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Friday, October 17, 2008

Bringing Groups Together…What’s it all about?

We assign a mystical quality to bringing groups together. We assign the same magical powers to place, geography, d├ęcor and the like. Not unlike a “Field of Dreams” our perception is if we build it they will come to greater solutions and decisions. But different than the fictional plot of the movie, bringing them together does little. So what’s it all about? These occasions, places and accoutrements, while enhancing the occasion, do nothing without defining two key goals: Output and outcome.

Output is the physical representation of work done. It may be a strategy, plan, schematic, vision/mission/goal, schedule and more. It summarizes what was done, to be done and is the communication vehicle for those not present.

Outcome is the energy change that occurs when people brought together are combined with the right kind of activity to address the issues at hand. People enter as individuals (unshared thought, beliefs and attitudes), and leave different - better aligned and capable of putting into play the decisions and solutions they have created. The goal is to create a stronger system, to take the decisions forward. Without it, all the physical signs of the work they have produced will be worthless. They will be just another stack of papers collecting dust or digital files sitting on a computer to no one’s benefit.

Being in a measure-centric world as we are today, output is an obvious goal for a group or team. If we can’t see it, it cannot exist nor should it be sought. However, without a change in how a group interacts and focuses as a team, we lose our ability to ensure the success of all we have created.

What is your view on the energy of a group? What is the value it brings to our work? I value your comments

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Creativity, Innovation and the Power of Constraints

When most individuals and teams are asked what they need to do better in their organization, the response usually centers not having enough. Not enough time, money, people and tools to get the job done. All of this translates into FREEDOM. I once facilitated a group of upper management in which their sole reply when being asked what they needed was freedom. What my experience has taught me in facilitating and through observation and my life experience is that freedom in its infinite forms is not what people want. Rather, it is the freedom to choose. And the list of options cannot be infinite.

The most successful innovation and creative applications are always bound by constraints – choices we make among a series of finite options which define the playing field from which we execute our work. The examples are many:

Artists choose a canvas or a wall or a blob of clay from which they, bound by physical constraints, produce inspiring works of art.

What would a football game look like without end zones, yard markers and out of bound lines?

The inventor, Thomas Edison, did not invent the light bulb. He did, however, invent the light bulb that was long lasting and affordable meeting the needs of a mass market.

Within all of these constraints, incredible amounts of creativity and innovative thinking have been poured and have flourished successfully within a field of play.

And while people en masse are self governing, when constraints are eliminated through natural disaster, government breakdown, or sanctions and regulations redrawn to a point that the end zones and out of bounds lines are somewhere in the foggy distance – anarchy ensues. We need to have freedom within guidelines that allow expansive thinking and actions, but guidelines nonetheless that allow us a field of play with which to focus our energies.

Tell me what you think. How do you define freedom?

The Role of Leader and Constraints

I apologize in advance for using a sports metaphor, but it provides useful guidance in the role of the leader in providing direction and guidance to a team. In American football, the leader has to work within the box provided – the yard markers, the out of bounds lines and the end zones and the other people on the team. The leader’s job is to provide sound strategies and communicate observations that the players cannot see from their own vantage point. The leader communicates this in the form of plays, but the leader being from only one vantage point too, knows all plays cannot be called from the sidelines. Some plays need to be called from the huddle, and some while on the line and finally while within the play itself. It would a pointless game if a player while during the execution of the play followed all the direction given by the leader if an opportunity arose and a change to take advantage of the opportunity was not taken.

Not being on the field of play, the leader knows that while he or she is responsible for the overall outcome, the leader is not in control nor has all the information necessary to execute the plays that will allow success.

The leader is a passive influence, and expects players on the field to not only execute the play called but to stay open and react to opportunities that come up and expects that a change in activities on the field will be made should the opposition not react in ways predicted. Of course both parties – leader and player rest on a foundation of the constraints placed on them by the field of play. As such, they pour all their energy, creativity, innovation and muscle into that which they are given. The most successful can be out of the box while constrained within a box. The leader succeeds as a leader by working within a mutually interdependent system, the likes of which he or she only has partial control. The best leaders realize this and respond to the realities of the situation.

What is your opinion on leaders and leadership? I welcome your comments

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Start with People

People are your most flexible and adaptable stakeholders in the interaction between process and technology. They are also the most unpredictable source of time, cost and quality. Whereas, process and technology is purely objective and mostly measurable, people can be an untold source of hidden costs that show up with no home on the balance sheet. Resources (mostly cost associated with waste and time) disappear without a trace.

However, people engaged in the creation of solution can become an organization’s most potent agent in positive change. People with an active stake in the success of an organization need less supervision, bring limitless energy, and can nurture the success of an organization. Most of our world outside of organizations is self governed. It is the very reason we have existed this long and civilization has prospered. People care about establishing family, home and a place in society. Given the freedom to decide, people become their own, best taskmasters.

Where to start

Many companies utilize the tools offered with technology to solve current issues that exist in an organization. From one point of view this makes objective sense. Technology is predictable. If you purchase a bigger space, redesign the workplace, get a new machine or buy new software or systems it is a solution that can be measured, the cost is fixed and there are a host of support functions that usually come with these that offer expertise and guidance.

But another point of view suggests that in tandem with current processes and the people resident in an organization, technology implementation alone is viewed as the a passive aggressive means for communicating a sobering message – what is currently being done will be replaced by a solution that does not consider the process that exists or the people who make it work. No matter how this message is communicated either through lofty presentations or hard line edicts, change is happening and the control resides outside an organization’s current spheres of influence.

It is much the same with process. If leaders or experts are brought in and assign a new process or make changes to a current process, the message remains the same – there will be a new order for which many have not had a say and whose future looks uncertain.

What do you think?

Introducing C2R

I am refining a model I have been using in my own work and in observation of others in their work in organizations. The next few posts and maybe more will focus on the foundations of my thinking and a model I call C2R or Concept to Reality.


Organizations face three issues that when working together bring life to an organization

  • People – the brains and the bodies residing in the organization
  • Process – the baseline actions and decisions necessary to make the organization function
  • Technology – the physical assets utilized by people in processes that support the organization

In total, the three represent the direction of an organization. When working effectively the direction is forward. When working poorly, it is either stalled or working against the goals of an organization. As nothing stays the same, stalled without effort to resolve the current state leads to eventual demise.

I welcome your comments.