Tag Archives: organization change

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)

 


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)


Collaboration DNA: The Dilemma of Culture (Ch.10)

CHARLOTTE, NC. By CDNA author

For organizations that seek change, few factors are more important than creating the right culture. Lou Gerstner said it was the main issue in the transformation of IBM from hardware to services.

The challenge is that few understand what it is, or how it works.

It can be hard to define, because it works in subtle ways. It shapes the behaviors of people in an organization, but it is also shaped by them, in a two-directional flow of influence. It reflects how people in the organization have come to view success, over time. Executives can try to shape it, but without significant investment in the effort, surface attempts to force change routinely fail.

I’ve covered these dynamics in Chapter 10 of The DNA of Collaboration, based on research I started in 2010 on this fascinating topic, recounted in my original 8-part blog series.

Today, let’s attack 5 of the main dynamics that the most important to understand:

  • Q1. How can we navigate the complex layers of Org Culture, eg. professional, hierarchy, generational, demographic?
  • Q2. Which Org Culture model do you see most: Control, Silo, or Network? Can they coexist?
  • Q3. What happens in Cultures where contrarians rule? 
  • Q4. Can Organizations have a Culture of trust? If so, how?
  • Q5. Can employees make a difference  and influence change?

We could go on for days on these topics, and perhaps we need to. These are the complex problems that motivated my research, that over time turned into the book. I kept seeing dysfunctional behaviors in organizations large and small, and set out to discover what what happening.

It’s not just about culture, of course. But culture is where so many of the issues surface, on a scale that’s maddeningly difficult to influence. Ask Lou Gerstner. Ask your CEO. Ask yourself. Is the culture of your organization empowering it’s employees for success?  Is there something employees can do about it?

Looking forward to our chat.