Saturday, 29 August 2009

Building and sustaining a new executive team

Team building is a circular process: the team learns, events happen, new members join and so onwards.

A linear process with a beginning middle and end does not match the reality of most executive team building.

I developed this model in response to a tender - and so I thought it would helpful to post it here.

It centres on asking a series of questions at each stage:

Weaving the history:

  • Where have we each been until now & what past events have shaped who we are?
  • What events and trends have shaped the organisation & wider context in which the team sits?
  • How does the combined immediate past change anything in the team?

Assembling the learning

  • What have we learnt about who we are and what we bring to teams?
  • How has our organisation and wider context learnt how to behave towards our team?
  • What theories about team work have we acquired?

Understanding the present

  • What are the external challenges in the organisation and wider context we face as a team?
  • What are the internal challenges we face as a team?
  • What do we need to do to ensure our team is robust enough to manage the present?

Shaping the future

  • What do we want our organisation to achieve?
  • What kind of team will we need to build in order to nurture these achievements?
  • What constant principles do we all need to work to as a team?

Making the future history

  • What ways of working together do we need to establish to make the future happen?
  • How do we negotiate our relationship with the organisation and wider context?
  • What actions will make our chosen future historical

Thursday, 27 August 2009


What a fabulous sculpture!

Dream: Jaume Plensa's landmark sculpture on the former Sutton Manor Colliery in St.Helens, Northwest England

I like the idea of a sculpture to encourage people to dream. It certainly is

a triumph, a stunning visual feast, and a spectacular object lesson in the "art of the possible", demonstrating what can be achieved when committed people with a shared vision work together towards a common goal.

In my view - the core purpose of the public services is to assist people to dream, have ambitions and realise these - either through providing the tools to enable this (such as education) or remove the barriers to their achievement (tackling ill health and crime). I hope this beautiful sculpture inspires people both as citizens and as service providers - to make more dreams possible.

Congratulations to St Helens!

Wednesday, 26 August 2009

Project management: building a bridge

I have been in many organisations where there appear to be two ‘camps’. There are the people who just adore the structure of project management, who do Gantt charts like others do crosswords. And there are the others who see the project management protocols as bureaucratic rituals that get in the way of good management and which offer solace only to the obsessive compulsives in the organisation.

Do you identify with either of these camps?

Do you know others who do?

What can you do, as a leader, to build a bridge between these groups?

Friday, 7 August 2009

Watch this space...

Cornwall and then Tunisia beckons - so this blog will be quiet for the next couple of weeks. Thanks to everyone who has visited over the last few months - so far there have been over 1300 page impressions.

Whether you are a regular visitor here (and there is a growing number) or you have wandered in by accident or just come here for the first time - you are most welcome. Please browse. I hope you find the blog posts of interest.

Do please email me with any feedback if you would like.


Very best wishes to all.


Thursday, 6 August 2009

The nail machine - a story of pain & learning

Many years ago I was doing some work with a nail factory in Cardiff. The company, along with its sister steel companies, have, sadly, long since gone to the wall. I met and got to know some great people. This assignment was one of my first as a consultant - working then on Total Quality Management.
In the course of my work I talked about improvement and learning with a wide range of people in the firm. One man I worked with was the shop steward who had a wisdom and gentleness that I remember to this day.
He once told me story about the six inch nail machine. There was only one and it was a big machine, not surprisingly. Indeed the operator had a small raised platform on which to stand and keep the machine going. The task involved ensuring that the feed of steel rods into one end of machine was kept going smoothly while nails emerged from the other end. (My engineering knowledge is limited!) At various points during this process a button had to pressed near the hopper where the nails emerged and were collected. This button could not be reached from the raised platform. So several times each shift (perhaps even 50 to 60 times), the operator had to walk down the steps from his platform, walk around the machine and press the button. He then returned to his platform. It was a tedious part of the job. The man who operated the machine was a friend of the shop steward and had worked on that machine for over 20 years. He knew it well.
There was an occasion for the shop steward to work the night shift - something he very rarely did. On this occasion he happened to walk past the six inch nail machine and observed the night operator making it work. Everything was the same except at the point when the button needed to be pressed. Instead of walking down the steps and around the machine, the night operator picked a slighly odd shaped pole and used it to hit the button and the machine carried on operating. The shop steward looked on intrigued.
When he was next on the day shift, he went over to see his friend operating the six inch nail machine. He saw him working as normal. There came a moment when the button needed to be pressed and he said "stop" to his friend. The shop steward climbed the steps and asked his friend what the pole was for. His friend said something like:
"I don't know - it came with the machine when they delivered it way back" and shrugged his shoulders.
The shop steward showed him what the pole could be used for, having seen this on the night shift.
At this point, the shop steward observed (so he told me later) a dawning and excruciating realisation pass across the face of his friend as he mentally counted the times he had walked up and down the steps over the last 20 years or so. The learning was painful...
There are many lessons in here for me including communication, assured systems of work, induction & training etc etc. But what I want to focus upon is the idea that learning can yield huge amounts of pain.
If we learn something new - that upsets what we thought was reliable & true - there can be pain to be experienced. I am left wondering if we sometimes know this (perhaps subconsciously) and so we avoid learning - despite all the evidence and arguments to the contrary. We resolutely hold onto the past, because even though we know that there is a better way, it would mean experiencing such excruciating pain, that we would rather live in ignorance.
What do you think?
Letting go of old ideas & practises can be very, very difficult.

Wednesday, 5 August 2009

Trees and organisational structure

Some trees look perfectly formed from a distance and close up. Many others though are random networks of twigs and branches. But the messy ones seem to survive as well as the symmetrical ones.

I wonder whether leaders can put too much effort into designing elegant and ‘symmetrical’ organisational structures, believing that strength will come from this order. Perhaps we should allow the innate strength of the twigs, the branches and indeed the ‘idea’ of the tree be what holds everything together?

If your organisational structure was a tree – what kind of tree would it be?

How flexible is the structure?

Tuesday, 4 August 2009

Building successful public service mergers – the organisational development implications

Some key questions to consider for those managing the change
  1. Who are the key stakeholders – groups and individuals – and what is their position and power over the merger process?
  2. How much spare capacity is there to manage the change process and how can I/we harness it well in pursuit of a successful merger?
  3. What is my/our vision of the new organisation and what will I have to do to make it a collective vision that will help to guide all merger efforts and the new organisation once it exists?
  4. What are the pressures for merger and how might these helpfully or adversely affect the merger process?
  5. What are my/our actionable next steps – over the next month / next six months / next 18 months?
  6. What principles will need to underpin the design of the management and decision making structures in the new organisation – and how do these principles differ from the component existing organisations?
  7. Of the various organisations coming together – what do they think of themselves and what do they think of the others?
  8. What elements of the component organisational cultures will need to form part of the new organisation, which elements will have to go and what new elements of culture are needed – how will this cultural transformation be managed?
  9. What are likely to be the emotional implications for the stakeholders (internal and external) involved in the process of change – how will these need to be understood and managed?
  10. How is the strategic context of the new organisation likely to change in the future – what will I/we need to do to ensure the new organisation is future proofed?
  11. How will I/we need to manage information and knowledge in the transition?
  12. What do I/we need to do to ensure that any transitional management / project teams remain in touch with the wider organisation(s) and avoid becoming insular and disconnected?
  13. What HR functions need to be done especially well (and what do I/we need to do to make this happen) to ensure that morale and performance do not dip and that we keep the best people during the process of transition?
  14. How will I/we engage and communicate with stakeholders (internal and external) in the transitional process to ensure that we have sufficient levels of awareness, understanding, involvement and commitment to build a new organisation successfully?
  15. How will I/we create sufficient discomfort with the current range of organisations so as to encourage people to commit to the new organisation without going so far as to suggest any criticism of past deeds and achievements?
  16. How will I/we make it safe to change so that people will not fear losing face by engaging in new ways of doing things in the new organisation?
  17. What aspects of the existing organisations such as various financial, planning, IT & HR systems, traditional ways of doing things such as promoting managers, making decisions and engaging with governance structures might work against the process of change? How will these be neutralised or overcome?
  18. What might I/we do to ensure that natural links and new networks begin to form between members of the component organisations?
  19. What should be the overall strategy with people who resist the change and look for ways to keep the organisations separate or remain inappropriately or ineffectively loyal to the previous organisations?
  20. How will I/we value, thank and recognise the efforts put in by people to create the new organisation?
  21. What do we need in the way of external communication – what image and information do we want to project to the external world?
  22. What new managerial tools, guidance and skills will be required by managers involved in the transition to make it work well?
  23. How much effort will I/we need to put in to internal communication to ensure that staff are kept sufficiently appraised of progress and successes?
  24. How will I/we measure and evaluate the transition progress and what systems of feedback do we need to ensure we keep heading in the right direction?
  25. How will I/we make the transitional process a learning process?
  26. How will we symbolise the new organisation and change towards it? – what totems need to be knocked down and what totems need to be constructed?
  27. What words and concepts do I/we want the new organisation to use?
INQUIRY: Are you from Vienna? This particular blog posting has been looked at every couple of days over the last few months by someone from Vienna. May I ask why? I am intrigued. Please email me... Thanks.

Monday, 3 August 2009

Change alchemy: Show and tell

I am often struck that when a road layout changes, I struggle almost immediately to remember what it was like before.

Organisational change can be bit like that. But often we need to tell the story about how far the organisation has come in order to energise people for the next stage. So a wise leader makes sure that progress is evident and that stories of change are repeated.

Make sure that progress is evident and the stories are recounted along the way. Photographs can be really helpful to show how things were and how things are now. Photographs record the small changes that we might otherwise miss.

What will you photograph today?