7 Tips for successful coping with organizational chaos (revised)

Organizational life moves faster and faster, propelled by information technology and fluctuations in the market place.

Organizational structure, roles, responsibilities, missions and goals have limited impact in creating stability; de facto more often than not, organizations hover between the threshold of chaos and deep chaos.

Clients (and consultants whom I supervise) often consult with me about what can be done at the organizational “architectural” level to ensure effective functioning in the “threshold of chaos mode”.

Threshold of chaos is the area that exists between superimposed unreal man made stability (eg, our mission, charter) and the ugly reality (e.g., the need to make a commitment to win a tender, then immediately break the same commitment once we define what is “doable”)

Here are some of the cornerstones for successful coping strategies  for life on the “threshold of chaos”.

1) Ensure that staff has an end to end understanding of how things work, to prevent staff from optimization of sub systems. (“I don’t care how they DO it, I sold it)

2) Overinvest in the infrastructure of trust and strong personal relationships which serve as “credit” for enabling frequent change.

3) Loosen up rigidity by emphasizing the importance of overlapping roles and responsibilities augmented by ongoing dialogue and communication.

4) Hire people who know how to learn.

5) Deal with poor teamwork immediately upon the very first sign of dysfunction and never accept team clusterfucks as inevitable. (50 emails to get one purchase order ok’ed)

6) Be real! Deemphasize the “religious” doctrinal nature  of mission statements and other organisational artefacts which breed cynicism and contempt.

7) Focus training, consulting and coaching on enhancing staffs’ capability to function in ambiguity, which should be a major leitmotif of services provided to ensure strengthen people and teams.

Too many consultants swim against the current, trying to stabilize the inevitable chaos, after change is managed! (which it is not) 

Leverage the major critical difference between Change Management and OD. That being-Swimming with the current of change, working with clients to constantly adapt without the need for a so called “change management” effort each  time that a change is needed, which basically all the time.

 

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Allon

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Coping with a hopeless situation

At first thought, coping with a hopeless situation is pretty tough.The essence of hopelessness is that no doing can change the fact that there is no light at the end of tunnel.

Yet Yalom’s book “ Staring at the Sun: Overcoming the Terror of Death”  comes to mind. The author  provides philosophical insights, suggests cognitive approaches and unravels psychodynamics which make thinking about Death more bearable, at least for me.

Inspired by Yalom,  I will reflect a bit on how I have been trying to deal with the hopelessness of the present war in the Middle East, in which I am caught.

1-No longer my generation

Each generation has its own time in the drivers’ seat. I have less skin the game than people whose children are serving in the forces. I did my time; I fought in a brutal war and my kids served in the forces in very unstable times. I was relieved of reserve duty when my wife died, my son is abroad and my daughter, now a mother, no longer serves in reserves.This conflict is now owned by the present generation. And even if I could do something, is this really my generation’s turn at the steering wheel?

2-Living in the shadow

I am an atheist in a country with a very powerful religious lobby which tries to dictate how I live my life. Yet, nowhere is it easier to live a secular life than in Israel, because there is a secular shadow reality which serves as black market economy serving the vast majority of Israelis who are indeed non believers. Herein is the clue: I need to look at another dimension of existence within the present reality, where I can live in my own personal peace.

3-Mild Dissociation is functional

I belong to the political left, which has been decimated  since the assassination of Rabin, the realities of the mid east conflict, and demographics. Yesterday, I was in the Carmel Market when missiles exploded overhead causing total  pandemonium. As we lay on the ground waiting to see if our time has come, a fruit vendor yelled out: I hope that missile goes up some leftist’s ass”. It is very typical of me to say, “I am a leftist, and I am right next to you, idiot”. But I did not. I feared the vendor’s intolerance more than the missile.  Later on, I asked myself if the political left has any answers, and the answer was: probably not. At that moment, I felt the helplessness, which is different than thinking about it.

Feeling the helplessness breeds mild dissociation, which can be very functional.

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Use of self in OD

“Use of self” is a key advantage that Organizational Development has in facilitating organizational change.

Use of self simply means combining OD knowledge and skills education  along with leveraging aspects of ones personality traits, behaviour, value systems, and culture as part of OD practice.

Use of self allows the OD practitioner to work on and work through the unseen world of emotional undercurrents as well as other hidden dynamics impacting organizational life. This perspective provides a phenomenal  advantage over the absurdly  mechanistic world of Change Management and the pathetic cheerleading efforts of many “semi-skilled“ HR departments which dabble in change.

So far so good.

The challenge begins if use of self negatively impacts the practitioner, because of the practitioners’ own cultural bias, especially in global organizations.

Let’s take an example.

A (product manager)  and B (sales) are upset with one another, although they pretend to get along well. A is pressuring B to coax a client to buy a new feature. B wants A to ensure feature completion so that B does not ruin his career by selling something he cannot deliver.

Consultant Z wants to develop genuine and authentic dialogue between A and B, leveraging the positive relationship Z has with both. When positive dialogue has been established between A&B, they will figure out a compromise.

Consultant Y wants to ensure that A&B continue to sidestep the conflict between them, so that they can pretend get along well. Y believes that if A & B were to express the differences of opinion between them openly, no good will come to their relationship. Y is convinced that B, an 55 year old male from a conservative society will never accept the input from a 24 year old female product manager from a western society.

So Y wants to serve as a go between so that A&B do not need to interact on this sensitive issue.

Summary

At present, Z’s behaviour is aligned with positive use of self in OD, because OD is bogged down in western values.

If OD embraced more non western values,  Y’s choices would becomes a legitimate strategy as well.

Until that happens, use of self provides no advantage in the world of global organizing.

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Retracing my thoughts during a missile attack

I love to walk in extreme heat. In the late summer afternoons,  I “do” 9 kilometers along the beach.

The beach sands are still  burning and the Mediterranean sun is still pounding down at 4 pm when my walk begins, but by 520 pm, the cool wind has been added to the mix.

It is not wise to walk on the beach in a city being bombed. The shelters are few and far between; sirens cannot be heard clearly if the sea is noisy.

I have lived long enough to know that when my time comes, it comes.

At 440 pm, I hear a siren. There is no where to go. The sea waves on my left are high, the sand strip on which I walking is narrow; I have a huge stone wall on my right.  Maybe I should not be here. Fuck it. Johnny Walker. Keep walking. Two faint blasts are heard.I check my smartphone;  3 missiles have been downed over a working class area. Keep walking.

At 515 pm I can see my car 100 meters away in the parking lot . Again, the sirens go off. There is a very very loud noise everywhere. My hearing is better than I thought. Out of nowhere, I see missiles overhead. Right over my head. Iron Dome missiles are also over head. Right over my head.

When did this chaos in the parking lot area begin? Where is the yelling coming from? I hear fearful curses in Hebrew, French, Russian, Arabic and English. People are running, some are crying, frightened. Some people are laughing. Someone is putting on sun oil.

I look up. The Iron Dome interception is overhead. There is going to be shrapnel. If it hits me, I hope it is a direct hit. No injuries please. I took care of my wife when she was dying. My kids are great. And I did enjoy the walk. How much longer till the shrapnel hits the ground for shit sake? This is taking forever. I am not a patient person. Never was.

When nothing falls near me, I get into my car and update  my daughter who never worries anyway. “So Abba (dad), you are still around? and we laugh.

I put on my favourite song, and drive off.

Keep walking.

IMG_20140720_154216

Not too many bomb shelters on Sidneh Ali Beach

 

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Friday Mideast Diary-and thoughts about organizational slogans

The present mid east conflict touches my life because I live and work in areas under fire. My dog Georges gets upset when, with a mighty boom,  Iron Dome intercepts missiles headed our way.

One of the more unfortunate aspects of this conflict is my exposure to mass media. In order to know when to go the shelter, I am forced to keep on the TV. Curiosity gets the better of me and I watch Gaza TV as well as Israeli TV.

Mass media plays a pivotal role perpetuating mutually exclusive narratives that “enable” the mid east conflict. The media dumbs the audience via creating tribal camaraderie by “servicing” the narrative.

Gazan media is Der Stumer in style as well as being radical religious crap. On the other hand,  the Israeli media is misleading and self righteous ad absurdum, apparently taking marching orders from patriotism more than journalism.

While one of the enemy  missile may kill me if my luck does not continue, the media makes me ill. Every news update that I hear brings my IQ one notch downward.

I feel like a software engineer being pressed to work weekends for a year to release buggy software that customers will hate, while on the walls around me are posters telling me to love my customer, and ensuring me that I work for a people company.

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Working under bombardment

 

In this recent outbreak of Middle East violence, I have found myself working and living in areas under heavy bombardment.

I want to share with  readers some of these experiences, personal and work related.

1) Between missiles, life goes on. People walk or run to shelters, boom, and then back to work. There is constant smsing-texting and phone calls in order to ensure that friends and family members are ok, but multi tasking via messaging is part of life in Israel in any case.

2) One’s political view deeply impacts how the present conflict is viewed. The right wing sees the conflict as an inevitable outbreak in a one hundred year old conflict; the left believes that the present government (and those before) have frittered away opportunities that may have prevented this present round of violence.

Political issues are very rarely discussed, because politics tears apart relationships, and detract from camaraderie which develops under fire.

3) A sense of perspective creeps into life. When life can end with the next hit, how important is this work related issue that I am dealing with?

4) For some, one’s internal emotional world is calmer because the enemy is exogenic. As missiles pour down on your village and work place, one does not really need more noise than what rains down.

5) Schedules constantly changes.Work gets cancelled, rescheduled and decisions get “pushed out” till “this is all over”. Yet this does not phase anyone.

6) There is an amazing defense  mechanism: “nothing will happen to me”. Even more anxious people (like myself) adapt this defense mechanism and, it really works well. Apparently,  the more serious the threat is, the easier it is to be positive.

And a word of thanks to the many people who have asked me how I am doing.

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In what way does living in the Middle East impact how I practice Organization Development

Man is but a template of  the landscape of his homeland, wrote the poet Shaul Tchernichovsky. These are atrociously difficult times in the Middle East, days which have led me to think about this statement of his.

In this post. I want to delve into the ways that living in the Middle East has shaped the way that I approach the practice of Organization Development. For the sake of brevity, I shall limit myself to 3 major influences that the Mid East has had on my OD work.

1) The hopeless of solving problems teaches the importance of setting realistic expectations

The middle east conflict is insoluble. Religion, poisonous exclusionary  narratives, energy, water, righteousness, tribalism, world war 1 leftovers, Sykes-Picot  and world politics have created the ultimate cesspool for a “perfect” conflict to perpetuate itself.

Living in such a situation decade after decade leads to questions like: what can and cannot be changed? Where is the value: visionary goals and long term strategy?  What can be solved,  what needs to be managed and where is it wise to give up?

The reality of hopelessness breads a very healthy approach to setting appropriate expectations. I don’t tend to sell rose gardens.This realism on my part has led to trust being developed over the years.Clients know I do not bullshit them. I promise less and deliver more that  wow-wow yes we can optimists who live in places where the sky is the limit.

2) Chaos is a system

To get things done in the Middle East, one must understand how the “system” works, because nothing is the way it appears to be. There are accoutrements of western ways, western dress, technology and widespread use of English. But the Middle East ain’t Canada, the US, Germany, Britain or Switzerland. Understanding the  underworld of relationships. corruption, ethnicity and insider/outsider dynamics can shed light on situations which appear undecipherable.Underneath the veneer of the West is another system that has a rhyme and reason of its own. For all its foibles, it is what is it is, and it is the “currency” people use.

As an OD consultant, I tend to somewhat downplay the  organizational veneer, structure, process and HR sloganeering. Instead I tend to look at power/politics,relationships and trust, and Darwin.

I have no naive stars in my eyes which prod me to promulgate my world view about what organizations should look like. Rather, I work with what there is.

The mid east is all about survival, and equipped with this insight and applying it to organizational reality, so much falls into place.

3) Be pragmatic and get real

For many years, I was an Organization Development in the Israel Defence Forces. Liberated from commercial interests, I was free to practice OD “comme il faut”. Freed from “pleasing” the commanders for whom I worked,I learnt to challenge authority all the time. This has been a real gift to me.

However the real value of doing OD for an army of a country at war is zero tolerance for theorizing or pontificating, so to speak. Either the consulting is pragmatic or she/she is sidelined.

……………………………………………………………………………………………….

Living in the Middle East is a painful, frustrating and at times debilitating reality. However,I believe I am a better consultant for having learnt and practised OD in this hopeless yet fascinating neck of the woods.

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