Tag Archives: organization

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)


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

 


Now Playing in the 21st Century Organization: Creativity, and Dialog at the Edge

Those who champion change and innovation know that open dialog is essential to spawn new thinking, deeper insights, and stakeholder buy-in. Dialog is often the spark that creates the energy needed to make things happen.

What about dialog at the edge?

By this, I’m thinking about discussions that take people and teams out of their comfort zones, into areas that aren’t traditionally aligned with their usual subject matter. Of course, we could hang this thought on the peg of “getting outside the box” and move on. But I think there’s more to it. I believe thinking at the edge unlocks creativity in the organization, the place from which true change can emerge.

A common problem of group conversations among like-minded thinkers is group-think. Everyone is biased toward agreement. Comfort is derived for sameness. Change never gets a chance. More cutting edge facilitators take those same thinkers and collaborators into less familiar waters. It might be a conversation based on improv. Or a field trip to unusual places. Anything to force a change of thinking, to bring new insights to significant problems.

Let’s take a look at some basic ideas of how edge thinking might work in practice, and explore both challenges and enablers of creativity in the modern organization:

  • Q1. Edge Thinking. Are there clear connections between creativity and thinking at the edge?
  • Q2. Boundary Keeping. Some say facilitation of boundary crossing adds value. Do we need traffic cops? Will edge explorers listen?
  • Q3. Trust. What role does trust play in orgs, as creatives seek to take risks?
  • Q4. Digression, or No? Many struggle with edge dialog’s many perceived rabbit trails. How do we know when to follow a thread?
  • Q5. ROI of Edges. It is difficult to stray from the comfortable. Can we quantify value when creative solutions are defining new baselines?
  • Q6. Design Thinking. Does it thrive on edges? How so?

Bring your ideas on creativity and edges, and we’ll work them in. When we’re in the zone, which is often of late, our discussion evolves with group input.

More? Some edge thinkers worth noting: Michelle James and Cathryn Hrudicka (creativity), John Hagel (edge strategies) and new arrival, prof. Eugene Gendlin (philosophy of edge thinking).

The #orgdna community meets every 3rd Monday from 9:30 to 11:00pm ET. We discuss challenges of leading and learning in the 21st century organization. We promise a lively dialog and a place to expand both your thinking, and your thinking network.

Chris (aka @sourcepov)


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)


Dialog for the 21st Century Organization: A Focus on Culture, Change and Learning

AMG152695b WeaveI had a fascinating exchange Saturday morning with Panteli Tritchew and Ken Gordon, sparked by a response from Mike Itzius. It was a spontaneous twitter chat (sometimes called ‘async’) that sparks from a tweet or two, aided by twitter-enabled phones with alerts on audible.

We brainstormed a few threads that run through the modern organization. Even in our short dialog, it was clear: there are so many interrelated threads, it can be hard to know where to start. That’s been a challenge for #cdna too, as it’s long been for leaders.

Where does change in an organization begin?

Since mid-2012, a group of us have chatted on these topics under the concise but obscure #cdna hashtag. The tag was short and sweet and it served us well. But with conflicting use now among genetic scientists and stock market traders, we need a new moniker.

In our impromptu Saturday chat, we touched on organization development (“OD”), change in general, and the various aspects of learning that weave in and out of these sometimes academic topics.

We didn’t mention, but have in the past, culture, the forces of social complexity, knowledge management (“KM”) and of course, the overarching umbrella of leadership. Those topics often get woven into our chats. Together, they are the fabric (resilient or otherwise) of the 21st century organization.

Add all that up and it’s one whopping hashtag.

But we must find a new one. A hashtag to focus the conversation must foster freedom and independence of new ideas. We can tap other tags (and their stakeholders!) as specific topics afford. I’ve found #orgchange #orglearn and #orgdev all have links back to individuals or corporate initiatives, and some great content. Tags like #leadership and #change need no introduction. We just need a twitter place to call our own.

What do you think? Here are some Q’s to help us sort it out:

Q1. Org Change – the action or the destination?
Q2. Org Leader – the critical catalysts?
Q3. Org Development – the practice and the mission?
Q4. Org Learning – the capacity .. & the missing link?
Q5. Org Complexity – the game changer (if we explain it?)
Q6. Org Culture – the ultimate enabler?

I hope you can join us MON 7/20 at 9:30p ET, 6:30p PT. We’ll take on each thread one by one, to see what kind of magic we might weave. By the end of the chat, we should have clarity on our new hashtag. Until then, we’re still #cdna ..

See you online!

Chris (aka @sourcepov)


Why Do Leaders Resist Change?

Our path to the present has seemed a steady march. Sure, we’ve taken detours and followed many courses. But from our factories to our business schools to Wall Street, the lessons are still loud and clear: a repeatable result, with minimal deviations, is the winning model.

Repeating what's worked, however imperfect

Repeating what’s worked, however imperfect

It’s generally true in manufacturing, when you’re making widgets. And it can work if the past holds all the secrets to our future success. There’s comfort in the formula. Within the long-stable walls of the organizations and brands and empires we’ve erected, we know which bricks need replacing.

But turning away from the familiar introduces new variables. The old rules are often irrelevant. Think about IBM. Microsoft. Kodak. When it comes to our mental models, significant change is the enemy. In our high-stakes, increasingly connected world, the risk of embracing change, or even talking about it, can send shivers down the spine of any executive who is held accountable for results. And that’s pretty much all of them. Risk of gambling on the wrong future looks greater than the risk of taking small steps from a proven though imperfect past.

We talk often on the “how” of change. But so often we assume the “why” is a given .. and go on to assume we have the critical change  mandate from the top.

Usually we don’t.

So amid the familiar chorus of embracing change for a sustainable future, it’s time to look at why that cry often falls on deaf ears.  Let’s look at the brick wall of uncertainty facing the modern executive, and ask:  Why do Leaders Resist Change?

Here are 4 questions to help us unpack the discussion:

  • Q1. Executive psychology typically presumes the need to have all the answers; how can we help leaders rethink that?
  • Q2. ‘Sense of urgency’ tops Kotter’s 8-step change agenda; must we wait for failure or concoct burning bridges to drive action?
  • Q3. ‘Group think’ can be fatal at the board level; how can this be attacked?
  • Q4. Organizational cultures can embrace or resist change, but the latter is most common; what cultural elements can drive adaptive behaviors?

Join us MONDAY 7/8 at 8pET for a discussion, the next in our 2013 series on collaborative leadership in the 21st Century. We’re unpacking the challenges one brick at a time ..

Hope to see you online .. or please, share your thoughts .. we’re hoping to extend the discussion blog-side (via comments, here), our G+ page and via twitter async ..

The @collabdna team


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