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  • Doug Belshaw 12:06 pm on January 24, 2020 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: organisations, performance, team   

    Drexler-Sibbert Team Performance Model 

    Every now and then I pick a book off the shelves in my home office and have a quick flick through it. My brain was subconsciously looking for something and I just need to feed it random inputs until it’s satisfied. Serendipity is a powerful thing.

    Today, it was The Decision Book, and the Drexler-Sibbert Team Performance Model jumped out at me.

    Drexler-Sibbert Team Performance Model

    It’s conceptualised as a bouncing ball, with the downward motion being about development and creating the team, and the upward bounce being about performance and sustaining the team.

    I need to dig into this a bit more, but I found the descriptions about what each stage looks like from both a positive and negative point of view really useful. That is to say, if a team member is having issues, then the type of issues neatly map on to them being at a particular stage.

    This diagnostic approach applies to the whole team, as well as individual members. Especially with new members to the team. It’s easy to forget they lack the context and previous input that the other members have experience/enjoyed.

  • Doug Belshaw 7:26 pm on May 30, 2019 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , organisations, sociocracy   

    Decision-making in organisations 

    Note: I’m not going to comment on any organisations I currently work with in this post, just those I’ve worked with previously.


    > In many large global companies, growing organizational complexity, anchored in strong product, functional, and regional axes, has clouded accountabilities. That means leaders are less able to delegate decisions cleanly, and the number of decision makers has risen. The reduced cost of communications brought on by the digital age has compounded matters by bringing more people into the flow via email, Slack, and internal knowledge-sharing platforms, without clarifying decision-making authority. The result is too many meetings and email threads with too little high-quality dialogue as executives ricochet between boredom and disengagement, paralysis, and anxiety. ([McKinsey](https://www.mckinsey.com/business-functions/organization/our-insights/untangling-your-organizations-decision-making))

    Organisations struggle with decisions, mainly because they either intentionally or unintentionally occupy one end of the decision-making spectrum.

    At one end of the spectrum are organisations where decisions are made all of the time. They’re just *not particularly good decisions*. If these decisions are made lower down the organisational food chain, then senior management can be quick to pin the blame on middle management. If decisions are made by senior management, then sometimes people go out of their way to undermine the impact of that decision in practice.

    Take educational institutions, for example. Often, initiative after initiative comes down in a very hierarchical way. Yet, when you get down to the ‘chalkface’ some of that, sometimes a *lot* of that, doesn’t get implemented. Sometimes that’s for the best; there’s a lot of pointless initiatives, particularly in education. So given the rate of change, the rank-and-file get used to dragging their feet and just looking like they’re doing something.

    Decision-making and the Goldilocks zone

    At the other end of the spectrum are organisations where decisions are very rarely made, if at all. There can be many reasons for this, but whatever the cause, it always leads to organisational paralysis. Meeting after meeting leads to no progress, with the can always being kicked down the road.

    Let’s use the example of a charity or non-profit in decline. Things are getting worse, but doing anything too radical might cause things to go south even more quickly. If the decline had already started before you joined the organisation then it’s not *your* fault, after all. Sadly, what often happens then is that there’s a crisis, and a strong leader-type figure comes in and makes lots of decisions that people hate. So you’re back to the other end of the spectrum.

    What we need is a middle way, an approach where people can make decisions, take responsibility for those decisions, and be supported by other members of the organisation. We have lots of ways of trying to achieve this, including the complicated diagrams that accompany discussions of approaches such as the [OODA loop](https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/OODA_loop).

    That’s all well and good, but human interactions are a bit more messy. The OODA loop diagram, for example, includes ‘Unfolding interaction with environment’ which could involve everything from complying with European legislation to a grumpy IT manager who won’t let you do that thing that you really *need* to do!

    Ideally, decisions shouldn’t have to be taken in a hurry. Quick decisions depend on luck as much as skill and gut instinct. To me, the most important thing is that you have the right kind of brains thinking about the problem. So, for example, if you’re about to design a new product, you should design a process that includes a diverse range of contexts and thinkers on the subject.

    Slow decisions are good decisions. Not slow for the sake of being tardy, but slow for the sake of assessing the options and avoiding things that don’t work. It’s a way, I suppose, of organisations becoming [antifragile](https://thoughtshrapnel.com/2018/03/10/antifragility/).

    Antifragile organisations are ones where decision-making is robust because it’s pushed to the edges, to the places where people have enough context to weigh up all of the benefits and drawbacks. It’s more than just ‘engaging’ employees, it’s about making everyone feel like they’re pulling in the same direction, and everyone’s got each other’s back.

    One approach that I’ve seen work well, but is often criticised *because* it can be slow, is [Sociocracy](https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sociocracy). It’s been around for a while, but has been getting a lot more interest (and traction) in recent years:

    > Sociocracy, also known as dynamic governance, is a system of governance which seeks to achieve solutions that create harmonious social environments as well as productive organizations and businesses. It is distinguished by the use of consent rather than majority voting in decision-making, and decision-making after discussion by people who know each other. ([Wikipedia](https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sociocracy))

    The trouble is that you can’t just all of a sudden tell people that they’re empowered to make their own decisions, including how they’re going to use their time, without much notice and after hiring them into a hierarchy. Like anything, it takes time, understanding, and *training* to get to a stage where people feel comfortable outside the ‘default operating system’ of hierarchy and top-down decision-making.

  • Doug Belshaw 1:28 pm on October 13, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: organisations,   

    Hurry Slowly: communication and trust are key to successful organisations 

    Image CC0 José Martín Ramírez C

    I’m re-reading Tolstoy’s novel Anna Karenina at the moment, which has one of the most famous opening lines in literature:

    “All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.”

    As a consultant who works with a range of organisations in different sectors, I see the same thing in terms of organisational effectiveness. The two things that make organisations awesome, whether they’re for-profit, non-profit, co-ops, or something else are:

    1. Communication
    2. Trust

    Without these two, organisations have to have a lot of something else to get things done. That can be money, it can be time, or it can be talent. But the quickest and easiest route to success is paved with good internal and external communication strategies, and trust between stakeholders.

    This brings me to the first episode of Jocelyn K. Glei’s podcast Hurry Slowly, featuring Basecamp CEO Jason Fried. I’m a big fan both of Jocelyn’s newsletter and the Basecamp’s Signal v. Noise blog, so I’ve been looking forward to the launch of this new podcast! It didn’t disappoint, and I recommend you listen to it in its entirety.

    Fried touches on a number of points, backing up my theory around communication and trust being central to successful organisations. He points to manifestations of this such as the problem of ‘workplace chat’ tools, working beyond 40 hours per week, and having complete control over your own calendar.

    To be specific, the kinds of things I see in great organisations are things like:

    • Discrete channels for specific kinds of conversation.
    • A process for making decisions without having to have a meeting (or several!)
    • Employees blocking out hours at a time for ‘deep work’.
    • No (or very few) emails and notifications outside of normal working hours.
    • People volunteering for work and covering each other, rather than having to have it assigned to them.

    In contrast, and to return to the Tolstoy quotation above, disorganised, problematic organisations are all different. However, in How F*cked Up Is Your Management?: An uncomfortable conversation about modern leadership, Johnathan Nightingale outlines a test he has to ‘out’ problematic business practices. The book is based on a blog, so the post pertaining to the first chapter can be found here.

    Nightingale (who was in charge of Firefox while I was at Mozilla) has a list. It’s more tech company-specific than mine would be, but it illustrates issues similar to those I would highlight. He says you should score one “My management culture is f*cked up” point for each of the following:

    • We have an unlimited vacation policy
    • We don’t do regular 1:1s, but we have open office hours/are super available if anyone wants to chat
    • We don’t have a process for interviewing, we just hire awesome people when we meet them
    • We super care about diversity, but we don’t want to lower the bar so we just hire the best person for the job even if it means diversity suffers
    • We don’t have defined levels and career paths for our employees, we’re a really flat org
    • We don’t have formal managers for every staff member, everyone just gets their work done
    • We don’t have, like, HR HR, but our recruiter/office manager/only female employee is super good if you want someone to talk to
    • We don’t do performance improvement plans for employees that are struggling. We just have a super honest conversation about how they aren’t a good fit and fire them
    • We would have some hard explaining to do if our salary list accidentally became public

    Later in the same post/chapter, Nightingale makes a really important point about management and leadership. Everyone wants to innovate around it, he says, but just as you shouldn’t ‘roll your own’ cryptography, so you should go with an existing management approach:

    “I don’t need you to be the best in the world at management. But if you’re not planning to be, if you’re not going to be really studious and dedicated to it, then for god’s sake stop messing with it. I promise you can’t build a better management system in your spare time.”

    In other words, get your processes right, and good things follow. And the key to getting your processes right? Communication and trust.

    Image CC0 José Martín Ramírez C

  • Doug Belshaw 12:33 pm on April 14, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , organisations,   

    My suspicion – especially if you’ve been following along – is that processes are alluring for a number of reasons. They relieve the burden of decision-making, which in general we like because thinking is hard and expends energy. They also relieve us of the burden of fault: us humans are a fickle bunch and it’s easy for something to make us feel guilty (when we haven’t lived up to our own standards), or ashamed (when we don’t live up to others’ standards) or angry (when we’re stopped from achieving an outcome that we desire). The existence of process can be an emotional shield that means that we don’t have to be responsible. In Bezos’ example above, the junior leader who defends a bad outcome with “Well, we followed the process” is also someone who is able to defend an attack on their character and also of their self worth, if their sense of self worth is weighted to include the outcome of their actions.

    dan hon, s4e12: End of Process
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