The spring 2011 edition of e-O&P is excellent
I don’t always catch up with the contents of e-O&P in spite of being on the team but I read this one from cover to cover and loved it. There isn’t an article I didn’t take something from.
The only thing that puzzles me is the scepticism of Deb Booth, in her editorial, about the validity and relevance of systems thinking. I don't think she could have built a more compelling case for its vital significance.
Geoffrey Hodgson, for example, writes a compelling protest about ‘the cult of change’ and laments the way ‘executives … command large salaries because they … are perceived to have powers of … leadership that can change organisations’. His description of the processes by which organisations evolve provides a much more convincing insight into how change really comes about.
But it seems to me, what he is presenting is a socio-technical systems view. The cult he objects to is the one which reveres the all-powerful CEO who is expected to drive corporate strategy. We know it doesn’t really happen like that. You have to have ‘a deep appreciation of the social processes’.
Jonathan Cormack seems to be saying something rather similar. In situations of great complexity (e.g. in battle), it is impossible for leaders to direct everything. The military role models he picks from history seemed to understand their systems. They knew where their contribution was required and what they had to leave to others. ‘Typical leadership behaviour’ in present day organisations tends to respond to uncertainty by trying harder to eliminate it so as to exercise tighter control.
David Mackinnon’s model connects beautifully with this idea. He suggests that as individuals or management teams we have natural strengths EITHER for expressing great clarity of purpose (‘Strategic Vision’) OR for organising the work (‘Process Effectiveness’). He cautions us against our natural tendency to keep trying harder in our comfort zones when what is required, for flexibility and responsiveness in our complex environments, is balance. (How many times do I need to be reminded of this?!)
Michael Walton didn’t shift my belief that self-awareness is an important path towards greater effectiveness for leaders. He isn’t making the case that self-awareness doesn’t work. He’s writing about how difficult it is to offer it to others who seem to need it. He is also generously and courageously sharing insights arising from the disappointing results of two of his coaching assignments.
His discussion of the complex interplay of factors governing the development of organisational situations sits, for me, quite comfortably under the umbrella of systems thinking. But however skilfully insights are offered, there is no guarantee that they will be heard. In fact, the more important the insights the harder they are to hear. As Michael points out, ‘the high status of the two leaders … led them to discount relevant self-awareness feedback’.
Joanna Kozubska and Bob MacKenzie reminded me of a trap I have fallen into myself more than once at some cost. ‘It is very easy to become ‘precious’ about Action Learning’ they point out. The various planets in the Action Learning universe they describe give heaps of scope for starting somewhere the client feels comfortable. Once the conversation has started, it may lead anywhere but obviously, if I scare the client off, it doesn’t start at all.
Liz Finney’s canter through the rudiments of evaluation was very helpful to me and enabled me to enhance my contribution to a current project at work which, to be honest, I hadn’t even been thinking of as Organisation Development.
Tony Page and Chiara Vascotto write an interesting account of what sounds like a very smooth intervention, informed by insights derived from anthropology. I have seen Tony exercising his great skill as a facilitator of which I have to admit to being rather envious. So my judgement may be suspect when I express my unease about workshops that go smoothly. I feel there needs to be an unexpected upset of some kind if someone is to learn something important.
My reaction to the article by Jacquie Drake and Jon Chapman was similar. It sounded fascinating but I was uneasy about the tension between using a 1 000 year old myth and putting a © at the end of their MythoSimulator© every time it appeared. There’s not quite enough in their piece for me to warm to the authors. They seem more concerned with protecting than with sharing. Of course, this may reveal more about me and my own difficulty over asking for money.
I’m much more in sympathy with Ana Karakusevic who freely opens her heart with a candid account of personal transformation. I’m always fascinated by those often accidental moments when we discover that what we took for reality turns out to be an illusion of some sort. She appears to share some of my difficulty in making a business of helping people to learn. It is such a haphazard and unpredictable process after all.
All in all, a terrific assortment. Thanks very much.
I haven't got very far into this edition yet, but your response here has really piqued my curiosity!
Will try to find time to dip in and see whether I agree with you or not.