Organizations accomplish extraordinary things, but they often exact a heavy toll on those who work in them. It’s that age-old human dilemma of autonomy versus interdependence. And while it can be difficult to work in organizations, it’s simply impossible to live without them. But if consciously designed and thoughtfully executed, organizations can be places where individuals thrive while collectively achieving great results. And you know it when you're in one. A healthy system exhibits most of the following characteristics; they have a clear, compelling mission, they get the basics right and execute well, their structure, culture and people support their mission, they’re resilient and have mechanisms in place to get through tough times, and they’re adaptive to change and capable of self-renewal. And perhaps most importantly, they’re places you don’t dread going to. But good fortune and wishful thinking won’t get you a healthy system…you’ve got to build it. Here are some of the services I provide to help you build a healthy system.
Creating effective partnerships between organizations
Organizations form partnerships and alliances with other organizations for a host of reasons. While an internal consultant at Kaiser Permanente, fresh out of graduate school with my degree still wet, I had the good fortune to consult with their cross-functional project teams tasked with overseeing the design and construction of new and existing facilities. By learning how to build bridges between differentiated functions within and between design and construction project teams, I honed a competency I've used with considerable success to build strong, healthy partnerships between architectural firms, builders and owners on large, complex projects. My approach to "partnering" is unique in that I tailor the approach we take and the language we use to your needs. Click here to an article that describes the work I've done in this area.
Cross functional team building
In the four decades I've been in practice I've been struck by how much energy is invested in team building activities within a unit or function, but how little is put into the "white space" between them. We seem to believe that if we strengthen the parts, the whole will somehow function better. The fact is, an organization's performance depends precisely on how well the parts work together to accomplish shared goals. And with increasingly complexity and functional specialization, leaders are unable to provide the integrative force required to compel collective action among differentiated subunits.
I work with your organization to design structures and processes to bring relevant "white space" partners together to take stock of the current state, find common ground, work through differences, and agree on rules of engagement going forward to accomplish shared goals. And that makes for a healthy organization.
Changing Whole Systems
Whether we're talking about an entire organization, or an alliance of organizations, or a division, department, group, unit or project team within an organization, whole systems are notoriously resistant to change, which makes perfect sense; a collective not resistant to change wouldn't be resilient enough to survive from day to day. And as long as the initial requirements that the system is built around remain the same, permanence and routinization are good. But things are always changing, exerting pressure on collectives to either change themselves or suffer the consequences. Examples abound of organizations, once successful, now extinct, or a shadow of their former selves, e.g. Polaroid, RCA, Uniroyal, Union Carbide, U.S. Steel, General Motors.
I provide a variety of custom-designed, evidence-based consulting services to help systems assess their current state, generate momentum for change sufficient to overcome inertia, craft a compelling future state, and design and execute strategies for changing themselves that build ownership, buy-in and capability throughout the collective. This represents a considerable investment of time and energy, but considering the alternative, isn't it worth it?
Repairing fractured relationships
Relationships in organizations go awry for all sorts of reasons, but to the extent that those relationships impact performance and people's willingness to work together, something's got to be done. Typically, people will choose sides, develop strong arguments for why they're right and the other guy's wrong, engage in sophisticated forms of finger-pointing and blame, and find ways to limit their interactions to minimize discomfort. Not good. And the longer it goes on, the deeper and more embedded the fracture, making the dysfunctional pattern increasingly resistant to change. Sadly, this occurs all too often and is reinforced at the national level by the quality of discourse we're witnessing.
I help change the game by creating a safe setting to begin unraveling the mess created by warring parties. In the absence of a magic wand, but rather great compassion for strong-minded people at odds with each other, I help would-be partners recognize the contribution they've each made to the current situation, provide them with tools to find common ground, and help them craft new rules of engagement going forward. If it's broke and it's hurting, I'll work with you to help fix it. Take that first step and contact me to discuss.
Managing conflict and disagreement
Take any whole task, divide it into pieces for the sake of efficiency, distribute those pieces among people, and right there you've got a recipe for conflict. In fact, one could easily argue that most modern organizations are perfectly designed to generate disagreement. Unfortunately, we human beings are imperfectly designed to handle the tension generated by that disagreement. Depending on our training and life experience, we'll often over-react, via fight or flight, as if our very survival were at stake. It's a well-learned biological response to perceived predators, quite adaptive in the Serengeti 100,000 years ago, but woefully inadequate for dealing with 21st Century challenges.
I design learning experiences to help legitimize conflict and to empower people with the mind-sets and skills they'll need to more effectively navigate differences. Wouldn't it be awesome if every conflict or disagreement became an opportunity to learn something new and enhance collective intelligence? It's possible!
© 2016 Marty Kaplan, PhD