Tag Archives: change

Peter Block: Better Questions for Orgs in 2017, moving from How? to Why?

We’re kicking off our #orgdna conversation for 2017. For me, there’s no place better to start than a focus on the top questions facing orgs and their leaders. For that, there’s no better thought leader to tap than the purveyor of the better question himself, Peter Block.

In late 2012, on the heels of getting my first book out, I read both of Block’s successful primers: The Answer to How, is Yes (2002) and Community: The Structure of Belonging (2009).

Together they create an excellent structure for online conversation.

Block introduces key elements of collaborative dialog, and methods to frame social change, in general. We conducted a Peter Block book disussion at our #k12 #ecosys chat in April 2013. On reviewing it, I found the frame excellent for our next #orgdna. Let’s reuse the basic structure, with focus on the first book. Here’s an excerpt of the 2013 #ecosys frame:

Block’s ideas are 100% congruent with what I’ve seen in a variety of social Twitter-based communities. Careful question framing changes our ability to recognize new possibilities. Better questions lead us to a dialog on what matters most.

I’ve updated the #ecosys questions just a bit for #orgdna, focused more on the modern organization (noting that public schools remain “in scope”):

  • Q1. Block argues “How?” bypasses questions of intention. Agree? Why?
  • Q2. The right questions, Block says, are those that get us to focus on what matters. What are some examples?
  • Q3. Flexible Structures. What are source/means for adaptive behavior?
  • Q4. Learning Organizations. Inspired by Senge, how does this happen in +2017?
  • Q5. Updated Guidance. Much has happened in OD since 2002. What would Block and others add to this dialog?

Food for thought, without a doubt. And we’ll use our takeaways to fuel follow-on frames.

Please join us on Twitter.  The discussion will be MON 1/16/17, 9pm EST. We’ve been going about 90 minutes, as we work to accommodate multiple timezones and west coasters. Simply add #orgdna to your tweets. We recommend a streaming tool like TweetDeck, to follow the conversation.

There will be more book-based #orgdna discussions in 2017. Besides, Block, we should look at Margaret Wheatley again, and most certainly others. Please weigh in on a proposed sequence. The only requirement is to keep the discussions practical and accessible. It’s okay to tap theories, as long as we don’t get stuck there.

Hope you’re excited for the new year with #orgdna. Let the conversations and deep learning resume.

Chris (aka @sourcepov)


Takeaways on Culture for 2016: what we discussed and what we learned at #orgdna

Change is all around us. It is our 21st century zeitgeist, our greatest challenge, and our daily focus. What are we doing about it?

We had 5 #orgdna chats August-December 2016 with a focus on culture change, with a progressive level of input and engagement. To me, that says we’ve tapped a topic that resonates, and gathered a group with much to say about it.

As we close 2016, we are looking forward to resuming book reviews in early 2017.

As we transition, we used our final December chat on 12/19/16 we put some stakes in the ground on the org culture topics we’ve covered this year.  What have we learned so far? What are the key takeaways? Here our five 2016 Org Culture transcripts, providing much of the insight on that.

Here are the major themes that provided the frame for our takeaways chat:

  • Q1. Culture w/ Scale: silos vs. networks; can we predict how much structure is needed?
  • Q2. Culture, in Time: do we act: early? often? what are the signals?
  • Q3. Change Skills for Culture: how do we build empathy that ensures deep listening?
  • Q4. Leadership Skills for Change: how do we align w/ change in markets, workforce demands, in the zeitgeist?
  • Q5. Adaptation w/ Complexity: can we instll flexibility at the edges?

As we start planning for 2017, I hope you’ll continue to join us 3rd MONDAYs at 9pm ET. The community is still growing. We’d love to add your voice and your insights.

In terms of mechanics, just access the conversation via your Twiter account. We’ve found success using a streaming app like TweetDeck. Just be sure to embed #orgdna in your tweets .. and we’ll 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


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)


Unpacking Transformation: What are the Critical Building Blocks?

Everybody knows. The only constant in today’s world .. and in today’s organization .. is change. More and more, however, it is transformative change. Not the gradual, barely visible, frog-in-boiling-water variety. It’s gut-wrenching change, change that that leaves you in a completely different place than when you began.

Like the farm house carried from Kansas to Oz, transformation is about a fundamentally new perspective.

Transformation is the stuff of paradigm shifts.

Organizations are complex, highly integrated things, and they’re generally quite strong when it comes to survival. But that strength makes them resistant to new rules. So transformation is always difficult .. whether the mission is to restructure the workforce, enter new markets, redefine a brand, or successfully merge existing companies.

What does transformation require? Each of the above examples begs the question. Fundamentally, at the highest level, there must be people who are focused and committed to getting the hard work of change done, in spite of predictable .. and quite logical .. reservations. So we need to unpack the necessary drivers. What are the motivators? What must leaders do?

We’ve used the metaphor of building blocks in the past to take apart complex topics, so let’s use it here. What are the building blocks of Transformation?

  • Q1. Open & Pervasive Communication. How much is enough?
  • Q2. Leaders Who Care. When does supervision transition to coaching and/or serving as mentor?
  • Q3. Trust in Those Leaders. Can we know when it’s safe?
  • Q4. Owning the End State. Is it possible for an entire organization to find common ground?
  • Q5. Freedom to Take Risks. So often, risk in business is against the grain. How do achieve something that is so often preached against?
  • Q6. Willingness to Learn. How does an entire organization learn?
  • Q7. Time. Do we have the necessary patience?

Please plan to jump in. We’re still finalizing the frame, and we’d love your input.

Also, we’ll plan to post additional Transformation-related topics and sources here, as a reference point, to energize & further inform our discussions:

For 2016, the #orgdna community is launching a quarterly theme framework, so that 3 successive chats can be used to build perspectives in one specific area of organizational dynamics. We have added a new #orgdna agenda page as the preliminary guideline for the year .. think of it as our editorial calendar .. but expect it to change, as we learn more together.

We hope you will join the conversation every 3rd Monday at 10pm ET, 7pm PT. Simply use the #orgdna hashtag to connect with participants, inquire on the topic, or participate in the chat itself at the appointed hour. It’s always a lively exchange. We hope you will join us!

Chris aka @sourcepov     Charlotte NC


Foundations for 21st Century Leaders: Learning to Navigate Culture Change

Let’s face it. People are hard to influence. We are complex creatures, difficult to predict and downright impossible to control.

Large groups of such people only serve to compound things. Insightful leaders know this, or at least sense the immensity of the challenge. It can take years to achieve significant organizational change, if it ever happens.

New on this front is the topic of social complexity. It’s an appreciation for the many variables in play that hi-jack simple “cause and effect” strategies. As an example, say we decide to give a cash bonus to everyone who behaves in a certain way. Some will play. Many will not. But leaders will often rehash the carrot (or stick) strategy in efforts to change the organization’s behavior.

Eventually leaders tire or the bonus money runs out, and they move on to other battles. Or other organizations.

True change in an organization requires a deep appreciation of the complexity dynamic. We must setaside cause and effect thinking, to instead look at what can be accomplished when we view the organization as a network of social connections, people interacting, seeking to be accepted, seeking to learn and to grow, often in spite of the odds. Let’s attack the important topic of leadership in the context of culture change from a fresh angle. We’ll take the complexity view, and see what we uncover.

We teed this up initially 10/19, but let’s keep the focus here, as we dig deeper. Our chat on MON 10/26 from 9:30-11pm ET will use this frame:

  • Q1. Connections. Does thinking of a #21cOrg as a network of social interactions help us understand the #complexity forces at work?
  • Q2. Environment. How do initial conditions in the #workplace influence the opportunity for #orgchange to take hold?
  • Q3. Fundamental Rules. Can we identify a few specific, simple groundrules that leaders can embrace to #leadchange?
  • Q4. Edges. Does change at the edge provide new thinking on how leaders might look at #21cOrg change strategies?

I find culture change to be both fascinating, and in the right conditions, possible. No doubt it is a difficult journey. But leaders must understand people and social dynamics to drive change.

Carrots and sticks? Leave them for building snowmen.

The #orgdna community generally meets every 3rd MON 9:30-11pm ET. We use the #orgdna hashtag to compare notes and ideas, and we’ll publish a transcript right here on this post afterwards. Join the conversation. It’s a lively crowd, perched on a corner of the internet that’s prone to providing insights .. a great place to learn about learning.

Join us !! Hope to see you online.

Chris aka @sourcepov, Charlotte NC US.


The Fallacies of Control & the Quick Fix: On Culture and the Complexity of Organizations

Anyone seeking to change an organization has known the pitfalls of trying to control behavior and motivation. Setting goals and expectations is not so hard. One-off wins tied to an event or a compelling speech can move the needle. But execution over the long-term .. including any lasting, sustainable change in thinking .. is another matter.

Ask Lou Gerstner, the man who moved IBM from hardware to services in the 1990’s, who said:

Culture is not just one aspect of the game, it IS the game.

I’ve always seen this as a fundamental breakthrough, a wake-up call for change the modern organization. Yet leaders will routinely, if not obsessively, plod through short-term ideas for long-term results, without ever seeing the fallacy. What’s missing is an understanding of how people in groups behave, and the implications that complexity has on an organization.

I won’t try to unpack all that here.  Frankly, it’s enough to fill a book (or two), and the subject of some in-depth posts. But for the sake of discussion, let’s establish a premise:  people in organizations are driven more by a need for belonging and conformity with group aspirations, and less by draconian measures to direct, incentivize or otherwise control it’s members. In this light, culture can be defined (if loosely) as a set of groundrules for survival, based on what has worked in the past.  New leaders and programs come and go.  But the memory of groups runs long and deep.

Try changing the minds of an organization on how things work. Ask Lou Gerstner.

For our #orgdna chat on MON 9/21/15 from 9:30 to 11:00pm ET, let’s tee up the conversation like this:

  • Q1. If we can’t control behavior or results, what CAN we influence? Does environment play a key role?
  • Q2. Why do organic ways of thinking (forests, ecosystems, viruses) provide rich metaphors for understanding people in groups, and org culture in general? 
  • Q3. What can leaders try to do in the near-term to impact the long-term?
  • Q4. Can a culture be changed?

The #cdna community of thinkers became the #orgdna community last month, to better describe and focus our dialog.  I think we’re off to a great start. Evidence?  When one chat among a few of us creates enough ideas for 2-3 more chats, imagine what can happen if we keep going, learning as we go, even as we expand and diversify our group?

Please join us. The conversation gets more lively with more ideas in play. And lord knows we enjoy a lively conversation.

As always, thanks for stopping in.

Chris (aka @sourcepov)