Don’t ignore the underworld of poor team work.

No other discipline can deliver results as powerful as can OD in the domain of teamwork.

This having been said, too many OD practitioners look at teamwork out of context and proceed to work with organic teams or “cousin groups”  to develop team effectiveness before examining the context in which the team operates.

This post will focus on what an OD practitioner needs to both look at and deal with in order to create a context for team work, regardless of the specific team.

1) Does the organization have an expectation that clearer defined roles and responsibilities as well as adherence to process are essential to team work?

Because the truth is:  teamwork’s added value is that it compensates for the inability of process and total role clarity to enable the work flow. Often poor team work is a result of overdosing on process and clarity  to control work flow.

Creating a context for teamwork entails working on teamwork as a compensation for the system in order to get it to work.

2) Does the organization recruit team players at the top?

Because if the organization is led by people who maximise their subsystems. there “ain’t gonna be no teamwork”.

Creating a context for teamwork entails working on the optimization of subsystems at the top of the organization.

3) Does the organization fund face to face interaction?

No amount of technology can compensate for the alienation inherent in the global configuration of organizations. People who do not meet face to face will not be able to work well as a team, especially if the issues at hand are complex and need a lot of healthy heated interaction to solve.

Creating a context for teamwork entails insisting that face to face dialogue is budgeted.

4) Does the organization overcommit to its customers?

If the organization has hallucinatory  commitments to its customers, the entire organization will be covering their ass to show that they are not guilty for the inevitable slips that will occur in both schedules and costs. Teamwork in over committed organizations is a critical success factor, but very rare.

Creating a context for teamwork entails removing the “blame game” and working on the over commitment, not just the team work.

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New mindset and tools for middle managers upon the establishment of a union

The mindset of middle managers needs to change upon the establishment of a union. As the union flexes its muscles and establishes its power base, middle management must rethink its role domain and retool. This post related to changes which need to occur in the mindset of middle management.

  • Middle management needs to internalize that managing in a unionized shop is a new ball game. Part of the ball game is that senior management may be broadcasting that “nothing has changed”. Senior management is probably sending out the message: “you keep doing your job and we (whoever that is, probably Legal) will take care of the union”. However, this message is problematic as it illustrates the one of the very reasons why the union was established, eg, arrogance.
  • Over time, most unions become a partner in strategic and operational decision making. The more that management tries to make decisions “above their heads” of the union, the more militant the unions will become. Middle managers need to ensure that they engage their own senior management to avoid being used as an ineffective and damaging way to bypass legitimate union interests.
  • Middle management needs to understand the dynamic of union activity, understand the agendas of the union, build trust and proactively work with the union.  There is no “working around” the union via dealing with the so called “more sane” employees.
  • The employees will always defer to the union, because the union will take better care of them than management. So never bad mouth the union.
  • Partner with the union on a personal level and strategically. Senior managers come and go. The union is “built to last”. So it’s better learn about the new partner-for-life than working to neutralize their power.
  • It takes up to two years for a union leadership to exercise their muscles. But they do get strong and cannot be “managed” by an external legal firm. So learn to respect their interests early on in the game.

 

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Stop beating the dead horse of reorganizations and process clarity

In a recent post, I suggested that many organizational regulatory mechanisms that are in place to standardize organizational life may never work well anymore, because of a paradigm shift in what way organizations work.

In this post, I will spell out 3 doomed  mechanisms.

1) Enhancing Employee Engagement

The labour force appears to clearly understand that engagement is too often a manipulation which means” “bust your ass and do whatever it takes to help the company succeed”, even though management will and does fire staff without blinking an eyelid to make results look better in the short run.

Enhancing employee engagement as presently understood is  futile effort; there is a need to move beyond engagement sloganeering to address the need for a new contract between management and labour.

2) Frequent changes in structure

Management often relies on reorg after reorg as a medicine for nearly all organizational ailments. Changes of structure do not solve problems of trust, lack of transparency nor do they compensate for incompetence.

Managers use this medicine and board members “put up” with these reorganizations because it is “doing”, and buys time. Yes, what I am saying is that the motive for reorgs is often political.

OD consultants over 40 know (and all staff) know that these frequent reorganizations take place in order to avoid change.

3) Obsessive Clarification of the process

Process needs some clarity but organizational reality is very, very complex and one cannot define away complexity via process. In extreme global complexity, organizations need to develop appropriate staffing, team work, and cooperation instead of obsessing about process quality. 

In the dying OD profession, those of us who do still work should not spend too much time to make outdated mechanisms work.

OD should focus on implementing change and not reorganizations, rebuilding the social contract between management and labour, and building teamwork and trust.

Clients which smell the coffee desist from beating the dead horse of more reorgs and overdosing on process clarity. And those who don’t use change managers and OD consultants the wrong way.

Follow me @AllonShevat

 

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When change is failing, don’t fall into a trap

OD consultants and other change professionals are commissioned at times by clients who are stuck and dither when facing a serious problem.

Two examples:

Take the merging 3 small companies into one and management insisting on “creating a new culture, based on the best parts of the 3 companies.” Management dithered on this issue for two years with the hope that things would somehow stabilize as the social fabric fell apart in political warfare.

Or, take the example of a company which needed  to really commit itself to transparency with its own staff to ensure credibility, yet focused on word-smithing, sweet-talking and sloganeering as the company employees become more and more “militant” and unionizes.

In such situations there is natural tendency of the consultant to push hard for decisiveness. And to make matters worse,  when  decisive action does not occur, the client may even blame the consultant for the slow pace of change!

Here is the crunch: If you push the client too hard because YOU want to succeed, then you may find yourself out on your ass. On the other hand if you accept the clients’ pace, you become part of the system.

This problem has no easy fix. For those of us who have learned to drive in heavy snow, it is helpful to remember how to free yourself from a snow bank….backwards and forwards, slowly, until you get the leverage to jolt forward.

And remember, ultimately it is the clients’ mess, not yours. If you feel that you are the one who is failing, your actions as a consultant will probably be less effective.

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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.

Follow me @AllonShevat

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Strategy Shift for HR after the establishment of a union

The long struggle against unionization is generally led by internal and external lawyers, board representatives, the CEO, HR and in some cases by a PR firm.

In my country, the last two years have shown that although the struggle against unionization fails, every management team tends to fight the war to prevent it from happening.

After the war against unionization is over and the union is established, the role of HR undergoes a major strategic shift. This post will spell out the suggested strategy shift for Human Resources professionals after unionization is a fact of life.

1) First we need to understand how the battle against unionization is waged.

During the battle against the establishment of a Union, management claims that there are “good guys” and “bad guys”, employees who care about the company and those who want to destroy the company, the noisy minority who wants a union and the silent majority who supposedly does not want a union.

When a union is established, the union becomes the sole voice of labour. So, the first shift in strategy is that HR must work thru the union and only the union, after its establishment. The good guys and all the silent majority become irrelevant. If HR maintains a parallel dialogues with the Union and the staff, the way that the Union operates will be much more militant and brutal.

2) Second, we need to look at the division of labour between Legal and HR after a union has been established.

The struggle against unions is very lucrative business for the legal profession. Even “in house legal” gains  lots of power in the struggle against the establishment of a union. During the struggle against the establishment of the Union, lawyers generally call the shots. At times, the firms’ lawyers even talk to the press directly! After a union is established, the legal folks don’t really want to move out of the space they occupied in their struggle against the union.

Yet, lawyers cannot manage industrial relations after the establishment of a union, the second shift of strategy is repositioning “legal” in a more minor position, and re-positioning HR to become the owner of the industrial relations portfolio. This is a difficult shift in strategy, because getting control of industrial relations means a battle with the internal and external legal folks. In many cases, the CEO will also want to manage the industrial relations portfolio. (It takes up to 2 years before a CEO learns how stupid this is).

3) The third strategic shift is the change of narrative and behaviour.  After a union is established, the narrative within management and the narrative with the union needs to change.

During the struggle against unionization, management rhetoric becomes heated and the same empty slogans are repeated again and again. “The company will be ruined by a union”. “We cannot compete if we are unionized” etc. ad nauseam.

After the establishment of a union, many words said during the struggle need to be “taken back” and narratives need to be rewritten.


The monumental task of repositioning HR after the establishment of a Union are probably the most interesting task an HR manager or OD consultant can take on. Stakes are high, yet there is a protocol for success. So my suggestion is follow the protocol and do not improvise.

Follow me @AllonShevat

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OD need not straggle behind

 

Almost every aspect of organizational life has changed beyond recognition in the past decade.

  • People who share neither values, culture or language work together. (new diversity)
  • Global organizational politics is riddled with complex, survival site agendas. (new conflicts)
  • People “message”/ email more than they talk, because teams are mainly virtual. (new communication)
  • Management is all about task promotion and self-survival. Employees are far less engaged. (new values)
  • The human resource is seen as dispensable. (new motivations)

What has changed in the way OD is practiced?

In my opinion, very little. OD is tap dancing and dithering on the stage, with lots of internal focus and debate about side issues as organization life is reconfigured.

This is happening because the gatekeepers of OD are holding back. As OD lost  ground,  OD guidelines became an orthodox religion.

This is why the battle for globalizing OD is an uphill run. The hill is steep and the wind is blowing in our face.

My advice to OD people who want to remain in shape and relevant is to learn about Global OD instead about how to market yesterday’s produce.

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Self perpetuating mediocrity in OD

Because of the Western bias of Organization Development, OD’s concepts, values and tools are inappropriate to many of issues impacting global organizations.

Nevertheless OD conferences pay only minor lip service  to Global OD. Books, articles and many web sites dedicated to OD ignore the irrelevancy of the OD profession to problems of global organizing.

Conferences  and books recycle the same traditional old crap repackaged in new slogans; alternatively, folks reminisce about the good old days. (We call this in Hebrew-anu banu-we came and we built, i.e., thoughtless reminiscence which leads nowhere.)

There is an expression in Chinese 哑巴吃饺子,心里有数  which means “When a mute person eats some dumplings, he knows how many he has eaten, albeit he cannot speak. In other words, people know how much irrelevance is bombarded at them by the old guard, they just do not speak up. Why? Because the old guard controls the keys to the palace. The palace may be crumbling, but they have the keys…the keys to keynotes, the keys to budgets, the keys to the house of lords.

OD conferences are good for networking, but little else.  In other words, we all know that besides networking, conferences have minimal value. New content is not provided, but no one says anything. And few OD books really innovate anything new, except new tools for a crumbling paradigm. The old OD guard is trying to ensure that OD stays at it is. At most, practitioners need some cultural skills.

However it is OD itself that needs to be modified.

Imagine that OD stopped perfuming the pig and dedicated a conference to concrete steps that need to be taken to make OD relevant in global organizations.

This is what 5 sessions might look like:

1) Root Canal 101: Breaking Away from the Founding Fathers

With all due respect, organizational reality has changed radically since OD’s founding fathers first murmured their ideas. This lecture will spell out why traditional OD is irrelevant in the domain of global organizations. The lecturer will draw parallels between Traditional OD in the global workplace, and other forms of cultural, economic and linguistic colonial behaviour.

2) Organization diagnosis in discrete and face saving cultures

3) A culturally contingent role of OD Consultant:

Expert, Mediator, Enabler, Masked Executive

4) Retooling OD:

What are the alternatives to team interventions, ways and means of  by-passing the need for direct communication, and how and when to work “offstage”.

5) Managing the Major Polarities in Global OD

   -openness and discretion

     -involvement and stability

-respect and change

            -ascription and achievement

The reason that Global OD conferences like this do not take place is that power elite in OD does not have a clue about these topics. As a result, OD conferences are planned by looking into the rear view mirror to preserve the power of the elite.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Dealing with trust issues that become exacerbated by the speed of business (revised)

Acute trust issues between people in different geographies in global organizations is not uncommon. This post looks at what can be done to address the issue, especially when the speed of  doing business in the global organization exacerbates the level of mistrust.

Speed exacerbates mistrust between various cultures because it accentuates conflict. When the cycle of business is slower, conflict can be mitigated in the context of sustainable relationships. This is not the case when  organizational life is moving rapidly, powered by technology and by the 24/7 “follow the sun” cycle of organizational life. In such instances, decisions need to be made on the spot and in real time, imposing a style of  “openness” and directness, which are seen as trust breakers in Asia, many parts of Africa, and South America.

To be effective in dealing with trust issues caused by speed,  the western form of conflict management serves as  one option. The western values of directness, openness and expediency certainly have their advantages in getting things to move faster. No doubt-the ability to move quickly is the greatest forte of the western style of doing business.

However the idea that “face saving and opaqueness just slow things down”, which sounds like a compelling argument for the dominance of western values does not justify (in my view) force-feeding western values.

I suggest a different approach when dealing with the mistrust inflicted by “speed”. If we agree that speed forces communication which is too direct for some employees, there are several prophylactic steps which can be taken.

1) Focus on staffing of key positions appropriately. It makes no sense whatsoever to have people with substandard communication skills and poor emotional intelligence in “busy junctions”, regardless of their technical ability.

2) Use expats and people of mixed ethnicity to “cushion” areas of acute conflict, instead of focusing on “Americanizing a Thai”, or creating a Japanese Israeli.

3) Instead of promulgating a simplistic “can do” attitude, acknowledge the problems and difficulties of execution even whilst moving at high speed. A gung ho  “can do” attitude is deeply flawed when applied blindly to deep rooted problems of trust caused by speed.  Demonstrating humility in face of great challenge may be more useful than being naive or arrogant cheer leading.

5) Focus efforts on a deep understanding of cultural gaps, providing a detailed protocol for communication in 3 areas- oral, email and chat. Ensure that team member foster relationships instead of just expediting tasks.

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3 lessons which taught me why traditional OD is not appropriate in non Western and global organizations

As I mentioned in a previous post, I came from a very traditional Organization Development background. Over the years, I became convinced that OD`s western ethnocentric bias negatively impacts its effectiveness in a non western and global organizational configuration.

The `wake up call`I got about traditional OD was not gradual. Three events really shook me up, accelerating my thought process about  the need for a global version of OD.

I shall share them with you in this post.

1) In a group discussion with security personnel in the Mid East, I ask a question. The participants clarified  among themselves (in Arabic, which I speak) who is the oldest participant. He answered my question first; all other participants aligned with what he said.

2) In  Beijing, I ask a question and the managing director gives an inaccurate answer. I then solicit other answers, which are better than the answer that the MD gave me. I congratulate the person who gave me the `best“ answer. I lost the MD`s trust for a long time.

3) I facilitated a “lessons learned“  between Dutch management and Japanese customer service folks about a major crash at a client site. The level of emotion was very high, since a lot of business had been lost because of this incident. I laid out `ground rules“ for the discussion which included: No Defensive Behaviour. Once I showed that bullet, the Japanese did not trust me.

A facilitator with a global orientation will ask less questions because of the complexity inserted by honorific based issues; furthermore, the consultant will accept that only via a lot of defensive and opaque communication can issues be ferreted out.

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