Monday 7 July 2014

Invisible facilitation (again)

I posted a while back about what I called Invisible Facilitation. I was reminded of this just recently, when I ran another awayday, this one for the teaching staff of a University department.

On the day, I did very little: I introduced the discussions, which had very simple questions to address.  I organised small working groups and re-convened them for plenary feedback sessions. I kept them to time, and I ensured that dissonant voices were heard and actions were agreed at the end of the day.  But by and large, I let them get on with it, and kept a fairly low profile.

However, my most important contribution may well have been made beforehand. The client's proposed agenda for the day read something like this (I have changed some detail in the interests on not identifying the client):

Introductions and welcome 

Working Sessions One and Two: Curriculum Design
Participants work in small groups on particular modules with in the curriculum, addressing the following questions (Different modules in first and second sessions)
·      Do we want to carry out major restructuring, make some substantive changes within the existing overall structure, or carry on more or less as we are (with only gradual changes)?
·      Should most modules have 10 credits as now, should most haves  more than 10, or is a mixture appropriate? 
·      What should the content be?
·      Which parts ought to be offered to all students and which should be specific to a degree programme or subset of degree programmes?
·      Which parts should be compulsory and which optional?
·      How many modules?
·      How many credits in total?
·      How do we plan for appropriate skills development across the three stages?
·      How do we develop appropriate Projects for final-year students? 

Plenary feedback and discussion 

Working Session Three: Curriculum Delivery
In your group, discuss how we could deliver the curriculum within each module: numbers of lectures, practicals, and other delivery modes, timing etc 

Plenary feedback and discussion 

Working Session Four: Assessment
In your group, address the module(s) you have selected, and discuss how we assess, both formatively and summatively. In particular, How can we reduce the amount of assessment (especially summative), and how can we increase the consistency of assessment among modules? 

Plenary feedback and discussion 

Action planning 

After some discussion, what we actually went with was:
Small group working session one: Where Are We Now?
Feedback in plenary, discussion (and likewise after each working group)
Small group working session two: Where Do We Want to Be?
Small group working session three: Generating Ideas for Action
Small group working session four: Action Planning
I was interested that on the day, the head of the department (who was not my client for this event) commented on how it took a lot of experience to run a day with so light an agenda.

The day certainly went well, and the client's feedback afterwards was 'I am very impressed and encouraged by what we achieved with your help. I am confident it will lead to substantive and beneficial change.'

We will never know, of course, if we would have done better with the original agenda; but my belief is that we would not have.  The way we approached it was much less prescriptive, which resulted in high levels of engagement and commitment.  All the issues the client wanted to address were in fact addressed; and so were some unforeseen - and strategically important ones.

But, of course, the participants on the day will have been wholly unaware of the contribution I had made to shaping the agenda - which is why I return again to the idea of invisible facilitation; and in particular I maintain that the invisible contributions we make as facilitators are often the most valuable ones.

Friday 4 July 2014

The Entrepreneurial Contract

As the antidote to the Patriarchal Contract (which I described here) Peter Block also outlines the Entrepreneurial Contract, and how that differs.

As I said in the previous post, his book (The Empowered Manager is a call to action for managers in all types of organisation - but particularly Bureaucratic ones where the Patriarchal Contract dominates. It is a courageous, rather than a safe, strategy that he advocates, for reasons which should be self-evident. 

As he points out, organisations start entrepreneurially - by definition!  Over time, with growth and a desire for stability, a degree of control is introduced, leading to an increasingly bureaucratic organisation.  Too frequently, that takes on a life of its own and becomes the prevalent culture of the organisation.

Here is my summary of his thinking on the Entrepreneurial Cycle.

The Entrepreneurial Cycle

1    The Entrepreneurial Contract

The essential difference in the entrepreneurial cycle is a fundamental shift of attitudes about people.  The Entrepreneurial Contract is based on the belief that the most trustworthy source of authority comes from the individual, rather than from the boss.  The primary purpose of the leadership is to enable people to give of their best in the service of a joint vision.  

In place of obedience, individuals take responsibility: within the agreed overall direction, strategy and guidelines, individuals are empowered to make the decisions that they believe to be in the best interests of the organisation.

In place of the denial of self-expression, individuals are encouraged to express themselves honestly and enable others to do the same: the resultant exchange of real ideas and information will generate excitement, enthusiasm, conflict, passion... and engage people in their work in a far more energised way.

In place of sacrifice for unnamed future rewards individuals make commitments to do what they believe in: this rests on the assumption that people want to contribute meaningfully to the organisation.  Instead of trying to cajole or bully them into work that is meaningless, an entrepreneurial culture is one in which people find meaning in their work - and then give of their best.

The belief that these principles are just points the way to a more positive and optimistic view of human nature.  It is true that some employees may not respond well to such a culture, but the fundamental assumptions are that most will, that it stultifies the whole organisation to write the rules for the unmotivated few, and that other ways need to be found to deal with poor performance than assume that all workers (and supervisors and managers) are fundamentally not to be trusted.

2    Enlightened Self Interest

If we are to transform our organisations, we need to step outside the myopic self-interest of pleasing bosses and playing it safe.  If we are to choose courage over caution, we need to be clear what is truly important to us.  Typically the entrepreneurial mindset finds value in:
  • Meaning
  • Contribution and service
  • Integrity
  • Positive impact on others’ lives
  • Mastery

The great thing about these is that they are all under our own direct control, and when pursued provide a profound satisfaction - as well as making a genuine and lasting contribution at every level: to individuals, teams, the organisation and society.

3    Authentic tactics

If we are committed to serving our vision of a better future, and to developing our own and others’ autonomy, then we do not need to indulge in the manipulative tactics designed to win approval.  instead we can be models of authenticity in the organisation.  In particular, we can:

  • Say no when we mean no
  • Share as much information as possible
  • Use language that describes reality
  • Avoid repositioning for the sake of acceptance.
All of these may require courage and risk-taking - and all will help both the individual who does them and the others with whom he or she interacts to become more autonomous.  Fundamentally it is treating people as though they are trustworthy adults, not irresponsible children.  Most will respond appropriately.

4    Autonomy
The entrepreneurial contract and a service-oriented definition of self-interest support each individual in developing more autonomy.  Autonomy both reduces our fear of those above us, and makes us take more responsibility for our own actions and contribution. It encourages us to use our minds at work, to communicate honestly and contribute to a more vibrant, exciting, stimulating and risky organisational culture.

Tuesday 1 July 2014

The Patriarchal Contract

I posted the other day (here) about the implicit contract that people sign up to when joining an organisation, and some of the implications of that.

I was basing my analysis on work by Peter Block (The Empowered Manager) which I find very interesting.

In the ComBox, Andrew Derrington pointed out that having some way to diagnose whether one was working in a patriarchal/bureaucratic culture would be helpful.  

 So here is my summary of Block's thinking on that (and he acknowledges some of his ideas particularly around the Patriarchal Contract, are developed from David McClelland's in Power - The Inner Experience, which I have yet to read).

1    The Patriarchal Contract

David McClelland
This contract assumes that the organisation or boss knows best.  Therefore obedience is at a premium, with an associated denial of self-expression.  Moreover, we are expected to make sacrifices for unnamed future rewards, and believe (or pretend to believe) that this is just.

The problems with this, in terms of sustaining an entrepreneurial culture include:

The emphasis on obedience assumes that the source of wisdom and knowledge is outside ourself.  That in turn feeds our dependency and wish for approval. It is initially a comfortable position for those at the top (they are revered) but eventually untenable (they have to decide everything, take responsibility for everything...).  Likewise it is initially comfortable for the led, as they don’t have to take responsibility, but ultimately leads to feelings of helplessness and victimhood.

The denial of self-expression leads to everyone knowing what’s wrong except the people who need to know.  Nobody will tell the boss that his idea is flawed, but they certainly tell each other.

The idea of sacrifice for unnamed future rewards leads to resentment and cynicism.  The implicit reward is often ‘if you work hard you will have a promotion/job for life.’  However no organisation can guarantee that, and as they lay people off, they violate that bargain, causing deep resentment.

The belief that these ‘rules’ are just simply reinforces a set of assumptions that together make for dependency.  Yet the evidence is mounting that participative management achieves better long term results than authority-driven cultures.

2    Myopic Self-Interest

If the basic contract is patriarchal then it is no surprise that people’s view of what is in their best interests becomes focused on pleasing those above them in the hierarchy.  

If success is defined as promotion or approval from the boss, we are immediately entering the realms of a bureaucratic culture.

To assess this in your organisation consider, is success:

  • Advancement?
  • Approval from above?
  • High salary?
  • Safety?
  • Control?
  • All of the above?

If so, that’s bureaucracy.

3    Manipulative Tactics

Another hallmark of the bureaucratic culture is the use of manipulative tactics.  That is to say, indirect and sometimes devious behaviours aiming to win us success as defined above.  Typically, that involves:

  • Manoeuvring people
  • Managing information to our own advantage
  • Making friends with the powerful or those who can do us good
  • Seeking approval of bosses
  • Being cautious of telling the truth

All of these can become habitual ways of behaving that serve neither the organisation nor the individual, and contribute to a sense of dependency.

4    Dependency

The Patriarchal Contract, the narrow definition of self-interest, and the manipulative strategies that spring from them all contribute to a dependent mentality.  People end up believing that their fate is in others’ hands, that even if they want to contribute in an entrepreneurial fashion, they can’t have an impact, that it is not safe to raise your head above the parapet, and so on.


Peter Block's book is a call to action, and a manifesto for change, beginning with each individual manager.  He makes a strong case for an entrepreneurial culture, with associated entrepreneurial values.  I will summarise that in a future post.