I had a great time yesterday speaking at the annual Fort Worth PMI Chapter Conference. This year’s motto was “Pathway to Success – People. Purpose. Passion” We had an amazing selection of presenters and a fabulous Mastermind over lunch.
As a thank-you I wanted to share my presentation on scoping your project for success. I talked about 4 powerful facilitation techniques that allow you to put all the information about your project on the table, understand and address everyone’s expectations, make collaborative decisions, negotiate commitment and finally leave with a solid agreement on what is in and out of scope for your project.
The architect Louis Henry Sullivan who taught Frank Lloyd
Wright and developed the concept of the tall steel skyscraper in 19th century
Chicago famously coined the phrase “Form follows Function”. He tried
to break free of the old school approach of making skyscrapers look like French
chateaus or gothic cathedrals and believed that the design of a building should
reflect its purpose and not try and pretend to be something else.
In Change Management, and particularly its discipline of
Organizational Design this tenet is still eminently valuable and important. A
hospital emergency room has to be structured differently from a technology
company’s research and development department; a start-up will have processes
and leadership practices that will distinguish it from a legacy company that
has been in a specific market for half a century.
A concept that will help a Change Manager to analyze the
kind of organization they find themselves in and then determine how it may need
to be shifted in order to optimally serve its function is based on one of the
concepts developed by the Austrian philosopher Karl Popper. In The Open Society and Its Enemies he laid
out the concept of an open vs. a closed society.
Popper developed this approach for the realm of political
philosophy and as a strong defense of a free and democratic society, but
sociologists have since taken the concept into smaller units of human
interaction, such as religious communities, organizations and companies and
have developed it into a very helpful analysis tool. I came across it several
years ago during a seminar in Germany held by Prof. Diether Gebert of the
Technische Universitaet Berlin and have found it to be a great concept in
Change Management ever since.
While Popper’s original thoughts gave the open society model
superiority over the closed model the approach I have been using provides even
weight to either form of organization, because in their tempered version we
encounter them both every day and they each have their own advantages and
The analysis tool postulates that human beings organize
themselves along a continuum with two very extreme end states. On the one side
we find the open model with its extreme end state of complete anarchy where all
rule of law fails, everyone looks out for themselves and we have no guiding
principles that would put any curb on what people can and cannot do. On the
other side we find the closed model with its own rather unlivable extreme of
absolute totalitarianism where everything, including people’s thoughts is
prescribed and the slightest deviation from the norm is punishable by death.
Obviously most organizations that would require the services
of a Change Manager will not be stuck in these dystopian scenarios, but anyone
who has worked as a consultant has sometimes shaken their head at the chaos and
dysfunction of one of their clients or groaned in frustration at the complexity
and tedium of some red tape they have encountered somewhere else. They have seen
examples of the kinds of open and closed systems we are surrounded by every
If we return to our Louis Sullivan quote of “Form follows Function” we can see that each organizational model has its own strengths and weaknesses and depending on the function an organization wishes to fulfill it may have to adjust its current state from open to closed or vice versa.
In general open organizations are characterized by fairly
democratic and participatory processes. Hierarchies tend to be flat, everyone
is encouraged to weigh in and to a certain extent define their own job role and
the work force tends to be fairly diverse. Organizations like this may also be
pretty invested in encouraging flexible work hours or work by remote teams.
Often “younger” or smaller organizations fit this profile.
Closed organizations value clarity of direction and clear
objectives, and strong leaders or a single visionary CEO will be setting the
agenda rather than all of the employees participating in this process. Roles
and responsibilities are clearly defined and there are rules and processes for
how to do things. Efficiency is valued above exploration. These organizations
can be “older” and are generally large enough to have established
hierarchies. People are encouraged to identify strongly with the organization,
spend time at the office and cultivate a sense of corporate identity.
While these two ways of organization convey very specific
strengths to a company they also have some down-sides – remember at their
extremes they promise anarchy or total supervision and conformity. An open
organization can descend into chaos. Individuals may pursue selfish goals
rather than act for the good of their team members or the good of the company
and it may take forever to come to consensus to make a binding decision.
Closed organizations can become very rigid and if their
leadership pursues unsound goals and ideas they can fail without anyone daring
to question increasingly toxic decisions. Since leaders are also unlikely to
fly in the face of their own success they tend to be more focused on the status
quo rather than try something new. Because of their focus on protocol and
process and asking for permission rather than forgiveness they can also evolve
elaborate bureaucracies that slow people down.
To complicate matters some organizations also have
“micro-climates”, for example a fairly open organization in a heavily
unionized market may have a very closed HR division due to the many rules and
regulations that need to be observed. A fairly closed organization may still
have a very open marketing department,
because they want to encourage innovation and a collaborative work style rather
than top-down leadership.
What is important for a Change Manager is to try out the model to get their bearings when they start analyzing and interacting with an organization or part of a transformation. Depending on their findings they will be able to both put problems into context as well as understand an organization’s strengths. This will allow them to define levers as they begin to implement strengths and to anticipate risks or issues.
In my next article I will talk about some case studies and
show how the model worked on some of my own projects by helping me first to
understand my clients and then to successfully shift their “form” so
it would fit their new “function”.
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