Charles Handy (1982) likens organisations to countries. When we travel to different countries we find different cultures which have different philosophies, beliefs systems, traditions and so on. So it is with organisations. Just by going into different organisations we get a feel of the different atmospheres and different levels of energy.
These different values and beliefs make up the culture and are reflected in the structures and systems.
Senge et al (1998) note that “a system is a perceived whole whose elements ‘hang together’ because they continually affect each other over time and operate toward a common purpose. The word comes from the Greek verb sunistanai, which meant “to cause to stand together”.
Systemic structure is the pattern of interrelationships among key components of the system. This includes the hierarchy and processes as well as the attitudes and perceptions, the quality of products and the ways in which decisions are made etc.
Different cultures call for different psychological contracts. Different people will be more comfortable in one organisational culture and others more comfortable in another. Matching the psychological contract of the organisation and the individual is therefore more likely to lead to a more stable workforce.
Changes in systems take time and often change makers start to believe that nothing is happening. However, it takes time for people to move through the competence curve, take re-training, change beliefs, develop different approaches and so on. Therefore, it is important to hang on to strategies rather than give them up if it looks like they are not working. Having clear evaluative techniques set up at the beginning will aid this process. Change can then be measured.
Today’s organisations have to respond extremely quickly to demands from the environment, the government, the international networks and so on. At the same time, the need for quick responses organisations are also required to supply high quality products and services.
These pressures can create crisis. The crisis is often brought about by a mismatch between environmental demands and organisational capabilities. When crises occur people attempt to match the current situation with a past experience of paradigm. We all feel safer when we find something we can use that we have always known.
However, this becomes problematic when we are being encouraged to think differently and move out of the old ways of doing things. At some point we may need to undertake a total reconstruction of the models we are using. (DeSanctis and Fulk eds.,1999).
The difficulty comes when we those involved in the contract are operating from different models.
For example, we might consider Handy’s work on cultures and structures. He notes that the power culture is pictured like a web. Its patron god would be Zeus who ruled by whim and impulse, by thunderbolt and shower of gold from Mount Olympus. This culture depends on a central power source, with rays of power spreading out from a central figure.
The current government could be seen in this way in its relationship with public bodies. This is a problem if the basic foundation of values and philosophy are in conflict, particularly when they are tied to the amount of resources the organisation obtains. For instance, how does the philosophy or value system deal with “massaging the figures” to meet the government’s criteria?
However, having a model we can use to assess what is happening in an organisation can be helpful, particularly when we need to assess where to make an intervention. We then need to link this with what we are in control of and what is outside our control and what we can influence. If we are consultants we need to take into consideration the fact that as soon as we are involved we influence the dynamic. Just as if we are new to an organisation we make a difference to the dynamic. It is what we do with this that is important.
Systems of feedback loops tend to maintain and consolidate a system. We need to introduce ways to question the system, and often more usefully, ways that the employees question the system. We can do this by asking questions such as “What would it be like if…”, or “What differences would be produced if...”. We need to help people explore the meaning of different events and the importance they place on these. In this way, we can encourage people to think forward rather than back.
The Dynamic Diagnostic Diagram (3D Model)
We have already explored Mountain’s 3D Model in a previous workshop. This model can be used for diagnosing the structures and systems in an organisation.
Mountain’s diagram can be used to assess where the focus of an intervention needs to be – at a structural level in the organisation. Some questions are:
• Is the purpose or identity clear?
• Are there clear values and a philosophy?
• Are these expressed and widely shared?
• Are all aspects of the structure congruent with these?
• Do all aspects of the structure have shared goals?
• If not, what are the leadership strategies to ensure everyone is pulling in the same direction?
It is almost as if the physis arrow goes right up through the centre of the diagram.
Handy, C. (1982). Understanding Organisations, second edition, Penguin Education.
Senge, P. et al (1998). The Fifth Discipline Fieldbook, Nicholas Brearley Publishing.
DeSanctis, G. & Fulk J. (1999). Shaping Organization Form, Sage Publications.