, with growth? What else influences how an organization culture changes as it scales?
  • Q2. What signals change? How can we know culture change is happening?
  • Q3. Must we lose our edge? Can the benefits of small (e.g. being nimble and low-cost) survive inevitable growth that comes with success?
  • Q4. What must Leaders do? Complex forces can be paralyzing. What can/should leaders do to accommodate healthy growth and healthy culture?

Our group is a loose band of change-minded thinkers. We come together virtually and rekindle these discussions every 3rd Monday at 9pm ET. Simply add the #orgdna hashtag to your tweets, and join the conversation. We recommend a streaming app like Tweet Deck for the best real time experience.

From there, the rest is up to the group. The conversation will flow where you help us take it. It’s almost always a lively exchange. And watch for a PDF transcript here, after our chat, courtesy John Lewis of Holosoft.

Hope to see you online.

Chris (aka @sourcepov)

 


Culture Change, the Dilemma of the 21st Century Organization: Can Leaders Keep Up?

How do you develop a culture that embraces and enables change? Leaders and executives are continuing their search. In fact, the dilemma of culture has been much discussed in the press, even before IBM’s Lou Gerstner took the challenge head-on in the 1990’s. He said IBM’s culture was the single biggest challenge facing the company’s gut-wrenching transformation from hardware sales to services. The company needed to rethink itself. The culture needed to change.

There are many challenges to unpacking the culture of an organization, because it is not well-defined or easily influenced. Drucker called in ‘amorphous’. There are no specific levers to be pulled, or scripts to be followed. Culture is the result of how an organization has evolved. It can be defined like this:

Culture is the set of beliefs and values that emerge when a group of stakeholders have interacted over time. They influence it, and are influenced by it. It is how the group models success, and the ground rules for survival.

With that frame, the challenge is clear. Convincing an established group that the rules have changed doesn’t tend to work, at least not on the first few tries.

The problem is further complicated by a broad lack of understanding. Most haven’t been exposed to the prevailing theories from an organizational development (or “OD”) perspective. If Drucker is right and culture resists definition, do we dare look further?

Not to challenge Drucker, but in this case, I say ‘yes’.

While no model is perfect, the theories put forward by two respected leaders in the OD space have stood the test of time. Let’s have a look at them here, so we might better understand the dilemma of culture change:

  • Edgar Schein advanced a model that cultural forces operate in layers, where beliefs and values effect us in different ways at different times, but all of them operating together. As examples, he mentioned our citizenship, our ethnicity, our professional training, and our gender, all operating in tandem with our workfplace culture. The values and behaviors passed down among each of these affinity groups play a role when we respond to a an issue, make a decision, or challenge the status quo.
  • Charles Handy is known for 4 discrete cultural archetypes, each operating in organizations, sometimes side by side with one another, but having unique properties. With 21st century forces in mind, I adapted Handy’s 4 archetypes just slightly into the categories of Command, Role, Network and Practitioner. I created a visual some years back to recap and expand on Handy’s model.  I’ll include the graphic here.
Four Types of Organizational Culture, from Handy (1993). "The DNA of Collaboration" (c) 2012.

Four Types of Organizational Culture, from Handy (1993). “The DNA of Collaboration” (c) 2012, Chapter 10, Fig. 15.

As we unpack the forces of culture change in the 21st century, we should keep Schein’s layers and Handy’s 4 archetypes top of mind. They help us understand what’s at stake.

With that as background, let’s discuss the 21st century implications, with overlays of complexity and our recent focus on systems thinking. We’ve been talking about the dual dynamics of structure and flow in the organization. This conversation should advance our thinking in all of these areas.

Here’s a discussion frame for our next #orgdna chat:

  • Q1. Layers. How do the Schein’s layers of culture interact during times of transformation? How do they effect the structure?
  • Q2. Archetypes. Can you confirm any of Handy’s 4 archetypes in organizations you’ve seen? Are they at times at cross purposes? Which archetype maps to the modern silo?
  • Q3. Network. The network model has proven well-suited to learning and adaptation. Is it necessarily the path for the 21st century organization? Does it model structure, or flow?
  • Q4. Scale. Does scale necessitate the Role/Function model, or is there another approach?

I hope you will join us Monday, August 15, from 9-10pm ET, as we discuss the Dilemma of Culture Change. Just sign onto Twitter at the appointed time, and use hashtag #orgdna in your tweets to join in the conversation.  We recommend a Twitter streaming app, like Tweetdeck.

It’s always a lively conversation. See you there!

Chris (aka @sourcepov)

Additional Reading


Wirearchy by Design: Principles of the 21stC Networked Org

The #orgdna community is hosting a monthly Twitter Chat on topics in OD, using a quarterly topic “series ” format to build on core ideas in-depth.  For 1Q16 we looked at challenges of Transformation. 2Q16 took us into System Thinking to help us understand models like the age-old silo. Now, for 3Q16, we move to a deep dive on Structure and Flow in organization design.

JULY 2016.  Most organization designers have hierarchy deeply burned-in to their mental models, so much so that anything else simply seems foreign and non-viable.  Progressive thinkers challenge those older models, helping structured thinking give way to org paradigms that are more akin to notions of flow, adaptation, and movable borders. The concept of networked structures comes into view. And things start to get interesting.

Jon Husband is a well-known leader in the global conversation of networked organizations. His concept of wirearchy dates back to the late 1990’s, when the internet was young. It provides a powerful challenge to our thinking at the outset. Can people or leaders organize themselves to do useful work if they abandon structure in favor of simple connections? Or can the structures co-exist?

Let’s find out.  Our chat for MON 7/18 9 p.m. ET sets out to explore Wirearchy, and it’s implications. We have invited Jon Husband himself to join us, and we look forward to the exchange. Here’s our high-level discussion outline, with questions actually surfaced in bold:

  • Q1. Wirearchy defined. Does a network design in itself foster collaboration? Why?
  • Q2. Can structured vs. network approaches co-exist?
  • Q3. What factors influence success/adoption of Wirearchy or principles like it?
  • Q4. Do complex problems or relationships fare well w/ Wirearchy? Does complexity play a role in this?
  • Q5. What are entry points for Wirearchy to take hold? How can understanding spread?

We hope you will join us. We’ll gather in the #orgdna “lobby” (virtual, of course) a few minutes ahead for some brief introductions, and as always, we’ll see where the conversation takes us. Send your messages via Twitter including the hashtag #orgdna; we recommend a streaming tool like Tweet Deck, to see consecutive comments as they flow in.

Looking forward to this. Stay tuned for more on structure and flow for 3Q16. We’ll see you online !!

Chris (aka @sourcepov)

 


Rethinking the Silo: New Designs for Structure and Flow in the 21st Century Organization

In our monthly #orgdna chat, we’ve been discussing the future of the 21st century organization. Some have begun to rethink what is possible. Some have argued, as I have, that leaders should orchestrate their organizations rather than trying to control them, embracing more collaborative models for getting things done. Why?

In short, dynamic models account for the need for organizations to respond to change. Adaptability is a requirement. And resources (e.g., information, people, funding) must be allowed to flow across department/functional boundaries when and where they are needed.

Sadly, silos remain predominant. It’s what everybody is used to. It’s the 100-year-old factory model still being held up as the handbook for modern business. Think about any bureaucratic organization you’ve encountered. They are built in silos that sub-optimize elements at the expense of the whole. They embrace standards, at the expense of change. And perhaps worst, they are virtually programmed to survive.

The good news:  there are some alternative ideas and models in play that set out to change the rules, topics that are worth a deeper dive. So let’s have a look.

First, lets revisit our path:

  • In April, we looked at system thinking (link) as a means to model the structure and flow of the typical silo-based organization, to identify bottlenecks and counter-productive motivators.
  • In May, we deconstructed the silo (link), looking at specific reinforcing flows that create problematic influences, beyond our best intentions.
  • Now, in June, it’s time to look at silo improvements, exploring alternatives to challenges and gaps we’ve identified.

Let’s start with a picture to get us thinking, a visual prompt for ideas that can be complex and abstract when left to words.

Here’s an excellent image offered by a regular #orgdna contributor, Valdis Krebs. The concept of Wirearchy (more) was first coined by Jon Husband in 1999. It is a useful model to explore the alternatives to the organizational silo:

With reflection on this picture, we can resume our Q&A, a dialog on silo factors and alternatives, informed by the Wierarchy idea and fueled by system thinking. Let’s consider ways for:

  • Q1. Restoring Critical Feedback. Adaptation depends on a critical feedback loop, and in silo’d orgs this is often blocked. What new mechanisms could allow feedback to flow across and within silos?
  • Q2. Freeing/Reallocating Critical Resources. We’ve all seen hoarding of financial and human resources within silos produce a negative outcome. What can be done to prevent or discourage this?
  • Q3. Solving Fragility for Resilience. We’ve learned silos that hone deep expertise are fragile or obsolete when demands change. 21stC forces demand adaptability; organizations are seeing shifts in their markets and technology base; operating units must learn to function under new rules. This can be the most daunting kind of change of all. How do we foster adapability and a new resilience?
  • Q4. Optimizing for the Whole. The classic negative silo-driven outcome is optimization at the department or component level, while hurting the larger organization. What is needed to circumvent this self-defeating path?

As we discuss alternatives, let’s continue to use system thinking as a guide. What forces are at work? What controls are increasing, decreasing, or blocking the flow of critical resources? How might these be influenced?

The #orgdna community meets monthly on organizational learning and leadership, typically 3rd MONDAYs at 10 pm ET. Simply sign on to Twitter at that time, and use the hashtag #orgdna to follow the conversation. If you can’t attend, the transcript will be captured in PDF form and linked in a comment to this framing blog post. Prior transcripts are available in a similar fashion, as comments on the respective monthly post.

It’s always a lively exchange. All are welcome. We hope to see you there.

Chris (aka @sourcepov)


Deconstructing Silos: Visualizing the Flows and Forces of Organizational Gridlock

Every organization is a mish-mash of people. From my experience, most are working very hard but still struggling to get things done. Good leaders know there are myriad forces at work, ranging from culture to incentives to policy and process, all of it strung together by the organization’s structure, the infamous org chart. Unpacking this complexity to address problems can be daunting. But there’s some hope. I believe the tools of System Thinking, popularized by Peter Senge and Donella Meadows, can help us visualize the vital flow of resources and the forces that shape them.

The classic structural curse of most large modern organizations is, of course, the functional silo. So often these common structures bring us face to face with gridlock and productivity issues. They are the essence of bureaucracy. We need to understand why.

System Thinking can help us unpack the forces that create/feed the organizational silo, with simple tools to help us understand what is causing and perpetuating them. 

With some pictures, foot notes, and conversation, we might even discover pathways to alternative models.

What exactly is System Thinking? We started unpacking this last month. To recap, let me share a few simple systems. Picture water flowing in and out of a bathtub, influenced by the spigot and drain positions. Or imagine money flowing in and out (mostly out!) of your checking account, driven by bills, purchases, interest rates, etc. While these are very basic systems, they are intuitive, helping us visualize flows we process subconciously in our day to day. They are simple metaphors to get us into a System Thinking frame of mind. The rest unfolds quickly:

System Thinking, in a nutshell, is a way to show the forces and flows that are influencing how systems work.

You’ve seen impromptu examples on white boards in every company. Often they’re pictures of how work is or should be getting done. The best ones can help us understand structural issues in our approach, helping us find ways to fix them.

Organizations are systems too. Resources flow in, through, and around the various structures and substructures like departments. Whether those resources flow or don’t flow is significant. These are factors that can determine what works and what doesn’t work in a given company. In fact, I will argue that the organizational silo is a product of good ideas (like specialization and quality control) gone too far. It’s worth a deep dive. We often engage in ritual attacks of org silos, but we rarely spare the time to understand why we have silos in the first place. What’s worse, there’s no real focus on why our silos are so hard to break through, or, importantly, what we can do about them.

This diagram is an imperfect first cut at some of the flows impacting, feeding, and sometimes fortifying the silo’d functional organization.

Key forces at work in the organizational silo, through a System Thinking lens. Discussion at #orgdna. Content (c) 2016 Chris Jones. Reuse with permission.

Key forces at work in the organizational silo, through a System Thinking lens. Discussion at #orgdna. Content (c) 2016 Chris Jones. Reuse with permission.

Let’s use our scheduled monthly #orgdna chat to attack this. We’re on tap for MON 5/16 at 10 p.m. ET.  We’ll take 60-90 minutes to discuss these forces and others. We will challenge the picture and it’s implications using the following discussion outline:

  • Q1. Discuss the reinforcing flow of reducing variance to drive improvement. Does it cause silos to form & harden?
  • Q2. Discuss feedback constraints. In the name of focus and specialization, how can this hurt adaptability?
  • Q3. Discuss communication constraints. How does this impact calcification and reduced resilience?
  • Q4. Can a manager takes steps that could allow quality & specialization but avoid silo formation?
  • Q5. What’s missing in the diagram?

I hope you will join us. Our #orgdna conversations are always lively. This one promises no less. We’ll start a little early if folks are around. Just sign on with Twitter with an app like TweetDeck, and follow hashtag #orgdna. Include it in your tweets, and join the conversation.

See you Monday.

Chris Jones (aka @sourcepov)