Your organisation in 5 networks

Updated 2022-11-17: Renamed network #2, minor edits elsewhere

Expanding slightly on yesterday’s LinkedIn post (linkedin.com), your organisation in 5 networks:

Network #1: Your reporting network. This is just your formal structure – typically a hierarchy, perhaps with the occasional bit of dual reporting thrown in – seen here as lines of communication. Because sideways communication has to be implemented indirectly via upward and downward communication, it can be highly inefficient.

Network #2: Your delivery operations network. I am referring not to material flows or to the knowledge work equivalent, but to the interactions between people that make those flows what they are, performing as they do. In siloed organisations, the delivery operations network cuts across the reporting network, sometimes uncomfortably.

Network #3: Your strategy network. Typically richer than the reporting network, this connects everyone involved in anybody else’s strategic decision-making – any decision-making at any level of organisation that impacts on things like identity, purpose, objectives, learning, and adaptation. A more abstract and less messy version of this network connects not people but domains of responsibility at varying levels of granularity (see circular organisation).

Network #4: Your trust-building network. This is the network of all connections that are enhanced by meaningful efforts to build or maintain mutual trust. In a high-trust organisation, this can be expected to overlap significantly with the preceding three networks.

Network #5: The social network: All the above and more – the totality of your organisation’s network of interaction and influence, covering all the conversations that contribute to making your organisation what it is and what it is becoming.

And two hypotheses (with caveats):

Hypothesis 1. The more that networks 2, 3, and 4 are healthy, the more that networks 1 and 5 look after themselves.

Hypothesis 2. The richer you can make them, the more likely is the serendipitous conversation, increasing rate of innovation.

As rightly observed in some of the questions and comments on the first version of this post, these hypotheses are slightly in tension. Rich is good, richer would be better for many if not most organisations, and​ leaders within them would do well to pay attention to those networks. You can however have too much of a good thing, not to mention that some innovation happens in the darker corners, so to speak. In my use of the word “healthy” in hypothesis 1 I did intend a sense of balance, and I should have worked that sense into hypothesis 2 also. Instead though, this paragraph’s caveats 🙂

Some questions for you:

  1. In your organisation, which network or networks dominate?
  2. At what cost?
  3. Given where you sit in each of these networks and the reach that they afford you, what might you do?

Your answers, questions, or feedback can go on the original post (linkedin.com).

You can also take them to one of the upcoming webinars – the first three (December 8th, January 12th, February 2nd) finish with an AMA (Ask Mike Anything) session. Including that webinar series, The questions that drive us (eventbrite.co.uk), all our upcoming events:


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We help leaders and engaged team members at every level to gain fluency in the language of outcomes – developing and pursuing strategies together, innovating, learning, and adapting as the organisation renews and transforms itself from the inside.

PS The slide below is adapted from the talk I gave last week at SEACON (the Studies in Enterprise Agility Conference). Video to follow.

Agendashift roundup, August 2022

In this edition: Patterns of generative conversations; December TTT/F; (The Deliberately) Adaptive Organisation; Upcoming; Top posts

Patterns of generative conversations

Something to celebrate: This morning I delivered the manuscript for my fourth book, working title Patterns of Generative Conversations, a shortish (100-page) commission for Gervase Bushe and Bob Marshak’s BMI series in dialogic organisation development. If you’ve read the Agendashift 2nd edition, it expands on the “one model to the tune of another” reconciliation I did between Agendashift and Gervase’s Generative Change Model. If you haven’t, it will be an accessible and (I’m told) energetic introduction to both. As soon as I have a publication schedule I will of course announce it here.

December TTT/F

We have a quorum for September’s Leading with Outcomes Train-the-Trainer / Facilitator, so December’s is now open. It will take place over Zoom in the evenings UK time, beginning 17:30 GMT, 12:30 ET, 09:30 PT. If that’s too late for you, the September one begins 13:00 BST (places still available), and the February one (to be opened in due course) will take place in the morning, UK time.

More information:

To go directly to the booking pages:

And don’t forget to use your discount code! 30% off for partners, 25-40% off for most Academy subscribers (according to your subscription plan), 40% off for government, non-profit, education, etc also. If you don’t have your code already, ping me.

(The Deliberately) Adaptive Organisation

August has been a strangely productive month – that’s what a diary mostly empty of meetings does for you! Over September I’ll start recording the fourth module of Leading with Outcomes, Adaptive Organisation: Business agility at every scale, and as part of my preparations, some blog posts:

There’s a book there too, my next big writing project.

The Deliberately Adaptive Organisation

Upcoming

Anytime:

Top posts

  1. Six commitments: Putting the ‘Deliberate’ into the Deliberately Adaptive Organisation
  2. Open AMA (Ask Mike Anything) sessions
  3. New! Authorised Facilitator and Trainer Programmes for Leading with Outcomes (July)
  4. My favourite Clean Language question (January 2019)
  5. What does it mean to lead in a wholehearted organisation?

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Six commitments: Putting the ‘Deliberate’ into the Deliberately Adaptive Organisation (part 2 of 2)

Recap: Somewhat in the style of my 2013 breakthrough post Introducing Kanban through its values, here is the Deliberately Adaptive Organisation (“business agility at every scale”) introduced through a set of six commitments.

In part 1 we covered the first three:

  1. Co-creation ­– To keep finding better options, together
  2. Sensemaking – To make the best sense we can of every new challenge
  3. Trust Building – To build trust in every direction

Those first three commitments correspond respectively to the three top-level components of the Deliberately Adaptive Organisation [1, 2]. These are the overlapping and deeply-connected “supersystems” of Adaptive Strategy, Production (Delivery, Discovery, and Renewal), and Mutual Trust Building.

The Deliberately Adaptive Organisation’s three “supersystems”

For this concluding part, a second group of commitments that apply right across the model:

  1. Curiosity: To ask better questions
  2. Generativity: To create more ideas than we consume
  3. Consent: To celebrate the agency and ingenuity of others

As with the first three, they apply at every scale – teams, teams of teams, bigger structures, smaller structures, structures outside of any hierarchy, whole organisations. As commitments, they’re made by people, leaders taking the lead.

Commitment 4. Curiosity: To ask better questions

Much of Agendashift [3] could be described bottom-up as follows:

  • Questions to ask
  • How to recognise a good question when you see one, learning to develop your repertoire, finding and integrating relevant bodies of knowledge (Clean Language and Solutions Focus, to name two)
  • Patterns to organise those questions – Agendashift’s two most important being the IdOO (“I do”) pattern [4] –Ideal, Obstacles, Outcomes – and Right to Left [5], working backwards from key moments of impact and learning
  • The (meta-)strategies / leadership principles [6] that motivate those questions

It could also be described as the product of a question, one that has served it well over the years:

What if we put agreement on outcomes ahead of solutions?

That takes us to the role of curiosity and questioning in Adaptive Strategy. Barely scratching the surface, just a few examples:

  • What’s it like to be an employee of ours?
  • What’s it like to be a customer of ours?
  • What’s it like not being a customer of ours?
  • What’s happening when we’re reaching the right customers, meeting their strategic needs1?
  • Whose needs would we be meeting? What new stories could they tell?

1Strategic needs: their needs, our strategy

In Delivery too it pays to explore needs [7]. Far from being redundant, it establishes the context necessary to do a good job and sets the scene for later learning. Stepping back from individual pieces of work to the current workload as a whole, there is a whole new set of questions that apply (here’s where Right to Left really shines). And feeding back into strategy, there’s curiosity into how the work is done, the experience of doing it, and the level of capability demonstrated.

And then there’s Mutual Trust Building. Being careful with one’s assumptions is a great lesson from Clean Language (see [8]). Especially for leaders, it’s also important to remember that there are at least two sides to every conversation, and that every participant has the right to be curious. Respect for that that might be the difference between a conversation fruitful to all sides and one that generates more anxiety than insight [9].

Commitment 5. Generativity – To create more ideas than we consume

This commitment is perhaps the Why to the previous commitment’s How. We ask more and better questions because we need more and better answers – answers we didn’t already know. More and better answers means more and better intelligence, more and better insights, more and better ideas for innovation.

In a forthcoming book [10] for the BMI series on dialogic organisation development I suggest that a good working definition of generative process is one that creates more ideas than it consumes. And it’s not only about dialogic styles of strategy development – what I had in mind were the improvement cycles that so quickly run out of steam or the Lean Startup cycles that serve only to optimise the life out of once-great products.

There are technical reasons why the Delivery supersystem has a Discovery aspect to it (Adaptive Strategy relies on it for real-world intelligence), but that aside, the best delivery processes I’ve seen generated new ideas at every stage of the process. Two things enable that: they are designed for it, and their respective strategy activities make room for it, producing not plans and specifications but vision, outcomes, and the kind of challenges that people are well motivated to overcome.

Commitment 6. Consent – To celebrate the agency and ingenuity of others

It’s time to mention the two more models that the Deliberately Adaptive Organisation uses to flesh out the skeleton that the Viable System Model (VSM) provides. In the intersection between Mutual Trust Building and Delivery, Discovery, and Renewal (bottom middle in the diagram), is where the magic of production (and if you like, reproduction) happens.

Whether it’s the product of a strategy process or self-organised, if the organisation is large enough, it will have some structure. One highly flexible model – well capable of modelling dynamic, ad-hoc, and non-hierarchical structures – is given by Sociocracy [11] (aka Dynamic Governance, known also to Ackoff fans as Circular Hierarchy). It is purposeful collaboration and self-governance at every scale, and it is based on principles of consent. Each circle has its domain of responsibility over which it has authority; people join circles by mutual consent; circles make decisions by consent. People can join multiple circles; alignment across what could be called a strategy network is achieved through a combination of consent and participation, and it’s a dynamic process.

Things get interesting when there are multiple people in the intersections between circles. Having two people there gives you double linking – not only a mechanism for coordination, trust building, and resilience, but often a developmental (eg mentoring) opportunity also. As numbers there increase, so increases the possibility of a new circle, and with it a new, mini-scale Deliberately Adaptive Organisation with an identity, strategy, and purpose of its own.

The Deliberately Adaptive Organisation is also a Deliberately Developmental Organisation [12] (the naming is no coincidence), and it’s a very elegant combination. People have their own aspirations, plans, and strategies, and they’re adaptable! They’re capable of trusting and being trusted. Not only are they productive, most are interested in both their own self-development and in the renewal of the organisation. That symmetry is thanks to VSM again, and the Deliberately Developmental Organisation’s holistic and dare I say wholehearted [13] integration of personal and organisation development helps us make the most of it.

What next?

The Agendashift Academy’s self-paced training module on Adaptive Organisation [1] is in development and comes out over the autumn (probably in instalments), and after that I want to produce the next iteration of the first module, Leading with Outcomes: Foundation [14], whose slideware exists already in good time for Train-the-Trainer / Facilitator [15] next month. This year should also see the publication of my aforementioned fourth book, working title Patterns of generative conversations [10].

With all of that going on I’m having to restrain myself from starting my fifth book, working title Wholehearted: Up and down the Deliberately Adaptive Organisation, business agility at every scale. It lives rent-free in my head meanwhile, but never mind! My hopes for it are threefold:

  1. It will help leaders at all levels better understand the relationship between organisation and business agility, and help them to identify organisational dysfunctions and impediments to business agility that they will want to address
  2. It will give practitioners the knowledge and skills to approach the challenges of scale in ways that are both more humane and more effective than the process rollout
  3. And for both audiences, it will be the most relevant and accessible introduction to VSM they are ever likely to read

Aiming high, and why not!

References

[1] Adaptive Organisation: Business agility at every scale (academy.agendashift.com)
[2] Up and down the Deliberately Adaptive Organisation, business agility at every scale (deliberately-adaptive.org)
[3] Agendashift: Outcome-oriented change and continuous transformation, Mike Burrows (2nd ed 2021)
[4] Idea, Obstacles, Outcomes (ldOO) (agendashift.com)
[5] Right to Left Strategy Deployment (agendashift.com), and the book: Right to Left: The digital leader’s guide to Lean and Agile, Mike Burrows (2019, audiobook 2020)
[6] See Agendashift as Framework (agendashift.com)
[7] Done (agendashift.com)
[8] My favourite Clean Language question (2019, blog.agendashift.com)
[9] Clear Leadership, Gervase Bushe (2020, BMI Publishing)
[10] (Working title) Patterns of generative conversations, Mike Burrows (TBC, BMI Publishing)
[11] We the people: Consenting to a Deeper Democracy, John Jr. Buck & Sharon Villenes (Sociocracy.info Press, second edition, 2019)
[12] An Everyone Culture: Becoming a Deliberately Developmental Organization, Robert Kegan & Lisa Laskow Lahey (2016, Harvard Business Review)
[13] Our mission: Wholehearted (agendashift.com)
[14] Leading with Outcomes: Foundation (academy.agendashift.com)
[15] Leading with Outcomes: Authorised Trainer and Facilitator Programmes (academy.agendashift.com)


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Six commitments: Putting the ‘Deliberate’ into the Deliberately Adaptive Organisation (part 1 of 2)

Somewhat in the style of what is easily my most popular post of all time – Introducing Kanban through its values (2013) – here is the Deliberately Adaptive Organisation (“business agility at every scale”) [1, 2] introduced through a set of six commitments. If this post turns out to be half as successful (and career-changing) as that one, I’d be a happy man indeed 🙂

The six commitments come in two groups. The first group is covered in this post:

  1. Co-creation ­– To keep finding better options, together
  2. Sensemaking – To make the best sense we can of every new challenge
  3. Trust Building – To build trust in every direction

The second group will be covered in a later post:

  1. Curiosity: To ask better questions
  2. Generativity: To create more ideas than we consume
  3. Consent: To celebrate the agency and ingenuity of others

What separates the two groups is that the first three commitments correspond respectively to the three top-level components of the Deliberately Adaptive Organisation. These are the overlapping and deeply-connected “supersystems” of Adaptive Strategy, Production (Delivery, Discovery, and Renewal), and Mutual Trust Building. Commitments in the second group apply everywhere. Together, the six quickly convey some of the model’s true character.

The Deliberately Adaptive Organisation’s three “supersystems”

The model works at every scale – teams, teams of teams, bigger structures, smaller structures, structures outside of any hierarchy, whole organisations. Mapping it to some part of the actual organisation, its power lies not only in what each supersystem represents, but also in the relationships between supersystems and between scales.

So to the first three commitments, co-creation, sensemaking, and trust building

Commitment 1. Co-creation ­– To keep finding better options, together

This might easily have been called the participation commitment. Its inspiration comes directly from Agendashift [3]; indirectly it draws in the Generative Change Model [4] and Dialogic Organisation Development [5] more generally.

Co-creation starts with making sure you have the right people in the room when you’re doing any of the following:

  • Generating and organising options (outcomes primarily, solutions later)
  • Evaluating and re-evaluating options in the light of progress, intelligence, and insights
  • Updating the group’s shared understanding more broadly
  • Expressing intent
  • Making commitments
  • Revisiting its shared sense of identity and purpose or engaging with any challenges to those

Relative to the organisational scope in question, “the right people in the room” means people highly if not maximally representative of the following:

  • Those with direct, first-hand knowledge
  • Those with strategic context
  • Those best positioned to hold the detail and the whole together
  • Those impacted by whatever decisions might be made

The commitment to co-creation is key to the authenticity of this participation; co-created options aren’t prescribed or otherwise prejudged.

Commitment 2. Sensemaking – To make the best sense we can of every new challenge

At whatever scale we’re considering, the Deliberately Adaptive Organisation must be engaged in some kind of productive work. This includes the work of renewing the organisation; in terms of both mechanics and importance, there is enough in common between delivery and change for them to be treated the same – as “real work”. (Keeping the two in balance is an important responsibility of Adaptive Strategy.)

When we’re doing that work, let’s not underestimate the opportunity to expect the unexpected, to notice what we didn’t notice before, and to interpret what we notice in different ways. In an organisation that’s continuously transforming, those opportunities should be plentiful: often we’re doing new things or experimenting with doing old things in new ways. To miss those opportunities would be a tragic waste!

Adaptive Strategy on its own isn’t enough for the organisation to be learning. The progress, intelligence, and insights it requires all come from doing the work – engaging with the real world, not just the group’s model of it. The sensemaking [6, 7] commitment is a reminder to frame and conduct that work for maximum learning, doing that appropriately according to context and the task in hand. As any student of Cynefin [8] will tell you, there are category errors and other risks be avoided here.

Undoubtedly, to truly maximise learning over time, you need an effective process too. But this is not yet another Agile process framework! For the following reasons and more, I choose not to lead with process:

  1. It’s table stakes. While there are enough organisations out there whose terrible processes and coordination systems compromise their viability (let alone their agility), there are multiple, complementary approaches to improving them whose effectiveness is well-proven. Moreover, the best of those aren’t prescriptive.
  2. It’s implied. The model that underpins the Deliberately Adaptive Organisation – the Viable System Model [9] – has certain expectations about process but it too manages to avoid prescription
  3. If you’re interested in what really scales, process is about the worst place to start

Commitment 3. Trust Building – To build trust in every direction

Organisations are built on trust. It might not always seem that way, but no organisation can afford for every task to be micro-managed, inspected, duplicated, and so on. Without at least some level of trust, very little would get done.

The trust-building commitment is however about more than reducing that delivery overhead. Even when relying heavily on participation, the Adaptive Strategy part simply does not have the cognitive or communication capacity to be into everything everywhere all the time. It has no choice but to be selective with its attention, and to use it effectively. It builds trust through a combination of where, where not, and how it chooses to direct its attention, what it communicates in those choices, and how it describes its underlying motives.

Trust-building works in other directions too. It’s a problem if commitments between peers can’t be relied upon, a problem that only gets worse if it’s hard to say no to additional commitments. It’s a problem if issues or risks aren’t shared, whether it’s because people don’t feel safe to do so, or that the need to share never occurred to them. It is wasteful to be constantly second-guessing the intentions of others. And it’s a problem if doing the right thing consumes more effort and attention than it should; trust isn’t only a question of psychology or economics – it’s an infrastructure question also.

Those first three commitments again:

  1. Co-creation ­– To keep finding better options, together
  2. Sensemaking – To make the best sense we can of every new challenge
  3. Trust Building – To build trust in every direction

In a second post, I’ll expand on the second set of commitments, commitments that apply to every supersystem at every scale:

  1. Curiosity: To ask better questions
  2. Generativity: To create more ideas than we consume
  3. Consent: To celebrate the agency and ingenuity of others

Read part 2:

References

[1] Adaptive Organisation: Business agility at every scale (academy.agendashift.com)
[2] Up and down the Deliberately Adaptive Organisation, business agility at every scale (deliberately-adaptive.org)
[3] Agendashift: Outcome-oriented change and continuous transformation, Mike Burrows (2nd ed 2021)
[4] The Dynamics of Generative Change, Gervase R. Bushe (BMI Publishing, 2020)
[5] Dialogic Organization Development: The Theory and Practice of Transformational Change, Gervase R. Bushe & Robert J. Marshak (Berrett-Koehler Publishers, 2015)
[6] Sensemaking in Organizations, Karl E. Weick (1995, Sage Publications)
[7] Sense, make-sense, decide, act, Tom Graves (2016, weblog.tetradian.com)
[8] Cynefin (cynefin.io)
[9] By Stafford Beer, all published by John Wiley & Sons: Brain of the Firm (2nd ed 1981, reprinted 1995), The Heart of Enterprise (1979, reprinted 1995), Diagnosing the System for Organisations (1985, reprinted 1995). I must confess that Diagnosing did not click for me until I made a second attempt after completing the longest of the three, Heart, which remains my favourite. A thousand or so pages in total (more if you count the re-reads) and well worth the effort. For a more modern and accessible treatment I highly recommend The Fractal Organization: Creating Sustainable Organizations with the Viable System Model, Patrick Hoverstadt (John Wiley & Sons, 2008)


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If you want to understand scaling… (part 2 of 2)

If you want to understand scaling:

  1. Start with what must be true at each scale of organisation (part 1)
  2. Then with what happens between scales (this post)

Where we got to last time (and from there to what a healthy relationship with the process frameworks looks like):

  • A structure that makes sense – not just tidy on paper, but purposeful at every scale – allowing each unit at every scale to self-manage effectively (structuring itself to minimise dependencies, for example)
  • Each unit at every scale able to express its own strategy in its own words, in terms appropriate to its domain and its customers, aligning it with other units and other scales according to both structure and opportunity
  • Each unit at every scale able to identify what it must manage at that scale – no more and no less – with protocols to deal with what should be managed elsewhere

We reached those conclusions via a route that made it very obvious that each of them apply at every scale, and that the consequences can be serious if there’s a problem with any of them. But it doesn’t stop there. Whilst it’s possible for a scale to be badly designed in its own right – awkward structure, missing capabilities, or poor coordination to name but a few – it’s not hard to see that the relationships between scales are no less important. If anything, they’re more troubling.

Consider these:

  • One unit doing the coordination work of another – micromanaging, or interfering in other ways
  • One unit doing the strategy work of another – imposing it downwards (directly, via an overly-top-down or centralised plan), second-guessing upwards, etc
  • Units taking on responsibility for outcomes over which they have insufficient control
  • Units providing insufficient transparency about strategy, progress, or risks for related others to make good decisions
  • Units failing to share useful intelligence
  • Or conversely, units not listening (or worse, punishing unwelcome news)

These describe dysfunctional relationships even when they’re between peers, but when there’s any kind of power imbalance involved, those at the receiving end may feel powerless to fix them.

The Deliberately Adaptive Organisation

Let’s recast those challenging but still fixable problems more positively, as principles. These are table stakes I believe for any serious approach to scaling. With minor caveats they apply to every identifiable scope or scale:

  1. Each responsible for its own strategy and accountable for its own performance
  2. Respectful of the autonomy of others, each responsible for its next level of internal structure and its self-management across it
  3. Each committed to building mutual trust in every direction

Choosing its models carefully to maintain that “at every scope or scale” vibe, the Deliberately Adaptive Organisation (deliberately-adaptive.org) integrates the following:

  • From Agendashift: rapid strategy development and alignment between scopes and scales through generative conversations, multi-level participation, and outcome-orientation
  • From Lean and Agile, patterns for collaboration and coordination, and the deep integration of delivery and learning
  • From Sociocracy (known to some as dynamic governance and to Akoff fans as circular hierarchy), consent and purpose as the basis for effective self-organisation and governance
  • From the Deliberately Developmental Organisation (as described in An Everyone Culture by developmental psychologists Robert Kegan and Lisa Laskow-Lahey), attention to the human side of development

What holds it all together is one of the crowning achievements of Systems Thinking, Stafford Beer’s Viable System Model (VSM), perhaps the most powerfully “at every scale” organisational model in existence. We take the management consultant’s Swiss Army knife and give it some 21st-century attitude in an innovative and accessible presentation.

Given that most of the popular approaches to scaling focus mainly on process, it is important for me to stress that the Deliberately Adaptive Organisation is not a process framework. Neither is it prescriptive. Instead, it is two kinds of model in one:

  1. Diagnostic, but only in the everyday sense that it helps with the identification of dysfunctions and opportunities (building on strengths as well as mitigating weaknesses), not in the sense that those dysfunctions become the excuse for heavy-handed prescription
  2. Generative in the sense that it helps organisations engage constructively with themselves, generate a wealth of ideas, and find their own way forward

If you know Agendashift (mostly generative, with the diagnostic part done generatively), you will recognise that winning combination. In fact, the Deliberately Adaptive Organisation is introduced in the closing chapters of the Agendashift 2nd edition (2021), my previous book Right to Left (2020) doing some of the setup.

And development continues. After I release this month the final instalment of Outside-in Strategy: Positioned for success, production work begins on Adaptive Organisation: Business agility at every scale, the fourth and last module in the Agendashift Academy’s Leading with Outcomes curriculum. Then sometime next year I hope, a book (my fifth – I have a fourth book close to completion, more on that another time).

As that roadmap indicates, the earliest access to the next iteration of the Deliberately Adaptive Organisation will be via the Academy, and you can be part of it. Join one of our regular Ask Me Anything sessions and even before the content is released I’ll be only too happy to explore it with you. Subscribe now:

If you want to understand scaling:

  1. Start with what must be true at each scale of organisation (part 1)
  2. Then with what happens between scales (this post)

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If you want to understand scaling… (part 1 of 2)

If you want to understand scaling:

  1. Start with what must be true at each scale of organisation (this post)
  2. Then with what happens between scales (part 2)

Let’s begin with teams, or more specifically with its members, people. Even allowing for diversity, there are a number of near-universal things you can say about the members of any well-established team:

  • They each know who they are; many will also have a sense of who they’d like to be
  • They each know what they want to contribute; many will also have identified capabilities they’d like to develop
  • They each have a sense of what they can manage on their own and what should be managed more collectively

There are some boundaries there. They may be fuzzy and there may be room for negotiation in the short term and for development in the longer term, but cross them – insist that people do things that “aren’t them”, aren’t what they signed up for, or take away their ability to self-manage to the level they expect – and you have unhappy people in an unhappy team. For example, most people don’t like to be micro-managed; neither do they want to see important things left unattended.

Now to the team itself. You’d be hard-pressed to find a high-performing team for which these aren’t true:

  • There are collective senses of identity, purpose, and of what it aspires to
  • It knows what it’s there to do, what it is capable of, and ways in which those capabilities might be developed
  • It knows what it can manage for itself as a team, and (conversely) what needs to be managed more collectively, ie with (and perhaps by) other teams – potentially even with others outside the organisation

Again, there are some boundaries there. Fuzzy and negotiable no doubt, but only a fool would think they could cross them without negative consequences.

Jump now to the organisation as a whole. I almost don’t need to write these points down, but I will:

  • It has a sense of identity, a sense of purpose, and a sense of what it aspires to
  • It knows what it’s there to do, what it is capable of, and ways in which those capabilities might be developed
  • It knows what it can manage for itself as an organisation, and (conversely) what needs to be managed with others – suppliers, customers, industry groups, and so on

You can be pretty sure that if there are significant issues with any of those points, you’re looking at an organisation that has problems – big problems. At the extreme: identity crises, or working catastrophically beyond its capabilities or its remit.

Starting again at the level of the individual, on the topic of what makes the work meaningful, the answers may vary hugely. Moreover, you never know until you ask, and perhaps not even then until you get to know them well enough. At higher levels, diversity of purpose and capability is essential to meeting the complexities of the business environment. The successful organisation has them distributed effectively whilst maintaining some coherence of its own, not an easy balance to maintain when the environment is changing.

What does all that mean for teams-of-teams? Does this repeating pattern – a pattern that already works at three levels – the levels of individuals, teams, and the whole organisation – apply at other scales? Pretty much!

If your team-of-teams doesn’t have its own sense of identity and purpose – meaningful to the people in it, not just its designers – it is unlikely to amount to anything more than an aggregation of its parts. What is it for? What is it capable of? What does it add, other than overhead? If this problem is widespread, you have a structure that is hard to navigate, a direct cost to the organisation and potentially a problem for customers too.

What if it has those senses of identity and purpose but not a sense of where it would like to get to, what it would like to become, and so on? In that case, what holds it all together as its component parts continue to develop?

And what does it manage? If it’s trying to manage what its constituent parts are capable of managing on their own – interfering, in other words – it does both them and itself a serious disservice.

All that said, what does good look like?

  • A structure that makes sense – not just tidy on paper, but purposeful at every scale – allowing each unit at every scale to self-manage effectively (structuring itself to minimise dependencies, for example)
  • Each unit at every scale able to express its own strategy in its own words, in terms appropriate to its domain and its customers, aligning it with other units and other scales according to both structure and opportunity
  • Each unit at every scale able to identify what it must manage at that scale – no more and no less – with protocols to deal with what should be managed elsewhere

Any problems here I would characterise as organisational problems first (the organisation getting in the way of doing the right thing), problems of the strategy process second, and problems of the delivery process third – a distant third if the first two are in any way significant. And as leadership problems? It is hard work for leaders when these problems aren’t dealt with, so let’s be careful not to personalise problems that may not be of their own making. Neither should we underestimate the power of participation, self-management, and self-organisation. But if as a leader you’re getting in the way of the organisation fixing its problems or are complacent about them, well that’s on you.

Neither should you expect your problems of organisation, strategy, and leadership to go away by rolling out a process framework. Why would they? I don’t know if we have got to “peak process framework” yet – I don’t suppose we can know until some time afterwards and I’m not ready to call it – but in the meantime let’s be realistic about what they can and can’t do. And while we’re at it, let’s not pretend that a framework rollout is an easy and risk-free thing.

Much as I detest the rollout, this is not an anti-framework rant. If you find the opportunity to borrow from a framework as you address those more fundamental problems, that’s totally sensible – there’s no point in reinventing the wheel. You are still are in control of your own destiny, free to pursue what really matters.

Before part 2, more on the topic of maintaining healthy relationships with frameworks in these two articles:

On some of the leading frameworks themselves:

And to those bigger themes:

Watch those last two come together in the coming months. At the Agendashift Academy, the final Leading with Outcomes module, Adaptive Organisation: Business agility at every scale is due in the autumn. You can get ready meanwhile with the first three modules:

  1. Leading with Outcomes: Foundation
  2. Inside-out strategy: Fit for maximum impact
  3. Outside-in strategy: Positioned for success

If you want to understand scaling:

  1. Start with what must be true at each scale of organisation (this post)
  2. Then with what happens between scales (part 2)

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Agendashift roundup, October 2021

In this edition: Agendashift Academy update; The 1967 manifesto for the Deliberately Adaptive Organisation; Get unstuck and get going; Upcoming; Top posts

Agendashift Academy update

What really happened: on the brink of releasing a new intermediate-level self-paced training module Outside-in Strategy with Outcomes, we decided that it would be much better to revisit Leading with Outcomes, our first self-paced training module. A big decision not taken lightly! As part of a significant pivot for the Academy itself, we’re now re-recording it, repositioning it for a much broader audience.

We’re adding, not taking away, and if you’re a practitioner of some kind (the main audience for the first version) there’s still plenty to be had from the second version. Still the familiar and well-tested exercises, but every session now connecting with leadership, speaking to a specific leadership theme, and with practical takeaways for leaders at all levels of experience. We think of it now as doing something foundational for transformational leadership, the Academy aimed squarely at “leadership and strategy in the transforming organisation”.

What to expect:

  • We’ll release each session of the new Leading with Outcomes as it becomes available, the first one mid-November and the remaining three sessions at intervals of a couple of weeks (ish). While it remains incomplete (we know that some of you like to binge on these things) we’ll offer it at a discount.
  • As a thank you and in the hope of fresh feedback, past purchasers of the old one – even those whose purchases have now expired – will be granted access to the new one up to the end of January 2022
  • We’ll announce the next interactive workshop Coaching with Outcomes soon, conducted now over four sessions to match Leading with Outcomes – you can take them in either order but you’ll be encouraged to take them together as cohort-based training, publicly or privately
  • The two in combination effectively replace the first half of the old Agendashift Deep Dive; its eventual replacement will go quite a bit further, covering the Deliberately Adaptive Organisation also
  • A re-recorded Outside-in Strategy with Outcomes (intermediate) and a new Transforming with Outcomes (advanced) will follow in the early months of 2022; complementing them will be more interactive workshops both old and new

As allowed by the quantity and growth rate of the content – soon if we hit our stride as we expect – we plan to move to a subscription model, covering what will be an ever-growing portfolio of self-paced material and offering substantial discounts on interactive workshops. Meanwhile, we’re putting in place the infrastructure to better support corporate purchasers also.

Let me finish this update with a massive thank you to everyone who gave feedback on LwO version 1. Highly encouraging for the most part, and we took to heart your ideas for improvement. We think you’ll love version 2 – not just a refinement but a bold step!

The 1967 manifesto for the Deliberately Adaptive Organisation

The first of two more-than-usually successful blog posts this month:

It has provoked some interesting conversations and no doubt I’ll be returning to the topic soon.

Get unstuck and get going

The second of those posts was this one:

For “Practice Outcomes” (the name of a warmup exercise), now think “5% Outcomes, 15% Outcomes”. Typically we do it just before doing 15-minute FOTO for the first time, and an updated 15-minute FOTO will make reference to it. There’s another change in the wings to come on top of that, so watch out for version 11 soon.

Upcoming

Per my Academy update above, there are still no workshops in the calendar but we’ll be addressing that soon. Other events:

Top posts

  1. The 1967 Manifesto for The Deliberately Adaptive Organisation
  2. Get unstuck and get going: Starting small with 5% and 15% outcomes
  3. My favourite Clean Language question (January 2019)
  4. I’m really enjoying Challenge Mapping (June 2020)
  5. Celebration-5W version 6, “your next big breakthrough” (September)

What if we put authentic agreement on meaningful outcomes ahead of solutions?

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The 1967 Manifesto for The Deliberately Adaptive Organisation

It may still too early to judge the 1990’s for its net contribution to organisational understanding. If much of what was published on the specific topic of change management had never been written, it might have been for the better! It’s not all bad though: I have recently enjoyed two books from that period, Karl Weick’s Sensemaking in Organizations (1995) and the 1994 first edition of Henry Mintzberg’s Rise and Fall of Strategic Planning. (Regarding the latter one, if you can tell me whether I should also read the 2000 second edition, do let me know.)

Reading Mintzberg, what stood out for me wasn’t so much his concept of emergent strategy (arguably not much more than a fancy name for what really happens to our best-laid plans) but these five things:

  1. The limits of rationalism and control, and the apparent disregard shown for them not just by the mid 20th-century strategic planners but by their champions in academia
  2. The idea, attributed to Edelman, of experts being those who avoid (or merely bemoan) the pitfalls but fail to notice the grand fallacy (see point 1 above, and I suspect I may never hear the words ‘expert’ and ‘pitfall’ in quite the same way again!)
  3. Primed by my prior reading of that Weick book on sensemaking, the idea of strategy as the means by which we make sense and meaning of our decisions; strategies don’t just help us to act in the present and project ourselves into the future, their role in helping us reinterpret how we got here is important too
  4. And before we get too comfortable with strategy as story, strategy as theory – something to be tested, lightly held
  5. Brian Loasby’s 1967 Manifesto for the Deliberately Adaptive Organisation

I’m having a bit of fun with that last one of course. I’ve no reason to think that Loasby (now Emeritus Professor in Economics at Stirling University) had anything manifesto-like in mind, and the Deliberately Adaptive Organisation didn’t exist back then. Not even its sources: the Viable System Model (Beer) was not yet fully formed; the Deliberately Developmental Organisation (Kegan & Lahey) was decades off; Agendashift’s main architect (yours truly) was just two years old.

But check this out:

if, instead of asking how they can more accurately foresee future events and thus make better decisions further ahead, firms were to ask first what they can do to avoid the need to decide so far ahead, they might be led to discover important ways of improving their performance.

Brian Loasby, 1967, via Mintzberg

Let me recast that in the “this over that” style of a notable document familiar to many readers, the Agile Manifesto. Adding some flourishes of my own:

In the pursuit of business performance, we are finding it useful to see plans and strategies more as theories to be tested quickly than as predictions and commitments for the longer term. Through this change of perspective, we are learning to value anticipating and meeting needs over setting and meeting deadlines, open options over past decisions, and rate of learning over closeness of control. Not that deadlines, decisions, and control have no value, rather that when valued against needs, flexibility, and adaptability, it is the latter group that drives our development forward.

I am not seriously advocating a new manifesto – for me, that ship sailed long ago – but Loasby was definitely onto something all those years ago. Rewriting history, there is already something Lean-like about his heuristic, and for anyone trying it, I’ve little doubt that Lean’s explicit attention to people and to flow would soon be required in any determined application of it. Invite the customer inside that way of thinking and you get something quite Agile-like. And compared to Agile as first framed, much more obviously relatable to business agility too. Interesting!


What if we put agreement on outcomes ahead of solutions?

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Agendashift roundup, September 2021

In this edition: Academy update; Up and down the Deliberately Adaptive Organisation; Celebration-5W version 6; Upcoming events; Top posts

Academy update

Time to come clean: our next public workshops (there are still private workshops taking place) won’t happen until the new year. Honestly, the desire was there, but with all the behind-the-scenes work we’re currently doing, it just got too complicated.

For a taste of things to come, Coaching with Outcomes will return in the format of four 2-hour online sessions over four weeks. Although (like the current one) you will be able to take it standalone, it will also:

  1. bring together cohorts of students taking Leading with Outcomes, and
  2. form part of a modular replacement for what was the Deep Dive workshop (actually we’re up to something more ambitious than that, but more than that I can’t say at this stage)

Outside-in Strategy with Outcomes (originally planned to be out by now) and the advanced modules based on the Deliberately Adaptive Organisation (more on that below) are similarly postponed. We’re confident though that the delay will be well worth it.

Up and down the Deliberately Adaptive Organisation

This month’s big event was the webinar Up and Down the Deliberately Adaptive Organisation. Read about it and watch the video!

Meanwhile, the Deliberately Adaptive assessment pilots are going strong – three have their debrief workshops scheduled for October.deliberately-adaptive-image

Celebration-5W version 6

Also this month, an update to our context-creating workshop kickoff exercise Celebration-5W. Read about that here:

I am also testing some changes to 15-minute FOTO, our Clean Language-inspired coaching game. More on that next month I hope, and in the #cleanlanguage channel in the Agendashift Slack meanwhile.

Upcoming events

Top posts

Predictably perhaps:

  1. Up and Down the Deliberately Adaptive Organisation
  2. Celebration-5W version 6, “your next big breakthrough”
  3. My favourite Clean Language question (January 2019)
  4. From Reverse STATIK to a ‘Pathway’ for continuous transformation (October 2019)
  5. ‘Right to Left’ works for Scrum too (July 2018)

What if we put authentic agreement on meaningful outcomes ahead of solutions?

Welcome to Agendashift™, the wholehearted engagement model

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Up and Down the Deliberately Adaptive Organisation

As mentioned in last week’s roundup, I was the guest speaker last night at a #bacommunity webinar hosted by Adrian Reed of Blackmetric Business Solutions. I am blown away by the response (still ongoing), and Adrian has kindly made the recording available already. You can watch it here (below, ad free), on YouTube, or on Adrian’s webinar page (blackmetric.com).

A modern take on a 70’s classic, we take some of the tools of modern product and organisation development and plug them into Stafford Beer’s Viable System Model, a model that (still) describes organisations of all sizes that have the drive to survive in a changing environment. The result of this exercise will feel remarkably familiar to Lean-Agile eyes, and yet it helps to reveal some of the serious dysfunctions too often experienced with current frameworks, both team-level and larger.

Mike Burrows

About the Speaker
Agendashift founder Mike Burrows is the author of Agendashift: Outcome-oriented change and continuous transformation (2nd edition March 2021), Right to Left: The digital leader’s guide to Lean and Agile (2019, audiobook 2020), and the Lean-Agile classic Kanban from the Inside (2104). Mike is recognised for his pioneering work in Lean, Agile, and Kanban and for his advocacy for participatory and outcome-oriented approaches to change, transformation, and strategy. Prior to his consulting career, he was global development manager and Executive Director at a top tier investment bank, CTO for an energy risk management startup, and interim delivery manager for two of the UK government’s digital ‘exemplar’ projects.

Links shared in the talk:

  • deliberately-adaptive.org
  • agendashift.com/changeban
  • agendashift.com/assessments
  • agendashift.com/a3-template
  • agendashift.com/book (the 2021 2nd edition of Agendashift) and its recommended reading page, looking out in particular for these authors:
    • Stafford Beer (VSM originator)
    • my friend Patrick Hoverstadt – for The Fractal Organisation, the second of two of his books I reference
    • Robert Kegan & Lisa Laskow Lahey – here for An Everyone Culture.  Despite my oft-expressed aversion – alluded to in my talk – to staged development models, maturity models and the like, they impress hugely. The name ‘Deliberately Adaptive Organisation’ is totally inspired by their ‘Deliberately Developmental Organisation’, referenced towards the end of my talk. To integrate strategy, delivery, and development to the depth envisioned in Agendashift’s wholehearted mission, you need this stuff. Their Immunity to Change resonates too.
  • agendashift.com/subscribe – per the last slide, a ton of stuff still brewing and you don’t want to miss out 🙂

Enjoy!


What if we put authentic agreement on meaningful outcomes ahead of solutions?

Welcome to Agendashift™, the wholehearted engagement model

Agendashift™, the wholehearted engagement model
Links: Home |
About | Our mission: Wholehearted | Become an Agendashift partner | Assessments | Books | Resources | Media | Events | Contact | MikeSubscribe
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Community: Slack | LinkedIn group | Twitter