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.

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)


System Thinking in the Organization: Tracing Flows of Power, Information and Influence

As we’ve covered here and elsewhere, the mental models we hold of the organization help to shape our thinking, if not our behaviors. Models are deeply woven with the culture of our workplace, not to mention the personal mindset we bring to work. Models tell us what works, and who we are. As an organization, do we value open communication, or adhere to strict communication conduits up/down the chain? Is it ok to try and fail, or must we play it safe? Are we expansion/growth oriented, or defensive? Our mental images shape what we think about our organization, and fundamentally shape our view of our place in it. In short, they define the workplace as a container.

But what about the critical flow of resources and information inside that container? Are there models to help us understand how and why things happen internally?

The short answer, of course, is yes.

System Thinking offers numerous models that describe how critical resources flow in, out and through the workplace. Resources such as power, influence and rewards .. not to mention information itself .. move through organizations in interesting and important ways.

System Thinking, like Complexity Thinking, is a new way to look at how things work. It’s a move away from simplified, piece-meal, cause-and-effect models where one solution fixes one problem. Most systems are inherently complex. So work in the complexity space looks at a much broader set of interactions that are inevitably in play: environmental variables, resource constraints, inter-dependencies, feedback loops, and the very important impact of delayed feedback. Factors like these are usually left out of reductionist models, where problems happen in a hypothetical vacuum. Intuitively, a complex systems view can move us closer to reality than simplistic formulaic constructs.

At #orgdna for 2Q16 (April-May-June), in our monthly 90-minute Twitter Chat, we are going to tackle Systems Thinking. As we do, we will start to see why some organizations thrive while others fail, often while having similar structure, resources, and leadership methods.

To get started, let’s tee up a few of Systems Thinking’s foundational elements, taken from Meadows and other readings.  This will give us a toolkit for subsequent #orgdna chats.

  • Q1. Key #systemthinking concepts include stocks, flows, and feedback loops; how can these improve our understanding of the org? 
  • Q2. Helpful #systemthinking metaphors: (a.) bathtub (b.) checking account (c.) thermostat. Which are most useful in #orgdev?
  • Q3. Let’s explore #systemthinking archetypes for orgs:  (a.) escalation (b.) tragedy of the commons (c.) diminishing returns. Where to focus?
  • Q4. Can we isolate (a.) element inventory (b.) relationships or (c.) purpose/function as a primary #orgdev focus? #systemthinking
  • Q5. What are limitations/challenges for #systemthinking in the practice of #21stcorg and #orgdev in general?

I hope you will join us MON 4/18 at 10pm ET, as we take on these important and exciting topics.  Much to learn, and much to discuss.

For the best, most interactive experience, log-on with Twitter using TweetDeck or a similar app, and follow hashtag #orgdna.  We’ll see you online!

Chris aka @sourcepov

Further reading:

 


Transformation: Putting Stakes in the Ground for Lasting Change

Most of us have been part of transformational change at some point in our careers. Sometimes we were part of the change, and sometimes it happened to us. But no matter the scenario, one thing is clear:  high-stakes change can be traumatic and painful.

The back story of course is rooted deeply in human nature, where major change is in conflict with our instinctual goals of survival.

Reference Maslow or Kotter, and you’ll see the same answer: people don’t like change. Large groups of people .. like any modern organization .. will fight you to the death to prevent it.

21st century factors emphasize new dynamics, of course. We must be more fluid in our processes, nimble in our reaction to the market, more open when it comes to new ideas that don’t line up with our own. Change is an every day thing. Major change will come at us more often.

What’s a leader to do?

Let’s discuss some of the major factors that contribute to lasting transformative change.

  • Q1. Transformation often elicts fear of survival. How should this be addressed?
  • Q2. Can high-order needs like belonging sustain engagement when lower-level needs like security are threatened?
  • Q3. Pace of change is both enemy and ally. What dynamics shed light on the optimal target momentum?
  • Q4. What anchors are most effective when it comes to solidifying gains?
  • Q5. Can leaders ensure change will last, or is out of their control?

We hope you’ll join us MON 3/28 at 10pm EDT, as we take on these interesting and important topics. As always, we plan for a lively conversation. See you there!

Chris aka @sourcepov