Tag Archives: complexity

A Time for Sense Making: Then, as Now, Our Understanding Evolves

While the search for understanding can be traced back to the ancient greeks, the modern take on sense making has a history of it’s own.

Space will not allow for a full accounting, but I see four primary vectors to help us track its modern evolution, unwinding both the practice and promise of sense making in modern terms. Consider:

  • Dervin (1983, 1992, 1996), and Russell, et al (1993, 2009) – on the human-computer interface, with the earliest explorations on the psychology of recognition and understanding.
  • Klein, et al (2006) – studying frame-to-data, and data-to-frame matching as a means to test patterns observed, advancing the earlier work of Cohen, et al (1996) and Piaget (1972,1977).
  • Weick (1979, 1988, 1993) – exploring organizational implications, with 7 discrete properties in the sense making process in groups or teams; without delving into them in detail, they are:
    • Identification – the role/sense of self, as it relates to the observed
    • Retrospection – looking back, considering the function of time
    • Narrative, discourse, and feedback – developing context and understanding via story, often through real-time dialog
    • Cues – using familiar points of reference
    • Plausability – establishing viability of scenarios
  • Snowden, et al. (2003, 2007) – with the “Cynefin” framework, introduced complex and chaotic scenarios, in contrast with the simple, the merely complicated, and the hopelessly disordered; with this more robust landscape, real world situations were more accessible, or at least visible.

How have these understandings evolved?  Has sense making come of age?

This, of course, will launch a good discussion, if not a healthy debate. In our #orgdna chat MON 2/20/17 at 9:00pm ET, let’s explore this question with the following frame:

  • Q1. HCI as Foundation. Was the early research important to what came after?
  • Q2. Klein and Pattern Matching. How influential have patterns become re: sense making & complexity? Are we returning to foundations?
  • Q3. Weick on Narrative. Has story consumed our dialog in the modern framing of sense making? For better or worse?
  • Q4. Snowden & Complexity. How has Cynefin changed the sense making dialog?
  • Q5. Futures. What is the path to practical application for sense making?

Our back story? The #orgdna chat community has been meeting since late 2012 on topics from leadership to learning, most often focused on the social dynamic.

To what end? Making sense of it all, of course. This topic is right up our alley.

Our conversations are typically lively. Just add #orgdna to your tweets at the appointed hour. We recommend a streaming app like TweetDeck. After the conversation, we’ll share a PDF transcript. And there’s likely to be a follow-up chat on a related thread. We do this every 3rd Monday, 9pET/6pPT.

Props to group member Christy Petit, who helped me shape this conversation.

Intrigued? I certainly am. The rest is up to the group. Hope to see you online Monday night.

Chris (aka @sourcepov, now on Medium)


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)


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)

 


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:

 


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)