Archives for posts with tag: organisation

Hands up if you’ve heard of the Monkeysphere?

OK, hands down, you look silly staring at the screen of your computer/phone/tablet/other as-yet-to-be-invented device with your hand in the air, like a primary school child needing a wee.

The Monkeysphere is based on neurological research. The theory says that there is only room in a primate brain for around 150 other primates. Beyond that, and primates (chimps, lemurs, people) can’t really keep track.

If your organisation is bigger than 150 people, then those people may, therefore, struggle to engage with it. They stop seeing it as a group of fellow primates and more as an amorphous, intangible mass.

Some companies have a maximum operating unit size of around 150. If they get too big, then they are split up. Gore and Semco are two examples, and there are more.

Most other companies can’t (or won’t) do that – but it is impossible to operate in large groups, and most organisations operate in smaller units, breaking down to a team.

I’ve worked in teams of 2, and teams of 20+. My personal view that anything bigger than 10-12 is too big, anything less than 5-6 is too small. Whatever their size, however, the important thing is to make sure that they operate as a team.

After ensuring personal effectiveness of all your people, team effectiveness is most important in delivering organisational effectiveness. Again, a personal opinion, but one based on many years of experience, study and research – an informed opinion (rather than a humble one).

Anyway, the tools and techniques used to measure personal and organisational effectiveness and culture can also be applied to teams. You can check how effective they are, show them, and then work with them to help them get better.

One tool I have used with great success is based on a survival simulation. Your team is put in an imaginary situation where they are presented with options – they are then given a timescale to decide about the various options and say how they would act. They record their answers individually and then as a team.

You then run a questionnaire to check the experience of the various members of the team – and it’s also important to observe how they went about things.

After this you give them the real answers – prepared by an appropriate expert. From the differences between their personal and team decisions and the “right” answers you can see how effective thy would be – as a team or as individuals.

I like the survival simulations because they are usually fun, and are relatively safe. You can run business simulations (or even use a real example, although it is tricky to get a “right” answer and check the effectiveness), but these tend to be a bit too close to home and people are less likely to make any decisions, in my experience. Survival situations are less prone to people worrying about getting the wrong answer and looking daft.

The feedback you get back is rich. Even without using the full tool, good observation can give really useful insight. In one session I ran, every member of the team but one huddled together at one end of the table. The individual at the other end then criticised the decision making, saying “you did this, you did that” – “you”, not “we”. They were meant to be a team, in it together to survive. Just pointing out that behaviour caused a number of pennies (and the odd jaw) to drop, and helped that team make a breakthrough.

Like all development, teams need to work, re-visit their development and make sure that changes have been made and are still effective. It’s a process that should continue through the life of the team, and especially as new members come in and out. My take on teams is as follows.

1) In teams, diversity is strength. Everyone should bring their own strength to the group, and everyone should be willing, able and ready to use the strengths of others to make up for their own weaknesses. Tools such as the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator ™ are great for understanding how people like to work and how you can galvanise diversity.

2) Dialogue always beats debate. Dialogue is about bringing ideas together to make something new and better with those ideas. Debate is about one side proving its view of things is right, and the other side is wrong. Imagine how our country would be if we had parliamentary dialogues, rather than debates.

3) As a team, you can do things by consensus, or by consent. Consensus means everyone has to be happy with everything, which can lead to a more contented team, but also to watered-down and less effective solutions. Consent means giving permission for people to lead the team in a certain direction, even if not everyone is convinced that is the way to go. What you lose in comfort you can gain in innovation and effectiveness.

Looking at team effectiveness in these areas is a great way to start to build a team development plan, and then check the progress of the plan once it’s in place. If you fancy a go, give me a shout.


Change happens. All the time. Even in the most hidebound, traditional, staid organisation, change happens.

These days, in times of uncertainty and insecurity, change happens fast. Most organisations, especially bigger ones, they are in that big, strange and scary thing called Transformation.

You will have plans, you will have GANTT charts, project plans, meetings, systems in place, you will have risk registers, issues logs and lots of rolls of brown paper with sticky notes on them, you will have consultants with their Prince 2 or Successful Project Management qualifications, ensuring these are all in place.

That’s all good. You need to do that. But I can also promise you, hand on heart, that if you forget one thing, then all this planning and systems and consultants will not deliver the change you are trying to achieve. Because, in the end, people change. Not processes, not systems, not project plans, not even the longest piece of brown paper and the most widely variegated shades of sticky notes. People are where change happens.

An organisation I know, during a period of 7 or 8 years, went through two mergers, a business modernisation programme which achieved £100m a year savings, a re-brand and another transformation programme. Of the hundreds of projects that made up these programmes, some delivered the benefits they were supposed to, some didn’t.

Every single one that succeeded included in its project plan, in its preparation, consideration of how the change would impact on the people on the receiving end of the change. Every. Single One.

And the ones which failed the worst, the ones that missed deadlines, negatively impacted customer service levels, went over budget or failed to deliver savings failed to consider the impact on the people.

An example of the former – we were closing a national network of over 100 local sales offices, supporting a field sales force. The consultants running the project knew we had to let people know, and suggested bussing people to one or two central meetings so they could be informed by the Big Boss.

The Big Boss in charge of that bit of the business had an observation, specifically about one of the more geographically remote offices. “So,” he said. “You want to bus people 200 miles to tell them that they’re numptied”.

Good point, well made.

The announcements were made at local meetings, by managers the people there knew, with full on-site HR and comms support. The project worked.

An example of the latter that I heard of – a major systems change in a call centre. The project delivered the systems changes on time, to budget. It won awards, was held up as a paragon of systems change, it was, as far as the IT world was concerned, market leading.

Except, no-one had thought through the consequences for the people in the call centre. They had to navigate through new screens. They hadn’t had time to have been trained properly. Customers couldn’t do what they were used to doing because the systems had changed. They called the call centre. Queue times went up. People had to be taken off the training in the new systems to cope with the extra calls.

Not so good.

It’s pretty easy to make sure you do take account of the people impacted by change – you can stop and think “how will people feel when this happens?”. The Big Boss did this. The team on the other project didn’t.

If people have a positive experience of change they will be more accepting of change, and guess what? Change will be delivered.

I know a more formal process which can be built into the change process, complete with built-in measurement and diagnostic systems, to check if the people experience turns out as you want it to be.

But it boils down to thinking through – which bits of change are going to impact people, who are they, what will that impact be, and how can we make their experience of that impact the best it can be?

Next time you’re planning, give it a try. Or give me a shout, I can help you out with this. Especially if people are being numptied.

Is there anything more wishy-washy and fluffy to your average business leader than “Culture”?

Most managers, in my experience, get Employee Engagement. They know if people are happy, loyal, want to do more than they get paid for then that will tend to be good for business.

But culture is so much more, well, academic. There are theories, using psychological terminology, quoting academic references and complex and arcane models.

That’s all true, it is very complex. But it can be summed up very simply – “it’s how we do things around here”.

Simple as that – how people within an organisation do stuff, in order to get things done.

And, as with most things that are as simple as that, there’s a far more complex question behind it, namely “why do they do things like that?” It’s an important question, because you need to know why this is the way we do things around here if you want to change it.

But hang on, you say, why would we want to change it?

Because your organisational culture might be working against you.

I’m sure you’d agree that any effective businesses need clear and coherent communications. People need to know what’s happening, have the information they need to do their jobs.

What happens if your organisational culture promotes secrecy, keeping people out of the loop, hoarding information as power – how effective will your organisation be then?

How would your employees feel about being kept in the dark by their managers? Well, if you’re the big boss, you’ll probably never know because this kind of culture tends to stop information going up, as well as down. And if they aren’t telling you how people are feeling, then what else aren’t they telling you?

So – do you actually know what the culture is in your organisation? If you are in the boardroom, you’ll be really busy, you won’t have time to get out and about and really understand how things are out there in the offices or on the shop floor.

You can listen to the managers, but if the culture in your organisation is one where the chief exec’s open door policy only runs to good news and happy tidings, then you’ll never know if things aren’t quite right, until it’s too late.

Because having the wrong culture can mean the end of a business. The financial problems of the last few years were caused to a great extent by bad cultures within the organisations that were at the centre of the crash. The way they did things at Enron, Leahmann Bros, RBS etc were not the way they should have been.

So, if you are running a business then you need to understand what your culture is. Then you can see if you need to change it. And my guess is, that you probably do.

That’s when we come back to the first question – why is the culture the way it is?

An academic model may help here. Sorry. But I process information most easily when I can see it. Most people do, I’m led to believe. This model was developed by Professor Denise Rousseau in 1990, and works as well as any I’ve seen over the past few years. Ready? Here we go.

Imagine, if you will, a series of rings, five of them, much like an archery target.


The outer ring – the black – is what we call artefacts.

The second ring, the white, we call Patterns of Behaviour.

The blue ring represents Behavioural Norms.

The red ring we call Values.

The bulls eye, the gold is Fundamental Beliefs and Assumptions.

This looks complicated with its technical terms and strange images – and I will go into more detail in future blogs, I promise.

The model says that there are two levels of culture –the three central rings being hidden, and the two outer rings being visible.

At the heart of a culture, in the inner rings, are the actual beliefs and values of the organisation – what people really believe is what the organisation really is like, and what is truly valued and rewarded there.

These underlie the way people act, the behaviours that people see as being the “right” way to behave – the behavioural norms, shown here in the third ring.

The two outermost circles represent the things that you can see or observe – the actual behaviours – the “how we do things around here” – and also the artefacts – the things you see every day, the pictures on the walls, the way people dress, how big the offices are – or even if there are offices.

The outer two are easy to see, and measure. The inner three need a bi t more digging to get to – but it all can be done.

Firstly, what is employee engagement?

So much has been written about employee engagement, it is difficult to know where to start.

So I’ll start in January 2009, when I was in London as a guest of the South East England Development Agency and the Department for Business Enterprise and Regulatory Reform.

I was at the Church House Conference Centre, just by Westminster Abbey, to speak at the South of England Consultation Event for the McLeod Review of Employee Engagement.

By 2009 I had been working in the field for four or five years, and was about to give David McLeod and Nita Clarke another definition or two for what Employee Engagement is to the 30-odd they had already gathered by that point.

My model then, which has been refined and adapted since, but broadly stays the same, was the same one that most providers of employee surveys in the UK and beyond – say, stay and strive.

That is:

  • People are generally well-disposed to the organization, they are advocates of its products and services and as an employer; they feel proud to work there and are happy in their jobs
  • People want to remain with their employer, have a career
  • They want to work hard, are willing to go above and beyond their day job to help the organization achieve its aims

Simples! Except that it isn’t, but we’ll come to that.

Why is it important?

I think any business would want to have engaged employees. Why wouldn’t you? It just makes sense.

Why pay people who think it’s a horrible place to work, hate their job and tell their friends? People who won’t even buy your products and services, let alone tell anyone else to do so?

Why pay people who want to leave at the earliest opportunity, leaving you the bill of their recruitment, training, development – and another bill to recruit, train and develop someone else to do their job?

Why pay people who just turn up? Why pay for a bum on a seat, rather than a brain looking for ways of doing things better?

If that’s not enough, and surely it should be, then there are any number of studies which show that increased levels of engagement are linked with improved business performance, higher customer satisfaction, lower turnover, lower absence – ie, it makes you more money. And, as a business, that should matter too.

How do you make people engaged?

Here’s the bit where is gets less simple, because the answer is: “it depends”.

It is generally accepted that there are aspects of working life that make people engaged – what we call “Drivers of Engagement”, and these drivers will depend on any number of factors. They can be very personal to an individual employee, they can be specific to particular jobs or roles.

In my experience, people tend to be engaged where:

  • They are generally disposed to be engaged – what psychologists call an autotelic personality – driven by intrinsic reward. People who take pride in doing a good job
  • They know what they are doing – that is they understand their job, and how it fits with the overall aims and strategy of the business
  • They have a degree of control or ownership of their job – they have autonomy and a degree of freedom to operate

That list is by no means exhaustive or applicable to everyone. To really understand what is driving engagement (and, just as importantly, disengagement) in your organisation, you need to do some measurement and diagnostics. And we’ll discuss that in another blog.