Tuesday, 24 January 2012

Productive Workplaces: Dignity, Meaning and Community in the 21st Century

In my opinion this is the best book on organisation development. You can read more about it here:


This is the3rd and 25th Anniversary edition. Do get a copy!

And I must declare an interest - I'm on p334 telling my story about how I came across the book:

I Already Had Huge Misgivings About Traditional Consultancy…

In the early 1990’s I was just starting out as an OD consultant. I read widely, trying to find the essence of what being an excellent OD practitioner meant. Books by Schein, Bennis and Beckhard helped. And then I stumbled across Productive Workplaces in a bookshop in my home city of Oxford. The book had the same affect on my brain as space dust sherbet has on my tongue. There was almost an audible pop in my brain when I came to the chapter on whole systems working. I must have read a quarter of the book sitting on the floor before I went to purchase it.

I contacted Marvin for more information about Future Search, and he sent me a draft of the first few chapters of his forthcoming book with Sandra Janoff. The idea that my role was to assist whole systems find or rediscover their own way forward was utterly compelling. I already had huge misgivings about more “traditional” consultancy models which sought to do change to an organization (or system) rather than work with the people involved. Marv’s book helped me know that I was part of a growing community of people who believed this too.

Productive Workplaces continues to influence my practice as a leadership coach and tutor, change facilitator and (now) blogger. Moreover, there is nothing I value or enjoy more than working with a client to implement a “whole system in the room” approach to organizational development. I have used ideas and practices from PW many times to tackle such issues as reducing gun & knife crime in the UK, the development of women within a large public service organization and assisting an association of psychotherapists renew their voluntary association.

Recently, I designed and facilitated a process to help integrate a range of professional agencies who are about to move into a single building. The client wanted to make sure that the co-location was not just physical but also resulted in some significant partnership building and streamlined inter agency processes. The agenda I developed for them was centered upon the idea of helping a system improve itself.

Monday, 16 January 2012

War Horse: leadership as an act of waiting

Having seen the stage production of War Horse only a few months ago, I had to make a very deliberate decision to go and see the latest movie directed by Steven Spielberg. I knew it would be impossible not to compare the two productions. Whilst the film has it merits, the stage show using puppets and minimal sets is more realistic and moving, and ultimately tells a more integrated story. The film is worth seeing - but also find the money from somewhere to go and see the play. You will not regret it.

But as to my leadership 'thought from the film' - there is much that could be said about courage, perseverance, loyalty and compassion. However, what I will highlight is the role of the main (human) character's mother. She displays a quiet patience that is breathtaking. I don't want to spoil the story by describing the events where this patience shines through - but if you see the film - watch for this.

So I will say that leadership is often about waiting, quietly, patiently for change happen and events to unfurl. Often we are 'sold' the image of action leaders, out there, driving change, making things occur. But I would contend that sometimes it is entirely appropriate to just wait and see. Such pausing patiently can be a supreme leadership act. Sometimes it is all that you can do. And sometimes it is the best thing to do.

When was the last time you patiently waited as a leader? Was it the right choice? 

Thursday, 5 January 2012

Leadership in 3 words (2012)

After my post last year, which gained a diverse and fascinating selection of ideas (see this link), the time is ripe again for this question:

What three words sum up the kind of leadership we are going to need for 2012?

Please post your suggestions below. Thank you. (Mine are: circumspect, determined and creative)


STOP PRESS: I have put all the words from this blog, and linked in, and the Communities of Practice blog as well - into Wordle. Click here for the result

Mission Impossible: acts of derring-do

Continuing my series of using contemporary movies to illustrate leadership principles, I had the pleasure of sitting on the edge of my seat for over two hours the other day watching MI4: Ghost Protocol. As always great special effects such that I now worry that several Muscovites will have kittens watching the Kremlin being blown apart.

The film prompted me to consider morale and what leaders do to encourage it. The IMF team plainly have buckets of it since they can jump out of high windows, onto pointy objects and from moving vehicles without a backward glance to H&S procedures or employment conditions. Throughout the film I kept wondering, what keeps them motivated? It certainly can't be their pension plans...

Back in the real world, people don't take such risks, of course. But perhaps, relatively speaking, many do. People have to put themselves out there: talk to complete strangers and keep calm, pay as much attention to the first bolt being tightened in the day as the last one, or keep your eye out for other white van drivers also eating sandwiches. All of these jobs (and many others) carry risk and responsibility - and morale is a key ingredient. Moreover, without morale, there is often little innovation and not enough of the straight oomph needed to stay afloat in these austere and troubling times.

So as a leader, how do you know whether what you are doing is boosting morale, or making it worse? Some way of measuring this is critical. As without measurement, how will you know, whether any of you do is having a positive effect.

Within your team or organisation - how do you assess the level of morale?