Organization Design Blog
Organization design blog
Note from me to financial controllers/corporate decision makers/IT guys (July 13 2013)
All – I would like to try out, for one month, being an Anybot. Basically this is a remote controlled webcam/video conferencing robot that would be based in head office and linked to my laptop in DC or wherever else I am. Using it I can join meetings in a more dynamic way – like see who is talking, ramble around the office, chat to people in the hallway, and generally feel more connected to the office than I do currently.
I think we will see robots like this being increasingly used in offices and clearly they have significant workplace implications not just in terms of logistics – where are they charged and stored, how are they maintained, etc. but also cultural and social implications – how easy is it to relate to a work colleague who is a video screen on a segueway? How effective are they in helping people feel and stay connected? How much can they save in travel costs?
Verizon is using similar robots in classrooms for students who can't physically get to schools.
This week I've been thinking about the role of leaders vis a vis HR Business Partners – and HR more generally - in designing organizations. I get asked lots of questions on this topic and have just been asked again but the factor that makes this a more complex question is that it has come from some consultants in China.
The complexity arises because the bulk of the stuff written about organization design and HR that I come across is from a US or European perspective – a perspective that in my experiences of teaching organization design in China, and then talking with various people on the topic creates tensions for Chinese leaders and HR practitioners that are different from those created in western cultures.
Globally, there are five distinctive trends shaping organization designs:
1. Accelerating digital transformation means among other things that organizations are becoming more transparent (e.g. via organizational network mapping), work becomes what you do not where you do it, information is easily available to many rather than few, and more work can be automated
2. Increasing knowledge gains from bio and neuro science research is shedding light onto aspects of decision making, choice taking, behavior patterns, learning styles, social patterns, meaning making and so on,
3. Changing demographic profiles are leading to flexible working patterns, changes to incentive and reward schemes, recruitment and retention issues, and innovative talent and career management approaches
4. Developing concerns around resource use (water, energy, other natural resources) and environmental sustainability/climate change are impacting the ways buildings are designed, urban centers are laid out, and transport and infrastructures are planned
5. Growing anxiety about the widening rich/poor divide in certain economies is leading to calls for people to be paid a living wage and not just the minimum wage, anger at 'fat-cat' remuneration, civic unrest and in some organizations attention turning towards ways of adding social/community value
On Thursday I found myself sitting in LiquidSpace at least that's who I booked through. LiquidSpace is a clearing house for workspace hirable for the hour, half day, day or longer. It's 'built to help you find a better space to meet or work from a marketplace of thousands of workspaces and meeting rooms'. It's a kind of dating service for workspace. Organizations that have available space to rent post it and people who are looking for space then register to rent it.
More info told me that I could 'Book on the go or plan ahead to work for an hour or for a day. Browse, reserve, and check in to hip co-working venues, high-end business centers, handy hotel lobbies or libraries. Find the right workspace wherever you are, whenever you need it'
I am in the category of planning ahead. I looked on Monday and booked for Thursday. Running down the availability of liquid space in my city (Washington DC) I opted for what looked like a 'hip co-working venue'. I have had my fill this year of 'handy hotel lobbies'. Canvas.Co/work (as they designate themselves) is 'A Washington, DC co-working community; designed for creatives, freelancers, independents and start-ups to be an inspiring environment in which to work and collaborate. Boasting 6,000 square feet of open-space, completely custom designed, from floor to ceiling. We believe that creativity comes from inspiration and that inspiration starts with your surroundings; you won't find any carpets, water-coolers or Ikea here.' So what's not inspirational about carpets I wonder? Could I run a workshop on water coolers as creativity inhibitors?
In the way of things as soon as I started to think about self-designed jobs several relevant items flung themselves into my path. Once I read that this sort of event is called 'reticular activation', for example, when you read a word you haven't seen before and look it up you then see it constantly ever after and can't imagine why you didn't notice it before.
The topic of self-designed jobs came my way as I was working on my conference presentation – The Future of Work for The Economist Talent Management Summit and in particular the three types of work that Robert Reich talks about in his book The Work of Nations. He describes three types – routine, person to person, and symbolic analytic (knowledge work). Someone suggested a fourth category to me of 'artisan' which I go along with.
Collaboration is one of those frequently used words. People talk about 'collaboration space', wanting to have a 'collaborative culture', and encouraging 'collaboration'. But when it comes to defining and measuring 'collaboration', there's somewhat of a pause. What is the business outcome of collaboration? Is it a new product or service, enhanced productivity, greater process efficiency, happier employees, more satisfied staff, or something else altogether. I haven't yet found an organization that is crystal clear on what it wants to achieve at an organization, work-team, or individual employee level from 'collaboration'.
Neither do we have much clarity on what contributes to collaboration. Is it the design of the workplace, the technology used, the cultural attributes of an organization, the type of work that is being done, or all of these or some/none of these?
So when this week, at my place of employment, we kicked off the first of a series of four action learning sessions the opening topic was 'collaboration'. 'Action learning is a dynamic process that involves a small group of people looking at real problems and opportunities, while at the same time focusing on what they are learning and how their learning can benefit each group member, the group itself and the organization as a whole'. We have set up the group (of about 15 people) with the primary objective of developing some tools and approaches that support our clients in making actionable connections between organization design and workplace design to increase organizational performance. A secondary objective is to try out these tools and approaches on ourselves as we transition to new office space.
I was working with a client group the other day who'd got the high level design ready and were working to detail the operational design and implementation plan. We had a discussion on the resources required to move from the current to planned redesign and they came up with the following
Tangible resources required
Intangible resources required
The right politics
It seems like an eclectic list but for their project it made sense. What is interesting about it is that it specifies intangibles that are needed: things that they felt could be derailers and that needed intentional activity to obtain. Sometimes it is difficult to work out what resources, either tangible or intangible, are needed and if this is the case a good approach is to try out Gary Klein's pre mortem exercise.
This week I've been working on a project that is going to involve use of SharePoint as a 'home room' for team members. At least that is the theory.
SharePoint's website promises that 'Microsoft SharePoint 2010 makes it easier for people to work together. Using SharePoint 2010, your people can set up Web sites to share information with others, manage documents from start to finish, and publish reports to help everyone make better decisions.'
I'm not usually defeatist but the very mention of SharePoint and I immediately thought oh no not another platform for losing stuff on, practicing endless misfiling protocols, confusing organizational newcomers, and ensuring hours of wasted time and frustration searching for something that people know is on there 'somewhere'.
I know I've used earlier versions of SharePoint in various jobs in my recent history but they always seem to have the same trajectory – it resembles the normal change curve that everyone is familiar with, but just in case you're not it runs like this.
I just re-read a previous blog I'd written on organizational diagnosis (July 2010) It was right for now as I'm currently in the middle of three different organizational assessments. This is what some people call the 'discovery' phase when I'm finding out what I think I need to know about the organization in order to make some judgment on what course(s) of action to suggest or recommend.
As I said in last week's blog I am working with three clients in this assessment phase. I always enjoy this part of the design activity because I get to meet all kinds of people each with their own perspective on the same situation. Each of the three cases has taken a somewhat different approach in this phase – so as I always say on my organization design training courses 'there is no right way'.
The interesting thing about the assessment phases is making sense of the data. What do you do with a set of interview notes, or a mix of interview notes and survey data, or a mix of 1:1 notes and group discussion notes? How do you find the themes and patterns that make for a good diagnosis and a useful set of recommendations?
Frequently I'm asked how to set up an organization design project: who needs to be involved, what are the skills they need, and how much time/effort of participants will be involved? This is rather difficult to estimate in advance of knowing something about the project although I've worked on several proposals where we have had to submit complete 'Work Breakdown Structures' with time and staffing estimates several years in advance of any projected work happening.
In one case I remember I was asked how many change management workshops I would facilitate two years out and what would be the content of each. I said this was an impossible question to answer without having started the work and getting to know the context at which point I would design workshops appropriately. This answer was unacceptable.
However, whenever possible, and for the most part, I work as follows:
Pre-proposal: Usually, I am working with the CEO or COO or other leadership team member (at organization or BU level) to gain an insight into the context, what the purpose of the design is, and the rough scope of it. This person may turn out to be 'the client' as the project gathers life, or may turn out to be 'the sponsor', or sometimes he/she may bow out and hand over the project to some other nominated client and/or sponsor.
I explain to prospective clients that I work on a project in phases (though in practice it inevitably turns out to be more chaotic than a linear arrowed sequence moving smoothly from left to right as illustrated in a proposal graphic). Additionally I take the view that organization design is a collaborative, participative venture that must involve employees and other stakeholders. Over the years I've come to the view that the more senior someone is the less likely they are to know about the granular day to day operation of the organization and it is important to have this for a good design result. (Maybe I'm jaundiced, but I'll just casually mention the now outgoing Director General of the BBC, George Entwistle).
As I've written about in a previous blog I'm speaking at a TEDX conference soon. So my eye was caught by an article in the Financial Times I was reading while sitting on the flight back to DC this week. It was called 'Life After Ted'. It's mainly about Richard Saul Wurman who first hosted a Ted conference in 1984 and in 2001 sold to the concept to the Sapling Foundation which now runs the events. The article reports that the TED events have 'developed a cult status' and 'TED Talks, a series of lecture videos posted online, have received more than 800m views to date.'
Wurman is of the view that as far as TED goes 'Now every speech is auditioned, rehearsed, edited, rehearsed again ... the spontaneity has gone. TED today has become over-orchestrated, too 'slick'." His antidote to this is to put on WWW 'an exercise in improvisation through conversation'.
A couple of people I've talked to about TED (and the various TEDXs) share similar views – that it's a good concept that has peaked. The article notes that 'TED is running out of speakers to invite and, therefore, running out of big ideas'. It has now 'resorted' to auditions to identify speakers for future events. The article also mentions the paucity – although, for the WWW event - of women speakers, and I recall that one of the reasons I was invited to the TEDX Columbus was because they needed more women speakers. So I had a go at checking out the TED ratio of women to men speakers.
This week I was in Lisbon facilitating a one-day discussion on organization culture at the Instituto Superior de Ciencias Sociais e Politicos .
The group of fifteen participants were variously PhD students, corporate employees – for the most part in HR Departments, and independent consultants so it made for a diversity of views that was delightful, and we had a lot of fun weaving our way through the nuances of culture. And just at a practical level there were differences in how we approached things.
Time is one of the cultural dimensions that we had some discussion of. The other two facilitators (we each facilitated different days of the week) had the same attitude and expectations to time that I have. We all thought that programs like this begin at the time stated (9:30 a.m.) and finish at the time stated, and the breaks are an agreed length that the participants will stick to. So the facilitators had some discussions about why this was very hard to put into practice - except for the finish time! Every day the program began later than intended – participants appearing up to 30 minutes late – and it seemed pointless beginning with only a handful of the registered people, and each break was almost twice as long as the agreed break. So what to do?
Last week I mentioned an interview with Ivor Southwood. In it he brought up the notion of workplaces as 'non-places' which, as I started to think about that, and look around the places I was in, became an intriguing idea to explore further. In the interview Southwood says that:
"Non-places is a term I came across in a book by the anthropologist Mark Augé. He was talking about transitional places, in particular places like airports, supermarkets, and motorways, etc. These, I suppose, are part of the architecture of neoliberal capitalism, in that they seem frictionless although, of course, they aren't. People with long commutes to work, for example, are always coming across glitches.
We're spending more and more time in 'non-places'. People are commuting for longer and longer times. What kind of time is that? It's sort of non-time, in a way. It's time in a non-place. What can you actually do? Who are you with? You're not with your colleagues or with your friends. You're on your own with passengers who are not talking to each other. Non-places are places of solitude and also places where your identity is suspended."
Another aspect of non-places is amnesia. They kind of resist remembering. That possibly applies to a lot of work now. You finish one assignment and then you erase it and go on to the next one."
A regular part of organizational life are those events called 'off-sites', 'retreats', 'teambuilding' or sometimes 'jollies'. I've been on my fair share of them ranging from outdoor experiential stuff in Dorset where we had to build rafts, scale walls, wade through water and so on to indoor hotel conference rooms, in places close to airports, with no daylight where we indulged in co-counselling and revealing our innermost thoughts to team members while sitting in a circle.
The Dorset thing was fairly early on in my career. I was a novice at that stage and when the trainer asked what activity we would least like to do given a choice of things like potholing, rock climbing, and white water rafting I naively said 'potholing' thinking we would be allocated to something we would like to do. Not the case. I spent a long terrifying day crawling underground in the darkness through wet mud. The trainer thought it would help me face my fears. I've never been near a pothole again.
One of the sitting in circle ones I remember, also early in my career, was where the trainer chain smoked throughout the day. (You can tell how long ago that was). As the room filled with smoke I asked him if he would stop smoking or smoke outside. He lashed out at me for stepping on his 'rights' and said if I didn't like him smoking I could leave the course. So much for a 'safe environment'.
What I learned from these early career experiences was to treat teambuilding events with a certain skepticism. I don't think that was the intention of them. But I was never quite clear what the intention of them was.
This is one of the difficulties with teambuilding events. Getting to some reliable assessment of their value or any return on investment is extremely difficult. This may be because the objectives and intended outcomes are not spelled out in a way that then facilitates effective measurement. This problem came to mind a couple of weeks ago when I was a participant in a two day off-site with my colleagues. This was an event designed to promote ... what?
Somewhere along the line I got the phrase 'All models are wrong. Some models are useful.' This has come to top of mind during the week when models of all types have entered my consciousness. This week I've been walking round a full size cardboard mock-up of new office space and furniture that the intended occupants are walking around and through, making comments on its viability and suggesting improvements. It's great fun seeing the ease with which the cardboard can be picked up and re-sited with no difficulty. Cardboard boxes piled one on top of the other represent standing work stations, and flip chart paper the computer monitor. Intended occupants are assessing light levels, asking questions about noise, and so on.
This exercise was followed by a trip to an office furniture showroom where the same people now experienced the type of furniture that would go in the spaces. So where we had the cardboard mock-up of six people sitting at what is called benching (essentially akin to a long rectangular dining table that in the café chain, Le Pain Quotidien, is called 'our communal table' and has a little spiel associated with it ) in the office showrooms we went to they were sitting at the real thing and thoroughly enjoying it. But again the showrooms are just a model. We don't know what the real thing will actually be like, and that's where the phrase sprang to mind, because people are fearful that the model is useful in theory but could be wrong in practice.
At the Organization Design Forum Conference in Atlanta earlier in the week Shoshana Zuboff, the now retired Charles Edward Wilson Professor of Business Administration, at Harvard Business School was the hit of the event. Unfortunately I missed her as I was traveling but I took a look at a couple of You Tube clips of her talking. Her seven minutes on design flaws in organizational structure resonated.
She talks of 'chapters of capitalism' and asks how we realign our commercial operations with new needs. Which she suggests is very difficult. I guess much of her video clip is drawn from her book The Support Economy: Why Corporations Are Failing Individuals and the Next Episode of Capitalism as she proposes a new chapter of capitalism based on serving the new needs of customers that are grounded in personal empowerment and expression. I haven't read the book yet – although when I went to put in on my Amazon wish list after the conference I discovered that it was already on my list. 'Amazon' politely told me that since I was trying to put it on my list again it would move it to the top. I've now ordered the book from my local library.
Last week I started to get to grips with being a fully remote worker for my new company. I am one of the very few (only?) employees who is not tied to an office but is home based and also mobile. Also this past week I facilitated a webinar on managing mobile workers for my previous organization, and so it seems like I am eating more dog food (see previous post on eating dogfood) but this week's is about mobile/remote working. The session I facilitated was the first in a series of monthly sessions targeted at managers in one organization. Each month there will be
A one hour input webinar for managers on a specific topic with hints and tips, guidance, ideas to apply
A guest speaker from an external organization giving a case on how they are tackling the topic, also an hour
Topics for the next 12 months are:
- Overview of managing a mobile workforce
- Setting up your team for success
- Setting and managing performance expectations
- Managing effective communication across mobile and on-site team members
- Introducing new employees to your mobile environment
- Building trust among and between mobile workers, managers, customers, etc.
- Managing the work flow
- Managing customer expectations
- Managing employee issues with the mobile environment
- Managing employee stress in an 'always-on' environment
- Developing your team members skills for mobility
- Support for you as a manager of a mobile workforce
This week I got this question: "I wondered if you know, or have seen on your travels any great examples of specific organization structures for Innovation Labs?" The writer goes on, "In our view this is a specific environment where people are brought in to innovate the way in which we produce and sell our products and services. This will be separate to the business and will involve some new hires and some employees rotated out of the business. Have you seen any principles on structures to facilitate innovation?"
What's interesting about this is that current thinking appears to converge around the notion that innovation is best developed through business ecosystems. That is a form of intentional development of communities of economic co-ordination where multiple parties join forces to "coordinate innovation across complementary contributions arising within multiple markets and hierarchies," from this, if things go well, the business ecosystems co-evolve and adapt to continuously changing contexts. You can read more about this aspect in James F. Moore's paper Business ecosystems and the view from the firm.
I've just been looking at the stuff I've collected this week in relation to the value of social contact in the workplace. It's a topic of interest to me right now as in the project we are currently working on the requirement to help the workforce develop skills in sustaining healthy social interactions amongst their virtual team members as well as face to face ones is beginning to loom large.
There's no doubt that healthy social interaction is positively related to productivity and organizational commitment . Additionally close friendships in general prove good for people's physiological health. As the Gallup organization reports "Relationships serve as a buffer during tough times, which in turn improves our cardiovascular functioning and decreases stress levels. On the other hand, people with very few social ties have nearly twice the risk of dying from heart disease and are twice as likely to catch colds - even though they are less likely to have the exposure to germs that comes from frequent social contact." And beyond that having a network of supportive relationships contributes to psychological well-being. Specifically a network gives people a sense of belonging, feelings of self-worth, and the comfort of security.
This week I got an email from someone who says "I have been asked to put together the business case for going down the organization design route to solving a number of organizational issues. The problem is that the executive team does not see that the organization design process is the best way to get them from current to future state because they think they can just write down the work priorities for their areas on the back of an envelope and then decide what to stop doing etc."
She then lists the organizational issues the group has identified need addressing:
• Approaching service delivery differently (but not specifying what or how)
• Making more effective use of our tightening resources
• Smoothing out the patchiness, peaks and troughs in workloads across the organisation
• Ensuring that we are not just driving financial change but also culture and values change
• Supporting the executives in spending time on the strategic things and not the lower level work
• Putting more focus on managing the business and how this impacts staff
• Developing wider, cross-organization thinking so that fewer things slip through the net
In my research on organizational health I've been reading Warren Bennis's book Changing Organizations definitely a golden oldie. In it he has a quote from Wilfred Brown, Chairman and Managing Director of Glacier Metal Company (1939-1965) who said 'Optimum organization [forms] must be derived from an analysis of the work to be done and the techniques and resources available.'
This strikes me as eminently sensible, and is a precept I teach in the organization design training programs I facilitate. But it is highlighted by looking through the lens of organization health. Boiling down the many definitions and lists of characteristics that I gathered it seems that four attribute emerge. A healthy organization is one that has:
o Effective performance or functioning
o Well managed adaptation, change and growth
o A strong sense of alignment interdependency and community
o A spirit of energy, vibrancy and vigour, perhaps what the on-line shoe retailer Zappos defines as WOW
We were in a meeting last week talking about virtual working and how often people who are in virtual teams should/could come in to meet each other face to face, and for what reasons. We had some debate on this and then someone said that his concern was with the Gallup question on the employee engagement survey that we use. One of the questions respondents are asked to rate is 'I have a best friend at work'. His concern was something on the lines of if it is important for motivation and productivity to have a best friend at work then how would people find a best friend or develop a relationship that would qualify as such if they weren't meeting face to face as often or even at all.
The Gallup Management Journal has a short article about having a best friend at work saying:
Human beings are social animals, and work is a social institution. Long-term relationships are often formed at work -- networking relationships, friendships, even marriages. In fact, if you did not meet your spouse in college, chances are you met him or her at work. The evolution of quality relationships is very normal and an important part of a healthy workplace. In the best workplaces, employers recognize that people want to forge quality relationships with their coworkers, and that company allegiance can be built from such relationships.
The development of trusting relationships is a significant emotional compensation for employees in today's marketplace. Thus, it is easy to understand why it is such a key trait of retention, and is one of the 12 key discoveries from a multiyear research effort by The Gallup Organization
Every so often I read in Fast Company or TechCrunch or somewhere else, a list of useful websites someone has compiled in relation to some topic that they're interested in. Usually, reading these, I find one or two sites that I take a look at. One week, a few weeks ago, I notice that people were giving me links to websites that they'd come across. So below is a random list of websites that came my way one week in March!
The first came through my own website and is from someone at ExperiencePoint. He says that - "I am with ExperiencePoint, and we have a family of web-based change leadership simulations that I am hoping would be a fit within your work. They are engaging learning tools that can help build the change and innovation competency necessary to transform organisations. Executive education centres at LBS, Ashridge, Manchester Business School, Wharton, Duke CE, and others use them with world leading organisations."
In several meetings this week a common problem emerged even though the topics of the meetings were completely different. Briefly they focused on clashes (and crashes) of one kind or another. Take this example:
We are introducing all kinds of software and processes designed to encourage employee collaboration - wikis, Interact, collaborative on-line events (like IBM jams), internal social media, blogs and so on. Simultaneously we are encouraging employees to contribute, make suggestions, participate, speak up and generally feel they have a voice that will be listened to. We're doing this in order to develop innovative and adaptive responses to organizational context changes and become more effective.
But we are not doing enough, for various reasons, to examine or change the formal systems and processes which bind people to legacy norms: linear progression through a multi-level grade system, annual performance appraisals to a set format, career movement within the current 'silo' that the employee is in, and controlling rather than collaborative management style.
Three items crossed my screen last week. All related to the theme of teamwork and generating ideas. The first was about the public isolation project. Christin Norin lived in a glass fronted space analogous to a shop window for a month with no face to face communication with anyone. She was able only to communicate through various social media, and also (though not very well) with people staring at her through the glass 24/7. She blogged on her experience each day. So day nine, for example, reads:
There is research out there that supports the idea that tweeting and surfing facebook can makes us happy. See more here (make sure you look at experiment #3.) Maybe I am doing fine in here because I am constantly communicating online. One thing I am noticing is that I am truly addicted to it right now. I can't turn it off at all during the day. When I stop to try and read a book I am distracted by the alert messages. I could turn these off, but I don't. I feel like I might miss something.
Last week I tried a megabus trip . It was a kind of comparison test with the Greyhound www.greyhound.com bus trip that I'd recently been on. There were a number of organizational differences in the outbound experience:
• The Greyhound you pickup a physical ticket from the bus station. The megabus operates from a parking lot with no office so you just take your on-line booking reservation number
• The Greyhound bus station is a building with bay numbers with arrivals/departures information and some sense of organization of passengers by destination. The megabus has none of this. Some buses were parked in the DC parking lot but an attempt to ask the drivers where they were heading for was met by a stinging rebuke 'wait till you are called'. In the absence of any information on departures passengers asked each other.
• Both trips started with the bus leaving roughly on time: Greyhound 15 minutes late, megabus 10 minutes late. The megabus has wi-fi and the Greyhound doesn't.
• The Greyhound was full (a second bus had to be laid on) and the megabus had 5 passengers. (It was a new route which may explain that). Both arrived roughly on time.
Yesterday we were celebrating the move to the new office. On Monday the final set of people moved in and so we are now 'moved'. It's all very exciting, and to celebrate we held a 'Town Hall', immediately followed by the 'Holiday Party'.
The 'Town Hall' wasn't strictly a town hall, but more of a 'Staff Meeting', (UK) or 'All Hands' (US). A Town Hall is traditionally an informal democratic forum in which citizens have an opportunity to put their point of view and hear what others have to say on a specific political issue or community topic.
The term has now migrated to organizations to describe a large scale face to face meeting where orchestrated information is presented for information, update, or education. It seems that organizational Town Halls are less about consultation and more about telling staff things, although there's usually some form of Q and A slot. For example,
"Steve Jobs recently held a Town Hall meeting for Apple employees, and according to Wired, he had some very choice words for both Google and Adobe."
The other week the Real Estate Executive Board ran a webinar 2010 Research Recap: Aligning Corporate Real Estate (CRE) HR and IT. The intro to the session read:
The Board's strategic research for 2010 will help real estate executives align better with HR and IT, and realize a true competitive advantage from their portfolio assets.
In this teleconference learn how the best real estate shops:
• Create a workplace road map that resonates across all three functions, with a focus on mobility and enabling work
• Bridge the gap between disparate metrics and arriving at a dashboard that speaks as effectively to CHROs and CIOs as it does to CRE executives
• Translate workplace best practices into customized solutions and tool kits that business units can get behind and sell
Last week we were running a one day introduction to team based teleworking. It was a pilot program with two teams of staff plus their managers. It was a fun day - opening with an icebreaker using the go ask anyone cards which usually start people off laughing as they discover, for example, what their co-workers answer to a question like "what did you want to be when you grew up?" or "if you could trade places with someone for a week, whom would you choose and why?"
The day was in two parts. The morning of the workshop were focused exclusively on the team, the work it needs to produce and how they think/feel they need to work together when operating remotely.
The afternoon concentrated on the tools and software that most appropriately met the group's needs in terms of their work and the community they want to build, and getting their computers up and running for working on them away from the office.
One of the rules of thumb for change agents is 'never work uphill'. I mentioned this to someone who I was talking with last week who in a general conversation said how upset she was that there was massive change going on in her department, no-one at her level knew what was going on, rumor was rife, and when she'd asked her manager what the story was she'd been told that it was not a discussable topic with people below a certain grade.
She did not know that I had several conversations with the head of her department during the summer. What he wanted to do was change the way the physical space was used in order to accommodate a large team of people (80) coming to work on a long-term project, and to establish a physical and on-line library for shared documents and materials. When I told her she asked why I hadn't been able to do something to make the Department Head's approach more effective.
Yesterday I was at day one of a two-day off- site with around 200 people participating in a form of Future Search conference.Future Search is a planning meeting that "helps people transform their capability for action very quickly." In this case we were looking at four knotty problems to be tackled with three outcomes
- A depicted vision, strategic roadmap and high-level project plan with established deadlines for each project.
- A thrust for immediate implementation of project plans
- A healthier team, networks, and alignment
Yesterday's memorable discussion focused on new business models. One person arguing hotly that there were no people with the skills and know-how to change legacy computer company business models into cloud computing business models, or how to change company IT departments running standard software and hardware into 'cloud' departments (or no departments).
This may or may not be true. That same day I'd been reading an article, The Business of Sharing, on the new business model of renting/sharing items. Organizations mentioned who used a renting model included Zipcar, Bag Borrow or Steal, Netflix, Rent that Toy, TechShop, While Couch Surfing and thredUP were discussed as sharing models.
The autumn 2010 issue of the RSA Journal has got two articles in it about social networking which make for useful and interesting reading as I get to grips with questions about how people establish and maintain social contacts and a sense of work community if they are working predominantly away from an office base and not seeing colleagues face to face.
The article "Nudge plus Networks" notes that "We have made great strides in developing our scientific knowledge about behavioural economics and network effects over the past couple of decades." And goes on to ask "But how far has this actually shaped our approach to public policy?" This question can usefully be asked about organizational policy. We are learning a lot about social networks and how work gets done outside the lines. (See Leading Outside the Lines) but not yet applying what we know about social network effects to career development, ways of working, or management of diffuse teams.
One of last week's meetings I was involved in had the effect of highlighting the culture clashes which occur when old and new ways of doing things seem oppositional. Two of these in particular highlighted this, and left me wondering how to manage these in real time - away from the safe theory of BATNA (best alternative to negotiated agreement) or other structured ways of handling and mediating disputes and conflicts.
The two meetings were very different. The first involved me (new to organization) and long-server (21 years) in one room talking on the phone with another new to organization person about the teleworking and how to develop a strategy around teleworking. There were a number of differences in our perspectives with the two newcomers taking a very different stance from the long server. This was expressed at one level in very different language use, the newcomers talking about 'taking responsibility', 'owning their work', and 'choosing their work arrangements', while the long server talked about 'signed contracts with supervisors', 'reprimands for non-compliance', and 'getting manager approvals'.
Today, I'm sitting in NY from a hotel room in Times Square. Walking around the city yesterday which I haven't been to for a while I was struck by the fact that some of bicycle parking was roofed - why is that rare. There are a lot more cyclists, and the foot traffic is as much as Oxford Street in London.
At a meeting I went to - the topic was teleworking - we had a discussion on the 'business case' for it here in the NY office. Unlike other offices the people I was talking with didn't think the saving on carbon emissions was a selling point. Here, in Manhattan, people use mass transit to get into the office, and where they part outside in one of the boroughs in order to pick up the mass transit the boroughs are against the idea of teleworking because they'd lost parking fees, etc.
In my new book Organisation Culture: Getting it Right. I say that
Managers often talk about 'creating a culture ...' as in "the strategic global expansion IKEA is undertaking involves creating a global internal culture and business system that connects their brand and human resource strategies via shared democratic company values". This sort of statement is confusing in that IKEA already had a culture and what the firm was seeking to do was to change it from a domestic to a global one.
The term 'creating a culture' is more appropriately used in relation to only two situations.
1. A newly created company
2. The merger of two or more companies with the aim of creating a genuinely new organization as opposed to subsuming one into the other.
Even in these two situations it is not a greenfield site ( that is an undeveloped site but one that is earmarked for development) because organisation culture does not explode from nothing into being. Even in a start up the attributes, preferences, and experiences of the founder(s) and first employees, together with the business model and the underlying business strategy all already exist and play a part in the development of a distinctive culture. "
Two related pieces caught my eye over the weekend. One was called Ruses to cut printing costs, in September 2, Technology Quarterly, (Economist). And the other was on the environmental costs of business travel including conferences.
The first piece notes that "In Europe, meanwhile, each worker prints an average of 31 pages a day, seven of which were not even wanted, according to recent research by Lexmark, a printer manufacturer." It goes on to describe an idea which is totally obvious when explained
Someone lent me the book The Ten Faces of Innovation that I mentioned in an earlier post. by Tom Kelley of Ideo. I've now started reading it.
What grabbed my attention immediately was the opening discussion about people who play the devil's advocate who Kelley says 'may be the biggest innovation killer in America today'. ... 'every day thousands of great new ideas, concepts, and plans are nipped in the bud by devil's advocates'. He points out that these negative thinkers are 'toxic to the cause' of innovation.
I just signed up for an email subscription to TechCrunch. Probably about 3 years later than most people. And I'm not sure of those signing up how many are currently doing so using email. Techcrunch offers 6 ways of subscribing - RSS, email, app for browser, twitter, facebook, and some google profile thing.
I chose email because I've deactivated my twitter and facebook accounts, I haven't got to grips with RSS, and I don't know anything about the Google profile thing - but I don't want to put everything in one Google basket: mail, search, desktop, etc is sufficient.
I was very amused to see the write up of an experiment on collaboration at work in last week's Economist. Two researchers "wondered in particular if the mere presence of a canine in the office might make people collaborate more effectively. And, as they told a meeting of the International Society for Human Ethology in Madison, Wisconsin, on August 2nd, they found that it could."
In today's New York Times there's an article about breast cancer diagnosis being prone to error. I read it carefully as one of my close relatives has just been told that she has breast cancer. What struck me about the article was the statement that there are
Reports in medical literature of a "wide array of variability" in interpreting breast pathology. "It is not a breach of the standard of care for one pathologist to have one opinion and another competent pathologist to have another opinion," the lawyers said.
"To recognize the problem requires you to acknowledge that there's room for improvement and that some of your colleagues are not really making the correct diagnosis," said Dr. Michael Lagios, a California pathologist"
Yesterday I've was working with a group of people to orchestrate a communication session. As I moved through the day I wondered how we were deciding who was going to do what to get the session designed, resourced, and seamless to the participants.
It's a group of people I haven't worked with before and we're under very tight time restrictions. So when I stumbled across a review I happened to come across in my files of a book called Results without Authority: Controlling a Project When the Team Doesn't Report to You Tom Kendrick. New York: AMACOM, 2006. I stopped the thing I was doing and re-read the review. Kendrick is a project manager, and as the book reviewer reports the book is written from a project perspective :
Changing office space, for example moving to a different building, or refitting an existing building, is an event that is much beyond the relocation itself. Thought through carefully and aligned to working practices and the business objectives and strategy it can lead to major changes in the way work is done, the cultural norms and practices, and employee motivation and productivity.
Unfortunately many companies fail to see the opportunities, beyond 'getting rid of paper' - replicating in their new space the things they had in the old space but with newer furniture, different wall colors, and (in better cases) less paper.
One of the reasons for this is to do with positional power and feelings of 'entitlement'. Many senior people feel they are 'entitled' to a large office with impressive furniture, while the junior staff will do just fine in an 8 x 8' cubicle with high partitions - the ubiquitous 'cube farm' approach. This does not square with global trends that are forcing different working patterns, and require the ability to think of space in terms of working practices and not status.
At the organization design training program I've been facilitating this week there's been lots of discussion on the politics of organization design. One person described at some length the blocking behavior of one the senior people and the difficulties in moving the work forward in this situation. He was looking for suggestions in how to work with people who were passive aggressive, confrontational, and plain stubborn.
Similar situations people talked about related to managers intent on changing the organization chart relationships without thinking of the consequences and impact on other elements of the organization. They built on the list of blocking behaviors including refusal to listen or discuss, pulling rank (the client/manager saying 'this is what we're going to do'), and discounting alternatives.
Yesterday I was facilitating a session at the HRExcellenceCenter, Organization Development Conference in Shanghai. The topic was 'consulting skills' and there was a lot of discussion on a cartoon I showed to illustrate the concepts of a 'presenting problem'. The cartoon dialogue runs like this:
Manager: I want you to design a new appraisal performance form for my group.
Consultant: But the problem is not in the form it is in the way it is used.
Manager: That may be true but we should start with a new form.
Consultant: But the form is being used successfully in other departments in the organization
Manager: Our department is different! Our people are different! We need a new form! We also need a new staff person who is truly interested in serving her client!!
Consultant: When you put it that way I suddenly see the wisdom in designing a new form.
Despite its frequent use, there is no universal definition for the term "business transformation." It can mean different things to different people (and organizations) in difference situations. In fact, each of the following news stories reported during one week in October 2007 provides an example of business transformation:
Business transformation is changing something for the better within our organization (i.e., one small change can make a big difference) - "When Starbucks bumped the 8 oz. cup off the menu, the 10 oz. "tall" (the new small) increased profits by 25 cents per cup for only 2 cents of added product."
Business Week has a special report on The Value of Design (February 1 2010). It "takes a closer look at how design can impact the bottom line of businesses in any industry
"attempting "to pick apart the issue a little further, with opinion pieces on the value of design from those within and outside the profession. IDEO partner Diego Rodriguez makes the case that good business arises from a design-centric process that incorporates marketing, research, and ideas. RKS Design's Ravi Sawhney and Deepa Prahalad http://rksdesign.com/blog/index.php/what_we_think/ outline four specific areas in which design can create value: understanding the consumer; mitigating risk; boosting marketing and branding; and driving sustainable business practices."
The section I read first was the RKS piece on the role of design in business: about which more and more is being written as the boundaries between architects, product designers, and organization designers are blurring. Which brought to mind the work of The US General Services Administration.
"One of the most common reasons that redesigns fail is the all too common assumption that the job essentially ends with the announcement of the new design."
This quote is taken from Competing by Design, by David A. Nadler, Michael L. Tushman. Although written a while ago it still holds true. However, I've found that suggesting review meets with resistance. But without reviewing opportunities for improvement are lost and/or things can go disastrously wrong.
There are several good reasons for doing reviews:
- They help you to evaluate your success in achieving your design's objectives.
- They identify anything that is out of alignment that needs work, and surface tasks still to be completed. (These may be things on the list or they may arise out of the review work).
- They identify the impact of change so far - using the measures and metrics, you have in place to track success.
- They provide the opportunity to recognize and reward the achievement of project team members and others involved.
- They enable you and your team to reflect on the organization design process and learn from your experience: reviewing gives you information and knowledge to share with other projects teams and with your stakeholders
Multicultural team members tend to have different cultural rules for relationship building and communication. This leads them to have to collectively find a way of giving themselves a vehicle for exploring rules of own social orders. (To create a new culture)
This exercise asks team members to suspend their cultural assumptions in order to build a team culture of trust. A culture of trust will foster relationships where good and effective communication can happen and a person's value is affirmed: where the value she/he places on him/herself is ratified and confirmed through a process of mutual reinforcement. (Society built around relationships of sustaining each other and compliments are one vehicle that give people 'face').
Edgar Schein presented the opening session of the 2010 Organization Design Forum Conference, currently running in Denver. His topic was the structure/process dilemma in organization design. Refreshingly he started off by saying that when he was thinking about his presentation he asked himself the question: "What are my biases that might be of some use to people thinking about this topic?"
It turns out that he is biased towards thinking about process first and structure more or less last in an organization design: a view that I share but have yet to find the majority of line managers sharing. All too often (a blanket generalization) they equate organization design with fiddling with the boxes on an organization chart.
The New York Times today has an article about an incubator company Betaworks . It "has guided some entrepreneurs to lucrative sales and helped others raise cash from notable New York and Silicon Valley investment firms".
What's notable about Betaworks is that it has an unconventional business model. The founders, John Borthwick and Andrew Weissman, "spent nine months deliberating over how to structure their company before settling on a hybrid of an investment firm and an incubator. " Borthwick says that "our goal is to create a network of companies with lots of connections between them that increases the likelihood of success between all of them."
Someone taking on a new leadership role emailed me with this question:
I have interesting challenge in this new role. I have to take the leadership role of a troubled account. In my view, in order to get the account back on track there should only be one leader. In our company culture that will be a problem as the leader that failed will want to keep control. Thus, I have interesting challenge in this new role. Have you any thoughts on how to handle it?
This is not a lot of information to go on so in the first instance I would like the questioner to tell me a bit more about:
The spring 2010 RSA Journal (UK) has an article by Robin Dunbar, professor of evolutionary anthropology at the University of Oxford. He has a theory that
Among primates in general, there is a simple relationship between a species' typical social group size and the size of its neocortex (very roughly, the thinking part of the brain). Humans fit nicely on to the end of this line, with a predicted group size based on our neocortex size of about 150 - the figure that is now known as 'Dunbar's number'.
There have been three pieces of information in the last couple of weeks on the push for citizen access to government data. They caught my eye because I am doing some work with some government departments. Taken together they make three points about this drive for data transparency:
• It "forces bureaucrats and creative types to interact in new ways'' (see: February 4 the Economist printed an article 'Of governments and geeks')
• It seeks "to merge two cultures: the risk-averse ethos of the civil service, and the free-wheeling spirit of open-source developers, who seek continuous incremental change and see failure as a step to improvement" (Same article)
Three things brought social media to the front of mind this week:
First, I've been reading a lot in the last few days about Google's Buzz, a new social media site launched on February 10. Mainly I've been interested in the approach Google took to getting people hooked into it. The whole storm about automatically linking connections to the people someone has email conversations intrigued me and I can't imagine why Google engineers would think this was a good idea. I think it was the standard form of "cock up not conspiracy" - there's no reason why Google would want to invade the privacy of citizens lives and risk countless lawsuits - which is the consequence they seem to be facing.
At our staff meeting (face to face) yesterday we were discussing collaborative technologies and how we could use them, and which ones to use, to improve our collective productivity and effectiveness. We're a small number of people but work on different client sites, and on very different projects. So using technologies to stay in touch, share ideas, develop white papers collaboratively, and so on makes good sense in theory.
A recent Business Week article discusses IBM's new venture into "collaboratories" reported that the company:
Hammered out six deals for collaboratories in short order-in Saudi Arabia, Switzerland, China, Ireland, Taiwan, and India. Four more are in the works. John E. Kelly III, director of IBM Research, says there's enough demand for 100 more tieups. "The world is our lab now," says Kelly. "I figure I can have a much larger impact on the company and our research if I operate this way."