09- The Tale of Three Organizations

September 2, 2008

[© Copyright. Feel free to link to this blog. Please ask author for permission before copying.]

[Derived from William Bergquist and Agnes Mura, Ten Themes and Variations for Postmodern Leaders and Their Coaches. and from a forthcoming book, William Bergquist and Agnes Mura, Building an Appreciative Organization: Themes and Strategies for Effective Postmodern Leaders, Consultants and Coaches. For information on both books contact me at P. O. Box 70, Harpswell, Maine 04079.]

 

Theme: 21st Century Leaders Are Faced with the Difficult Challenge of Working in Three Different Kinds of Organizations

 

Fundamental Question

How do we lead, consult and coach with in widely differing settings in which organizational culture varies and organizational structures and processes vary so widely?

 

In my two previous essays on this blog I described the fundamental nature of societies that might best be assigned the labels “premodern”, “modern” and “postmodern”. In this essay I briefly, but systematically, review many of the elements of three types of organizations and suggest several perspectives and strategies by which the leaders of contemporary organizations can survive in and even help to co-create our emerging postmodern world. Eight dimensions are commonly used by contemporary theorists and practitioners as focal points for their investigations and analyses of organizations: size, complexity, intentions, boundaries, communication, capital, worker values and leadership. Our analysis of the emerging postmodern organization will center on these eight elements. In the case of three of these dimensions we have combined two separate, but closely related, aspects of organizational life. Size and complexity tend to be closely related. Intentions and boundaries directly bear on one another, as do capital and worker values—especially when consideration is given to shifts in each of these dimensions during the premodern, modern and postmodern eras.

 

In essence, we have been proposing in this essay that major shifts have occurred in each of these dimensions as our world has moved from a premodern era (based in the extraction of natural resources and craft work) to a modern era (industrial and human-service based). Shifts of a similar magnitude are now occurring throughout the world (and particularly in the Western world) as we move into a postmodern world.

 

Size and Complexity

We find in the premodern era the dominance of simple organizational structures (usually based in the family unit) and an emphasis on gradual growth. By contrast, in the modern era, emphasis is placed neither on the process of growth itself nor on the gradual expansion in organizational capacity, but rather on the outcome of growth, i.e. large size and an accompanying increase in organizational efficiency and market share. Organizational structures are no longer simple in the modern era. However, these structures are usually uniform within and between organizations (being bureaucratic in nature). Furthermore, these structures are compatible with hierarchically based forms of leadership and authority, and with the highly energy-intensive and technologically driven processes of mass production.

 

In the movement to a postmodern era, emphasis tends to be placed not on growth and largeness, but instead on keeping things small or of moderate size. Structures are neither simple nor uniform—despite the emphasis on smallness. Rather, fragmentation and inconsistency typifies the postmodern organization. It is comprised of differing organizational structures, policies and procedures. While many people view this fragmentation and inconsistency as transitional in nature—between the modern era and some new, as yet undetermined, era—there is reason to believe that this will be a much longer- term condition of postmodern organizations.

 

 

 

PREMODERN

 

 

MODERN

 

POSTMODERN

 

 

 

SIZE

 

 

SMALL

 

ORGANIC GROWTH

 

 

LARGE

 

ECONOMY OF SCALE

 

 

VARIABLE SIZE

 

FORM FOLLOWS FUNCTION

 

 

 

COMPLEXITY

 

 

SIMPLE

 

UNDIFFERENTIATED

FAMILY-BASED STRUCTURES

 

 

RELATIVELY SIMPLE

 

UNIFORM POLICIES AND PROCEDURES

 

 

 

 

HIGHLY COMPLEX

 

HYBRID ORGANIZATIONAL STRUCTURES AND PROCESSES

 

 

 

Intentions and Boundaries

The premodern organization typically has tacitly held boundaries (particularly between work and family life) as well as tacitly held intentions. This doesn’t mean that boundaries and intentions are unimportant; rather the intentions and boundaries are taken for granted and rarely discussed.  There was little need for an explicit definition of organizational intentions since family members primarily performed the work of the premodern organization. Furthermore, their intentions focused almost exclusively on the provision of sufficient nutrition and shelter. Furthermore, even among those working in the trades, a formal statement of intentions was unnecessary since the product spoke for itself. A system of bartering and exchange of goods and services (for example, the farmer’s market) eliminated the need for any substantial monetary system.

 

In the modern era, boundaries are quite clear, while statements of intention have tended to remain rather unclear or inconsistent. In modern organizations, clear distinctions are made between the places where employees work and where they live, relax, and worship. We know when we are entering and leaving a modern organization and often define this organization by its sheer existence rather than with regard to its specific intentions. Thus, in the modern era, large organizations can buy up other organizations with relatively little regard for the compatibility of organizational intentions, and can diversify their enterprises primarily with regard to monetary or market gain, rather than with regard to some founding purpose or cause. In many cases, the mergers and acquisitions have resulted in impressive short-term financial gain and even in the rebirth of organizations that have been poorly managed or become stagnant. Longer-term consequences, however, have often been much less positive or even destructive to both organizations.

 

Frequently, the absent of a clear statement of intentions in modern organizations has been hidden behind the facade of fiscal accountability. The organization exists to produce a profit for the owner or the shareholders. Such a statement of intentions in the modern world heightens confusion or inconsistency in the identification and maintenance of long-term goals and sustaining values. While profits are often essential to the existence of a modern organization, they should not be the reason for its existence. Furthermore, profits rarely provide sufficient guidance to steer the leaders of modern organizations through the increasingly turbulent waters of our emerging postmodern world.

 

Postmodern conditions have precipitated a crisis with regard to both intentions and boundaries. In order to survive, most postmodern organizations have formulated clearer statements of intentions, in part because they usually no longer have clear boundaries. As specialty shops in postmodern corporate and human service malls, these organizations must find distinctive niches and become more adaptive in the manner in which they market, produce and deliver products and services. The leaders of organizations in the postmodern world repeatedly must re-examine their intentions, for the world in which they operate is constantly changing and demanding new and different products and services. Without a clear sense of intentions, these organizations soon splinter or become aimless vagabonds or scavengers that feed destructively on other organizations and segments of our society.

 

 

 

PREMODERN

 

 

MODERN

 

POSTMODERN

 

 

 

INTENTIONS

 

 

TACIT/IMPLICIT [IMPORTANT BUT ASSUMED]

 

 

RELATIVELY UNIMPORTANT

 

INTERNAL:

PROFITABILITY (BOTTOM LINE)

 

EXTERNAL:

PUBLIC RELATIONS (WHATEVER SELLS)

 

 

VERY IMPORTANT

 

CHARTERING:

MISSION

VISION

VALUES

PURPOSES

 

POSTMODERN GLUE/ANCHOR

 

 

BOUNDARIES

 

 

TACIT/IMPLICIT [IMPORTANT BUT UNACKNOWLEDGED]

 

 

VERY IMPORTANT

 

UNIFORM POLICIES AND PROCEDURES [THE BUREAUCRACY]

 

WORK VERSUS HOME

 

 

RELATIVELY UNIMPORTANT

 

CUSTOMER-FOCUS

PARTNERSHIPS AND ALLIANCES

 

TROUBLING AMBIGUITY

 

 

 

Communication

Oral forms of communication were dominant in the premodern world. Small, simple organizations allowed men and women to freely communicate face-to-face with one another. A strong sense of community and homogeneity of interests and values minimized the need for written documentation. With the emergence of industrialized and highly specialized modern organizations, there came an increasing need for written communication (contracts, letters of agreement, recordings of transactions and so forth) as a substitute for direct interpersonal contact. Rather than seeing and listening to another person, one reads her memorandum or written proposal. Other visual modes of communication also prevailed: television, film, graphics, and icon-based computer programs.

 

The postmodern world tends to be orally based—and in this sense more closely resembles the premodern than the modern world. In the postmodern organization we call each other and leave voice messages, rather than writing letters. We eliminate our secretaries and clerks, and seek to reduce paperwork. The Internet provides an opportunity for information and spontaneous communication to take place that seems more like extended conversation than a formal office memo. As computers are made available with even greater capacity and speed, we are likely to find that the written e-mail is replaced with the visual e-mail, making this mode of communication seem even more like face-to-face conversation.

 

In the postmodern era, short-term, face to face meetings, ad-hocracy, task forces and temporary systems have replaced long-standing bureaucratic structures that were dependent on written rules and the documentation of policies, procedures and program ideas. In this orally based world, gossip and story telling take on new relevance and appreciation, as does the interplay between communications and relationships. Words intermingle with nonverbal expressions of concern or happiness. People learn how to quickly bond together in temporary groups and then just as quickly disengage so that they can move on to different groups and different projects.

 

 

 

PREMODERN

 

 

MODERN

 

POSTMODERN

 

 

 

COMMUNICATIONS

 

 

ORAL

 

INFORMAL:

BASED IN FAMILY AND COMMUNITY

 

 

WRITTEN

 

FORMAL:

BASED IN LAW AND BUREACRACY

 

ORAL:DIGITAL

 

INFORMAL:

BASED IN INTERACTIVE NETWORKS

 

 

 

Capital and Worker Values

Land and other natural resources (for example, gold, oil, and timber) are the dominant and most tangible forms of capital in the premodern era. Ancestry and reputation are two less tangible, but equally as important forms of premodern capital. The divine right of kings prevails. The Catholic Church has emphasized property and prohibited the use of money to make money, hence one could not charge interest on a loan. Thus, an emphasis was placed on property rather than money. Workers, in turn, tended to focus on shelter, food and water—and quality of life. They readily conformed because they looked outside themselves for the essentials of life. They looked toward people in positions of authority to provide both guidance and sustenance and asked for little in return.

 

The modern forms of capital, by contrast, have been money and buildings. Reputation and ancestry have become less important. The new wealth and new bourgeoisie is more liquid and more volatile. Rich men come and go. This new form of capitalism was supported by Calvinistic doctrine and by the Protestant churches that became more dominant and influential (at least in middle and upper classes) during the modern era. One’s worldly success (as manifest in the non-conspicuous accumulation of monetary wealth) is a sign of one’s predestined salvation. Thus, poverty is considered in some very basic sense to be sinful and a sign of one’s damnation, as is laziness and a questioning attitude about the dominant social order. This Protestant Ethic has dominated European-American notions about the meaning of work and capital for several centuries.

 

Modern workers no longer owned the business in which they worked, nor did they have a close familial (paternal) relationship with the person who did own the business in which they worked. Workers were now confronted with large, faceless corporations in which responsibility for worker welfare was absent or at best diffuse. As Marx suggested (at the start of the Modern era in Europe), workers were now alienated from the profits for which they toil. They no longer “owned” the products and services they were employed to provide. Thus, the primary motivators for workers in modern organization concerned assurance regarding job, wages and health. Modern workers wanted three things: job security, adequate pay and benefits (a living wage) and a safe work environment. They often unionized in order to obtain assurance in these three areas.

 

The new capital of the postmodern era is information and expertise. Approval (and its inverse, shame) are components of the new capital. Values of the postmodern worker compliment this new capital. Emphasis is placed on three motivating factors: the meaningful of the work, the ability to influence the work environment and the quality of interpersonal relationships among those working in the organization. The three modern motivators (job security, wages and safety) are still important. They must be addressed in a satisfactory manner prior to addressing postmodern motives. However, assurance regarding job security, wages and health is no longer sufficient. Increasing attention is given to the meaning of work and to recognition derived from colleagues and one’s boss(es) regarding the quality of one’s work. Quality of Work Life programs and Social-Technical Systems dramatically increase worker involvement in the design of production systems and even in daily decision making regarding purchase of equipment, composition of work teams and increased worker safety and security. The new values of the postmodern worker begin to border on the spiritual domain, as greater meaning, purpose and ownership is sought in one’s work and affiliation with an organization.

 

 

 

 

PREMODERN

 

 

MODERN

 

POSTMODERN

 

 

 

CAPITAL

 

 

LAND AND NATURAL RESOURCES

 

REPUTATION

 

 

MONEY

 

KNOWLEDGE

 

INFORMATION

 

 

WORKER VALUES

 

 

NUTRITION

 

SHELTER

 

QUALITY OF LIFE

 

 

JOB SECURITY

 

COMPENSATION (SALARY AND BENEFITS)

 

JOB SAFETY

 

 

MEANINGFUL

WORK

 

INFLUENTIAL IN WORKPLACE

 

INTERPERSONAL WORKING RELATIONSHIPS

 

 

 

Leadership

Leaders in the premodern era tended to be great men and women who were selected for their character and education. Great men not only led organizations, they also influenced history and established societal values. Leaders were either born to greatness or provided with an elitist program of liberal arts and mentorship. They tended to exert authority through a paternalistic concern for the welfare and proper education of those who depended on them. By contrast, the more democratic modern era tends to emphasize structures, processes and procedures that ensure the appropriate expression of leadership and influence. Events and structures—not great people—determine the course of modern history, and values are identified as products of the system and bureaucracy rather than as products of any specific individual(s). Emphasis was thus placed not on identifying or producing a great leader (as in the premodern society), but on constructing a great system. Those who head modern organizations typically define themselves as managers rather than leaders. They were to manage and be worthy stewards of the great system that had been created by other people (the nameless and faceless designers of bureaucracies). Modern authority is expressed through the autonomy of rules, regulations, roles and organizational structures.

 

The postmodern world has called both the premodern and modern notions of leadership into question. The postmodern leader is neither inherently great nor is she merely a product of a great system or bureaucracy. Greatness in a postmodern society involves interaction and great alignment between potentially great people and a potentially great system.  The postmodern leader can be found at any level of an organization. Individual leadership can be effectively exerted and will be influential if applied at the right time, in the right place, in the right manner, and with regard to the right problem or goal. This contextual model of leadership requires careful consideration of both individual and organizational character and style. It also requires a tolerance for ambiguity, recognition of the need for one to learn from his or her mistakes, and a clear sense of personal aspirations. It is ultimately spiritual rather than secular in nature.

 

 

 

PREMODERN

 

 

MODERN

 

POSTMODERN

 

 

LEADERSHIP

 

 

THE GREAT PERSON

 

WISE

 

BRAVE

 

VISIONARY

 

 

THE GREAT SYSTEM

 

CENTURY OF THE MANAGER

 

DELEGATION/

SUPERVISION

 

COMMUNICATION/

CONFLICT-MGMT/

PROBLEM-SOLV/

DECISION-MAK

 

MOTIVATING/

GOAL-SETTING AND MONITORING

 

 

THE GREAT

CONTEXT

[PERSON AND

SYSTEM IN

INTERACTION]

 

LEARNER

ENTREPRENEUR

SERVANT

 

RIGHT PERSON AT RIGHT TIME IN RIGHT PLACE

 

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06- Effective Team Management: Reflection and Action

August 10, 2008

[© Copyright. Feel free to link to this blog. Please ask author for permission before copying.]

[Co-Authored: William Bergquist and Steve Phillips]

As I noted with regard to Blog 05, effective team processes and leadership blend information, intentions and ideas. They also balance phases of reflection and action. Frequently, members of teams will spend too much time in reflection and never move beyond untested ideas, or they will move precipitously toward action with insufficient attention to either information or intentions. Effective team functioning requires a balancing of the two.

The activist is to be found in many contemporary teams. The activist dwells in a world of ideas and action. Things are to be done immediately: “Why put off till tomorrow what we can do today!” For the extreme activist, cautious deliberations are frustrating and demoralizing: “Let’s get on with it!” The extreme activist tends to define the world in terms of courage and risk-taking: “Nothing ventured, nothing gained.” She often suspects that the real problem of those who urge more deliberation is an unwillingness to take risks. This activist believes that action must be taken even though not all the information is in and even though the proposed solution is not perfect: “Something is better than nothing.”

By contrast, those who tend to dwell more on reflection than action are oriented either toward realism or idealism. Whereas the activist tends to dwell in the domain of ideas, the realist prefers the domain of information and the idealist the domain of intentions. The extreme activist views the idealist as hopelessly romantic: “The idealist would rather build castles in the air than construct a durable bungalow on earth.” Similarly, the extreme activist often perceives the realist as being an immobile, often obsessive person: “The realist never lifts up his head high enough or long enough to see what is actually happening in the world.”

Members of teams are often pulled, not only between reflection and action, but also between realism and idealism. The extreme realist is careful and cautious, because of concern that new ideas may be enacted through wishful thinking (the failure of idealism) or without anticipating the consequences (the failure of activism). “Too many people,” according to the extreme realist, “go off half-cocked, with very little sense of the resources needed to solve a problem and without a clear understanding of the current situation to anticipate all of the consequences associated with a particular solution.”

The extreme idealist is someone who can pick out the flaw in any situation. Within minutes of arriving on a new job, entering a new relationship, purchasing a new home, or formulating a new program, the extreme idealist is imagining how things could be improved. She challenges the mundane reasoning of the realist and notes that new perspectives are needed on old problems if the activist is to be successful in generating proposals to solve these problems. Like the realist, the idealist is cautious and reflective, but not for a lack of adequate information. The idealist is concerned about confusion between means and ends, about losing the war while seeming to win individual battles through expedience. The idealist confronts the realist with his lack of courage: “If bold vision is lacking, then when will risks be taken and progress made? Without courage and vision where is the capacity to endure against adversity?”

Effective participation in a team requires an integration of these different perspectives. This is the key to successful team functioning: understand and appreciate the context within which one is working and assume an appropriate role in meeting the distinctive needs of the current setting. Effective members of a team shift between the domains of information, intentions and ideas. When confronted with a new, unpredictable situation, an effective team member will tend to become realistic by attempting to assimilate this new reality. When confronted with an old, unchanging environment, she will tend to become a daydreamer, creating images of how this environment might be transformed. When confronted with the press of time and events, the effective member of a team will tend to mobilize his activism, creating proposals to meet these challenges.

The successful team will adapt to changing conditions by moving into all three domains. By contrast, the extremely realistic team will attempt to collect information even when the environment is unchanging and in this way will contribute to the resistance of this environment to change. Similarly, the extremely idealistic team will daydream not only under conditions of relative stability but also under conditions of rapid change and instability, and in this way will add to the instability of the environment and to its unpredictability. The idealist under stress retreats to another world that is much safer. She should instead be confronting the current situation. The extreme activist team will respond with hasty actions even when there is no press of time or events. Members of the team will even create crises where there are none in order to justify precipitous action. Failure in the activist’s haste may, in turn, produce a new crisis that makes activism seem to be appropriate, thereby initiating a self-reinforcing crisis-management mentality.

When taken to an extreme, each of the three preferences tends to be ineffective in some settings and to create more problems than it solves. Reflection must be balanced against action. Furthermore, the period of reflection must provide opportunities for both the collection of new information and the clarification of existing intentions. An effective balancing and integration of reflection and action requires that action produces information and is based on information, actions inform and clarify intentions, and reflection leads to decision and action.


05- Effective Team Management: The Three Domains in Which Teams Operate

August 3, 2008

[© Copyright. Feel free to link to this blog. Please ask author for permission before copying.]

[Co-Authored: William Bergquist and Steve Phillips]

There are three domains in which all teams must enter at one time or another. These three domains are information, intentions and ideas. These three domains relate directly to the three dimensions of problem solving: situation (information), target (intentions) and proposal (ideas).

The domain of information is entered whenever we attempt to find out more about the current condition in which we find ourselves. In soliciting information, leaders act as researchers, asking questions that can be answered by a systematic collection of information. For example, if a college wants to know which of four academic programs are potentially most attractive to a particular group of prospective students, then a sample of these students might be asked to indicate under what conditions they would be likely to enroll in each of these four programs. The information obtained is valid if the students have been honest, if the right questions were asked and if the sample used was representative of the entire pool of potential students. If the information is valid, then the college should be able to state with some confidence which of the academic programs is most attractive to this population of potential students.

In understanding the current situation, however, leaders must not only seek information that is valid. They must also seek information that is useful. It must relate to the target that the leader and her team wish to reach. Thus, if the target concerns increased financial viability for a college, then a market survey will be of little use, even if the information obtained were valid. It is only useful if the costs associated with each of the four programs also can be determined, along with the acceptable tuition levels for this population of students regarding each of the four programs. It is surprising to see how often information is collected that relates only marginally to the problem faced by an organization!

Many realistic plans can be established and problems can be solved through the systematic collection of valid and useful information. This lies at the heart of rational, linear planning and modern management processes. In other instances, unfortunately, effective leadership cannot exclusively be based on information about the current situation. Many organizational decisions, particularly those involving people rather than machines, center, at least in part, on conflicting goals, objectives or desired outcomes. Attention must shift from the domain of information to that of intentions. This domain is likely to be particularly important in today’s society, where conflict in values and purposes is so common.

The domain of intentions is entered whenever we attempt to understand and clarify an organization’s mission, vision, values or purposes. While research prevails in the area of information, clarification prevails in the area of intentions. Unlike traditional approaches to the clarification of intentions, which tend to emphasize enforcement or modeling, intention clarification focuses on the way in which mission, vision, values and purposes come into being. As we become clearer about our intentions, we will begin to produce solutions that are more and more consistent with these intentions. The process of clarifying intentions becomes richer and more profound as each of us moves toward greater maturity. A mature intention is freely chosen; it is not imposed (an imposed requirement is part of the situation). A mature statement of mission, vision, value and purpose is prized and affirmed; this statement serves as a guiding charter for one’s department or organization and is repeatedly acted on in a consistent and persistent manner.

The domain of ideas is entered whenever an attempt is made to generate a proposal intended to move from the current to the desired state. Ideas are sometimes fragile, often misunderstood, and easily lost. While information exists everywhere, we often ignore or misinterpret it. But we can usually go back and retrieve it. Similarly, even though intentions may be ignored or distorted, they resist extinction. Their resistance to change is often a source of frustration: old values linger as do old visions and purposes. Good ideas, on the other hand, are easy to lose and hard to recover.

Settings must be created in which ideas can readily be generated and retained. Two processes are essential. Divergence produces creative ideas. Divergence requires a minimum censorship of ideas, minimal restriction on people offering their own suggestions and taking risks, and minimal adherence to prescribed rules or procedures for the generation of new ideas. The second process is convergence. People must be given the opportunity to build on each other’s ideas, to identify similarities in their ideas, and to agree upon a desired course of action. Convergence requires leaders to observe specific rules and procedures, to listen to ideas and to be constructively critical of other ideas. The domain of ideas often requires leaders to display a subtle and skillful interplay between convergence and divergence.