Parallel process and triple-loop learning

August 8th, 2013

by Philip Boxer BSc MBA PhD
What lies at the heart of asymmetric leadership, through which the North-South bias can be balanced off by the relentless pursuit of an East-West imperative? I believe the reflexive process ‘behind the mirror’[1] is at the heart of this form of leadership.  Through reflexive process, the dynamic impact of unresolved dilemmas may be identified and worked through in parallel processes. Triple loop learning is a way of thinking how these parallel processes interact with each other under asymmetric leadership, enabling the organisation as a whole to respond dynamically to the demands arising in a complex environment.

Parallel processes
Parallel process is ‘brought forth’ by a reflexive process(5) engaged in by leadership ‘behind the mirror’.  In this process, dilemmas are looked for in the experience of clients(1). This identification with the experience of clients in their context(1) is crucial. From this reflexive process(5) come questions about the nature of the leadership process(4) that is shaping the nature of interventions(3) on the way the organisation works(2) in relation to its clients(1) within their domains of relevance(0):

The circular nature of the relationships between these layers becomes apparent if we relate them in the form of a learning cycle:

  • 5->4 Reflective Observation: new dilemmas emerge in the experiences of clients in their contexts within their domains of relevance.
  • 4->3 Abstract Conceptualisation: this is the leadership/governance process by which the intent of the organisation is kept sustainable.[2]
  • 3->2 Active Experimentation: this is the approach management takes in intervening on the way the organisation works.
  • 2->1 Concrete Experience: this is the plan of action through the way the organisation works as a theory-in-use.
  • 1->0 Reflective Observation: this is what actually happens for the clients in their contexts.

Looked at as a cycle, three kinds of learning can emerge, depending on the extent to which the cycle is short-circuited.  This short-circuiting arises when a strategy ceiling forecloses certain kinds of questioning of the behaviour of the organisation:

  • single loop: changing how a chosen approach to interacting with a given environment is executed.
  • double loop: changing how the approach to interacting with any one environment is chosen in pursuit of given direct effects.[3]
  • triple loop: changing how the approach to interacting with any one environment is chosen in pursuit of given indirect effects.[4]

Relating this back to the parallel processes, the importance of  the reflexive process becomes apparent – without this capability an organisation does not have the means of questioning its own assumptions as a part of its own ways of creating value for its clients.[5]

[1] ‘Behind the mirror’ is a way of approaching what-is-going-on based on a metaphor with systemic family therapy. While an individual may be working with the family, a team observes what-is-going-on from behind a one-way mirror, trying to make sense of the family dynamics in ways that can support the individual working with the family. It is impossible to get an organisation in front of a one-way mirror (!) but the metaphor is used to indicate a certain kind of critical questioning of the relation between the observer’s interests and what is being observed.
[2] This is the ‘final cause’ of the organization’s behavior. The difference between the ‘reflective observation’ subject to this governance at 1->0 and at 5->4 is whether or not the governance processes are affiliated to an a priori intent, or an intent is able to emerge from an alliance with the client in which the value deficits experienced by clients come first.
[3] The direct effects are defined by a one-sided relationship to demand in which the value is inherent to the direct behaviors of the organisation.
[4] The indirect effects are defined by a multi-sided relationship to demand in which the value is inherent in the indirect behaviors supported by the direct behaviors of the organisation. See the asymmetric nature of multi-sided demand.  The implications of such an approach are that the organisation has to pursue a platform strategy in order to capture indirect value from the relationships between its different kinds of customer rather than solely direct value. See what distinguishes a platform strategy.
[5] This is not to say that this questioning does not happen – only that without a reflexive process, the learning has to take place ‘above the strategy ceiling’. This may work in relatively stable environments, but in complex turbulent environments such an ‘above-the-ceiling’ process does not enable the organisation to be sufficiently dynamically adaptive. See Tempo, Entanglement and East-West dominance.

Leadership Qualities and the North-South bias

August 8th, 2013

by Philip Boxer BSc MBA PhD
A recent examination of the Leadership Qualities Framework, developed by the UK’s National Skills Academy, shows just how difficult it is to counteract the bias of North-South dominant assumptions about governance and leadership[1], even as in this case where there is very clearly a wish to do so.[2]  This bias becomes apparent in the assumptions made about the nature of strategy and its relation to hierarchy.

Policy, Strategy and Tactics
The framework gives a special role to strategic leadership with its own additional qualities: creating the vision and delivering the strategy. In the forward to this framework, Norman Lamb MP points out the following:

Good social care has the potential to transform people’s lives. It can help them realise independence, exercise meaningful choice and control over the care and support they receive, and live with dignity and opportunity. Good social care has the potential to transform people’s lives. It can help them realise independence, exercise meaningful choice and control over the care and support they receive, and live with dignity and opportunity. High quality leadership, embedded throughout the social care workforce, is fundamental to the delivery of high quality care. At the same time, we need to reach beyond the workforce and bring leadership skills and capabilities to service users, their carers and the communities in which they live and work.

For leadership to fulfill this promise, it must at least aspire to responding to people’s lives one-by-one. Put another way, in order to transform a person’s life, a particular combination of services need to be dynamically aligned to that person’s needs over time that remain particular to that person’s situation and context. This alignment of services has to be run East-West to reflect the fact that its design is inevitably entangled with the way they impact on that person’s experience.
This means that leadership has to enable the organisation to hold a dilemma – a tension between securing economies of scale and scope from the way component services are provided, and securing economies of alignment from the way these component services are combined in relation to any one person’s needs. This tension can be represented by the concept of rings and wedges: rings (securing economies of scale and scope) can provide well-defined services that are effectively provided by North-South dominant forms of governance, while wedges (securing economies of alignment) align combinations of services in particular ways that can be effectively provided by East-West dominant forms of governance.
So what is wrong with thinking in terms of strategy-and-tactics? The industrial world names as ‘strategy’ what the military calls ‘operations’, while the industrial world names as ‘policy’ what the military calls ‘strategy’.[3] Relating the industrial names to the NSEW model<sup[4],

  • tactics are about using know-how(W) to make the best possible use of capabilities(S),
  • strategy is about developing the most effective know-how(W) for addressing a particular kind of demand(E), and
  • policy is about determining what variety of demands(E) can be addressed within the context of the organisation as a whole(N).

The point about East-West alignment is therefore that strategy has to be determined at the level of the individual wedge and it is the policy frame that creates the conditions at the level of the organisation as a whole within which the ring-wedge dilemmas can be supported effectively.  Strategy has to be held at the edge of the organisation within a unifying policy frame.

The vertical and the horizontal axes of governance
Which brings us to the relation of strategy and hierarchy. The Leadership Qualities Framework proposes that it be applied at four levels of leadership as follows:

  • Front-line Worker – Care Assistants, Care Workers, Volunteers, Students, Graduates, Temporary Ancillary Staff and Practitioners
  • Front-line Leadership – Supervisors, Team Leaders, Shift Leaders
  • Operational Leadership – Registered Managers, Service Managers
  • Strategic Leadership – Senior leaders, Directors and Managers who are responsible for directing and controlling the organisation

The issue here is that these levels are defined hierarchically (in the sense that each one is accountable to the level above it), as opposed to being defined in terms of the tensions held between them, which look different in terms of rings and wedges:

  • Operational Leadership becomes responsible for supply-side leadership of defined services, accountable for the way these services can deliver outcomes in combination with other services[5];
  • Front-Line Leadership becomes responsible for demand-side leadership at the edge of the organisation, accountable for the dynamic alignment of combinations of services appropriate to the situation and context of a demand[6];
  • Front-line workers become responsible for task leadership, ensuring that a particular alignment of services is delivered effectively; and
  • Strategic leadership becomes responsible for asymmetric leadership – leadership which enables the organisation to hold and sustain a dynamic balance between its supply-side and demand-side.[7]

Asymmetric leadership is about enabling dilemmas to be held effectively E-W
The use of hierarchy has to be placed in the context of networked forms of organisation and distributed or collaborative approaches to leadership.[8] Operating within these turbulent complex ecosystems cannot be managed independently of the dynamics in the environment. In the place of hierarchy with its defined outputs as an overarching organising principle therefore comes the containing of dilemmas and a double challenge.[9]

[1] The difference between North-South and East-West dominant assumptions about governance is introduced here, with comment on the consequences of North-South dominance on the East-West axis here.
[2] A close reading of the detailed content of the framework clearly recognises the issues raised in this blog. The difficulty is that the conceptual scaffolding within which the framework is constructed rests on presumptions of hierarchy. For more on conceptual scaffolding, see Lane, D. A., R. Emilia, et al. (2005). “Ontological uncertainty and innovation.” Journal of Evolutionary Economics 15.
[3] For more on this three-way distinction, see creating value in ecosystems: establishing a 3-level approach to strategy.
[4] Another way of understanding the relations between policy-strategy-tactics is in terms of the dual span of complexity and associated timespan of discretion, complexity and timespan being synchronic and diachronic ways of describing a system. In these terms the actors within a system are subjected to (i.e. constrained in their choices by) structure; and narrative takes place within the context of actors’ lives. Policy is thus structural in its effects, strategy is about asserting and sustaining difference between actors, and tactics are the unfolding of narrative within this context. A forensic process therefore examines the implicit effects of structure on narrative in order to identify how its constraints ‘kill’ certain kinds of narrative i.e. prevent certain kinds of outcome.
Jaques’ insistence on discrete levels of discretion can be understood in these terms as relations of subjection.  The figure above is derived from Figure 5 in Christian Dominique and Stephane Flamant, “Strategic Narrative: around a narrative intervention assisted” French Management Review, 2005/6 No. 159, p. 283-302.
[5] This is referred to as the primary task of the service…
[6] … while this is referred to as the primary risk faced by the particular relation to demand. See quality as the driver at the edge for more about these two axes.
[7] This creates challenges for the organisation, both enabling its client-customers to be related to one-by-one by authorising leadership at the edge, and also by creating appropriately agile supporting platforms and infrastructures that make this sustainable. This kind of complex organisation I refer to as quantum organisation.
[8] For more on the architectural implications of quantum organisation, see architectures that integrate differentiated behaviors
[9] For more on the different nature of complex environments, see the drivers of organisational scale.

The future work of ISPSO is the psychoanalytic study of organisations

July 11th, 2013

by Philip Boxer BSc MBA PhD

At this 30th annual meeting of ISPSO[1], it is my view that if ISPSO ceased to exist, it would have to be re-invented. There is too much of a future work yet to be done in the psychoanalytic study of organisations.  We need to work with:

  1. the existential dimension of anxiety, in which the very foundations and efficacy of our mental models are being called into question;
  2. the leadership of organisations in turbulent highly-networked environments, enabling their organisations to innovate continuously in response to their customers one-by-one;
  3. the courage necessary to putting ourselves on the line in order to do this kind of work; and
  4. the future generations, for whom each one of us must find in ourselves a response to these challenges.

I say “a work” in the sense of a life’s work or oeuvre, through which a person struggles to realise something felt to be true that can never be fully realised. In what follows, I want to say why I think this, but first, what exactly do I understand as constituting psychoanalytic insight?

The fundamental insight of psychoanalysis, which I attribute to Freud’s original work, is that we human beings are doubly subjected. We are subjected to the way in which we are able to construct meaning, to structures of signification, and we are subjected to our unconscious. Freud understood, in living this double subjection, that we human beings experience ourselves as most ourselves as subjects of the unconscious: “wo Es war, soll Ich werden[2]. And what does it mean to be ‘subjected’?  In our interactions with a structure, we are subjected to the extent that it constrains the ways in which we are able to act.  It follows from this double subjection that we are ourselves always implicated in any study we undertake.

Starting from this fundamental insight, we can ask what kind of a work this means for us, and why in particular this work involves the psychoanalytic study of organisations. A preliminary glance at the programme for this year’s annual meeting provides some preliminary clues. Words appear such as ‘not belonging’, ‘perverse solutions’, ‘climate change’, ‘ideology’, ‘containment’, ‘virtual organisation’, ‘gender relations’ and ‘betrayal’. These words indicate experiences that take place within the context of organisations. The experiences, however articulated, are of persons as subjects of their unconscious, and the contexts of which they speak are structures of signification.

The relation to anxiety
Emery and Trist give an account of work with the top management of a business in the aerospace industry that had been the outcome of a merger [3,4]. They had been asked to intervene because the top management had proved itself unable to collaborate in determining how to respond to a change in the technology associated with jet engines. Emery and Trist established that there were no deep incompatibilities between top management, nor was there stubborn adherence to past loyalties. It was their view, rather, that top management needed to engage in a collective re-appreciation of the whole situation faced by their newly-merged business. The conclusion of Emery and Trist was that there had been a flight into the personal dynamics arising between the members of the top management group and that this flight was from existential anxiety. This flight from existential anxiety, also referred to as annihilation anxiety, was preventing the group from engaging in the innovation needed to the changed situation facing the business.

The members of the top management group were in roles defined within the context of their newly-merged business.  There is nothing easy about taking up a role within an organisation and the demands for performance in a role are ever increasing and ever changing. Existential anxiety arises in the face of the possibility that the organisation-as-context will cease to exist in its current form, as with the aerospace case. It arises when an individual has difficulty even envisioning how his or her role might change, let alone knowing how to engage with changed circumstances. It is not surprising that the inability of the top management group to collaborate was originally identified with their ability to take up and perform in their roles.

In the last 30 years, ISPSO has learned much about how to work with the anxiety that individuals experience in seeking to take up and perform in their roles. Amongst all this learning, the group relations experience stands out as providing a unique approach to enabling individuals to learn about the way they authorise themselves within such contexts [5].  The challenge they faced, nevertheless, concerned the very existence of their organisation and not their relationships within it.  These were the conditions in which their existential anxiety arose.

Thus while performance anxiety is experienced within a given organisation-as-context, existential anxiety arises in situations where that given context is no longer experienced as effective or where there is no longer a given context.

  • The challenge of adding ways of working with this existential dimension of anxiety is a future work for ISPSO.[6]

The object of study
A recent project in the UK’s National Health Service has been examining the way a person’s experience of the end of their life is supported. Developing ways of aligning its own and others’ services to the person and their family context was not only highly valued by that person and their family, but also proved to be much less costly overall. Another organisation managing risk for a European car rental business was able to identify each vehicle at risk from pan-European flooding and take steps to mitigate that risk in each case. Again, aligning mitigating activities in this way proved to be much less costly overall.  In both cases, the object of study moves from being an organisation per se to being the dynamic performance of an ecosystem – sometimes referred to as a complex adaptive (eco-)system – in which a key consideration becomes its economics.

We are all aware of the huge impact that information technologies are having on organisations and whole industries. In these examples, the key difference is in being able to align services to client-customers one-by-one in a way that is dynamic. ISPSO’s object of study has been ‘the’ organis-ation, but under these new conditions the object of study becomes the dynamic organis-ing of activities. This is the distinguishing characteristic of Emery and Trist’s turbulent (highly-networked) environment which is ‘alive’ [7]. Not only must individuals be concerned with taking up a role within an organisation, but they must also be concerned with how the organisation takes up a role in the life of its client-customers. The organisation has to be able to organise many different ways of responding to its client-customers at the same time, ways that are constantly changing.

Information technology may be used to fragment and control, but it may also be used to enable the dynamic alignment of activities to situation and context. Using technology in this way means extending our understanding of leadership to include both the means and the potential impact of dynamic organis-ing.

  • Extending our understanding of leadership to include both the means and the potential impact of dynamic organis-ing is a future work for ISPSO.[8]

Psychoanalytic study
Returning to the way in which the psychoanalytic insight means that we are ourselves implicated in any study we undertake, it follows that psychoanalytic study demands that we consider how who-we-take-ourselves-to-be affects the ways in which we give meaning to our experience. We are ourselves invested in anything we do so that we can ask how it is that we ‘pay’ when engaging in psychoanalytic study.

  • One way in which we pay is with our time. Those of us that are paid by our clients or universities to study may recover some of this cost to ourselves, although even then it is rarely for all of our time.
  • Another way in which we pay is with words. Words are the medium in which we make meaning and those of us who work as analysts or writers know what a work it is to make meaning in this way. Rarely do we get paid for our words.
  • A third way in which we pay, which is the way that is most particular to psychoanalytic study, is to pay with our being. Winnicott, in speaking about the challenge of a case, spoke of the need for at least one person to be prepared to go beyond what they knew in order to respond effectively to the client’s situation[9]. This ‘going beyond’ is to pay with our being by putting ourselves ‘on the line’ or ’at risk’.

With this notion of ‘paying with being’ we return to the challenges of existential anxiety and the psychoanalytic ethic implied by taking up this challenge.  More than anything else, however, it is this preparedness to ‘go beyond’ that brings us together as an ISPSO community.

  • To continue to take up this challenge to our being is a future work for ISPSO.[10]

Paying it forward
ISPSO would have to be re-invented because its future work needs us to work together in finding new ways to work with existential anxiety, new understandings of our object of study, and new ways of taking up the challenge of psychoanalytic study. But more than this, in paying with our being we are paying it forward.

  • Our future work is for future generations, a work in which we must find it in ourselves to innovate.

[1] The ‘ISPSO’ is The International Society for the Psychoanalytic Study of Organisations. This blog formed the basis for one side of a debate concerning the future work of ISPSO, held at the 30th Annual meeting of the Society at Oxford.  The other side of the debate as presented by Jim Krantz is here.
[2] Freud, S. (1964). New Introductory Lectures on Psycho-Analysis. The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud. J. Strachey, Hogarth Press. XXII.
[3] Emery, F. E. (1976). Searching for New Directions. New Ways for New Times. M. Emery. Canberra, Australia, Centre for Continuing Education, Australian National University.
[4] Trist, E. (1977). “A Concept of Organizational Ecology.” Australian Journal of Management 2(2): 161-176.
[5] I have written elsewhere about some of the challenges faced by this way of thinking, particularly with respect to boundaries, authority and containment.
[6] For one approach to this other axis of anxiety, see Harari, R. (2001). Lacan’s Seminar on “Anxiety”: An Introduction. New York, Other Press.
[7] Emery, F. E. and E. Trist (1965). “The Causal Texture of Organizational Environments.” Human Relations 18: 21-32.
[8] For more on the challenges to leadership in these environments, see leading organisations without boundaries and the related paper on engendering ‘boundary’ as the object of psychoanalytic study.
[9] Winnicott, D. W. (1965). Training in Child Psychiatry. The Maturational Processes and the Facilitating Environment, Hogarth.
[10] For a way of elaborating on this three-way distinction, see Lacan, J. (2006[1966]). The Direction of the Treatment and the Principles of Its Power. Écrits: The First Complete Edition in English. New York, W.W. Norton & Co: [489]585-[542]648.

Leading organisations without boundaries: quantum organisation and the work of making meaning

January 2nd, 2013

by Philip Boxer BSc MBA PhD

The following is the abstract to a paper accepted for presentation at the 13th Annual Meeting of the International Society for the Psychoanalytic Study of Organisations (ISPSO) at Oxford UK, July 2013:

Doing many different things at the same time
What happens when an organisation has to be many different things at the same time in how it relates to its clients? Digitalisation and the internet lead every client to expect more dynamic interaction with their particular situation, context and timing. Familiar examples from the perspective of the client are healthcare, financial services, air travel, mobile apps and the home delivery of food. Organisations that are interacting dynamically in different ways with each of their individual clients are best understood as being without boundaries. This paper uses a ‘quantum’ metaphor to think about this, considering each individual client interaction as a ‘quantum’. Quantum theory argues that the ‘classical’ reality of which we are conscious is quite different to the underlying reality of distributions of quantum states [1, 2]. This quantum metaphor provides a way of thinking about something very similar going on in relation to the underlying reality of organisations. The work of ‘quantum organisation’ by these organisations becomes that of making meaning within the client’s particular situation, context and timing. The paper uses examples from healthcare to elaborate on this use of the quantum metaphor, and draws conclusions about the leadership needed by these organisations without boundaries.

When Jack Welch asked for a ‘boundaryless organization’, General Electric didn’t get rid of its boundaries [3]. It rearranged its vertical, horizontal, industry and geographic boundaries so that it could better thrive, and shifted its focus to creating structured networks [4, 5]. Structured networks are a response to the need to address value creation at the level of the business ecosystem [6, 7]. This shift is apparent in manufacturing [8], and it is even more apparent in healthcare [9]. Organisations that interact dynamically with their clients are presented with demands that are multi-sided, in the sense that the context of the demand becomes at least as important as the demand itself [10, 11]. Thus, it may be clear that you need a heart transplant, but your healthcare has to be at least as concerned with the context of your body and your lifestyle if the transplant is to be effective. To create value for the multi-sided demands of patients within a healthcare ecosystem, a healthcare clinic must align a unique care pathway to manage the chronic symptoms of each of its patients [12]. The organisation of such a clinic is not easily understood as a socio-technical open system with its boundary conditions “directly dependent on its material means and resources for its outputs” [13]. How then is the work of such an organisation to be understood, if not in terms of how it manages its boundaries?

Distinguishing the ‘operative’ from the ‘regulative’
Emery and Trist argued that while open-systems models enabled material exchange processes to be dealt with between the organization and elements in its environment, “they did not deal with those processes in the environment itself which were the determining conditions of the exchanges”. “Those processes were themselves often incommensurate with the organisation’s internal and exchange processes” [14] p30. This led Trist to restrict the term “socio-technical” to ‘operative’ organizations, distinguishing them from ‘regulative’ organizations. Regulative organizations are “concerned directly with the psychosocial ends of their members and with instilling and maintaining or changing cultural values and norms, the power and the position of interest groups, or the social structure itself” [13]. Trist later called these regulative organisations ‘referent’ because they were defined by their relation to the ecosystem as a whole [15], and by their boundary conditions. These regulative or referent organisations were instead focussed on aligning the behaviour of an ecosystem to particular interests, in a way that parallels the work of the healthcare clinic to align care pathways to the interests of its patients. Accepting this difference means losing a direct identification between a physical system and the system of meaning of which it is a realisation. This forces us to abandon the direct identification of boundary with container [16] and re-examine the concept of containing.

In place of this direct identification, the paper argues that the work of regulative or referent organisations has to be understood as one of making meaning rather than managing across a boundary. This work involves a container-contained relation that returns meaning to the other (the patient) with respect to what the other experiences as ‘bizarre’ or anxiety-inducing (the symptoms). Containment involves making sense through a work of transformation within the context of a ‘vertex’, or a way of organising meaning [17]. Two conditions follow from this for the healthcare clinic to be effective in organising the care of its patients:

  1.   The ecosystem must act as a supporting infrastructure that is appropriately ‘agile’. This means that it can simultaneously support a wide variety of alignments of care services[18]. In this sense, the ecosystem must be able to sustain many different states of alignment at the same time, each of which is a ‘quantum’ state. For the patient, this quantum state is the singular behaviour of the ecosystem, while for the ecosystem, it is one of many simultaneous states it must be able to support.
  2. Its leadership must make it in the interests of its clinicians to contain the patient’s particular experience within its local multi-sided context, and must make it possible to form effective workgroup collaborations able to align appropriate care pathways [19, 20]. This process of containing the patient’s experience of his or her symptoms becomes the process by which a singular state of the ecosystem is aligned to the local environment of the patient in the form of a unique care pathway. The paper argues that the regulative or referent role of the clinic makes it an organisation without boundaries; the processes by which it is enabled to create agility and alignment are better described in terms of quantum organisation. The paper explores these two conditions characterising quantum organisation using examples from healthcare. It draws conclusions on the leadership demanded of such an organisation, and on its psychoanalytic implications.


1. Rosenblum, B. and F. Kuttner, Quantum Enigma: physics encounters consciousness. 2006: Oxford University Press.
2. Atmanspacher, H., H. Romer, and H. Walach, Weak Quantum Theory: Complementarity and Entanglement in Physics and Beyond. Foundations of Physics, 2002. 32(3): p. 379-406.
3. Ashkenas, R., et al., The Boundaryless Organization: Breaking the Chains of Organization Structure. 2002: Jossey-Bass.
4. Goold, M. and A. Campbell, Designing Effective Organizations: How to Create Structured Networks. 2002, London: Jossey-Bass.
5. Provan, K.G. and P. Kenis, Modes of Network Governance: Structure, Management, and Effectiveness. Journal of Public Administration Research and Theory, 2007. 18: p. 229-252.
6. Trist, E., A Concept of Organizational Ecology. Australian Journal of Management, 1977. 2(2): p. 161-176.
7. Porter, M.E. and M.R. Kramer, Creating Shared Value: How to reinvent capitalism – and unleash a wave of innovation and growth. Harvard Business Review, 2011(January-February).
8. Iansiti, M. and R. Levien, The Keystone Advantage: What the New Dynamics of Business Ecosystems Mean for Strategy, Innovation, and Sustainability. 2004, Boston: Harvard Business School Press.
9. Porter, M.E. and E.O. Teisberg, Redefiining Health Care: Creating Value-based Competition on Results. 2006, Boston: Harvard Business School Press.
10. Silverthorne, S., New Research Explores Multi-Sided Markets: an interview with Andrei Hagiu, in Harvard Business School Working Knowledge2006. p.
11. Evans, D.S., Some Empirical Aspects of Multi-Sided Platform Industries. Review of Network Economics, 2003. 2(3).
12. Rouse, W.B., Health Care as a Complex Adaptive System: Implications for Design and Management. The Bridge, 2008. 38(1): p. 17-25.
13. Fichtelberg, J., H. Murray, and B. Trist, Social Engagement of Social Science: A Tavistock Anthology: The Socio-Technical Perspective. 1997: University of Pennsylvania Press.
14. Emery, F.E. and E. Trist, The Causal Texture of Organizational Environments. Human Relations, 1965. 18: p. 21-32.
15. Trist, E., Referent Organizations and the Development of Inter-Organizational Domains. Human Relations, 1983. 36(3): p. 269-284.
16. Palmer, B., The Tavistock paradigm: Inside, outside and beyond, in Organisations, Anxieties and Defences: Towards a Psychoanalytic Social Psychology, R.D. Hinshelwood and M. Chiesa, Editors. 2002, Whurr: London. p. 158-182.
17. Bion, W.R., Learning from Experience. 1962, London: Heinemann.
18. Boxer, P., et al. Systems-of-Systems Engineering and the Pragmatics of Demand. in Second International Systems Conference. 2008. Montreal, Que.: IEEE.
19. Bion, W.R., Attention and Interpretation. 1970, London: Tavistock.
20. French, R.B. and P. Simpson, The ‘work group’: Redressing the balance in Bion’s Experiences in Groups. Human Relations, 2010. 63(12): p. 1859-1878.

Span-of-complexity, timespan-of-discretion and the double alignment of ‘know-how’

November 7th, 2012

by Philip Boxer BSc MBA PhD

John Kotter, in his article about how to stay competitive amid constant turbulence and disruption, introduces the idea of “two systems, one organisation“, one system being about the organisation of the vertical linkages associated with the hierarchical North-South, and the second being about the way East-West networks of horizontal linkages are organised. He makes the point that competition is more and more about managing the complex on the edge of chaos, far different to the demands of the 20th Century corporate era.  How are we to think about the demands this shift is imposing on individuals?

Elliott Jaques, in his book The Form of Time, makes a distinction between two kinds of time (p14):

  • chronos – that of “chronological, seriatim time of succession, measurable by clocks and chronometers”; and
  • kairos – that of “seasonal time, the time of episodes with a beginning, a middle, and an end, the human and living time of intentions and goals”.

Jaques, and the Brunel Institute he founded, developed an approach to career path appreciation within bureaucracies – organisations in which the work of subordinates within a hierarchy were aligned under the strategy ceiling of the whole.  This approach was based on the timespan of discretion expected in the exercise of a particular role within the hierarchy.[1]

This timespan of discretion of a role is identified by Jaques in terms of chronos, but can also be identified in terms of kairos in terms of the role’s span of complexity. The span is defined by the operationally and managerially independent entities that are interacting with each other ‘horizontally’, but for which the role holder is responsible ‘vertically’. The complexity comes from the way these ‘horizontal’ interactions generate behaviours [2].   This timespan of discretion/span of complexity reflects the extent to which the exercise of the role is under-determined, i.e. determining outcomes is open to the judgement of the role-holder. In a role that is over-determined, there is a chronos logic to the succession of events that leaves the role-holder with no discretion over outcomes.  But with under-determination comes the opportunity for the role-holder to impose outcomes through the exercise of judgement.  In Jaques’ work, the importance of the accountability hierarchy was to ensure conformance of the role-holder’s judgement to the overall expectations from above the strategy ceiling.  Seven levels were distinguished, described as follows:[3]

  1. Prescribed output: responding to concrete demands – use expertise in practical judgement in such a way that resources of time, skills, equipment and materials are not wasted or misused.
  2. Situational response: assessing concrete needs – comprehend each particular situation by exploration, imagination and appraisal, and then resolve it; explain why work is to be done in a particular way; explain/demonstrate how a particular task is to be done.
  3. Systematic provision: handling concrete systems – imagine all the possible practices and systems that might be used; select those that are appropriate in the light of local conditions; make the most of the people, the finances and the technologies in order to realise those that have been chosen.
  4. Comprehensive provision: developing multiple services – coordinate and supply resources for the practices that are already in place; develop new systems or practices; meet changes in purpose; terminate those means that are no longer realising the purpose.
  5. Field coverage: shaping overall operations – represent the organisation to the external context; act as the source of the mission and as the source of both current and new technologies; relate the separate activities of level 4.
  6. Multi-field coverage: framing operational fields – monitor, obtain and shape intelligence about external contexts; protect the strategic business units against excessive turbulence, alerting them of opportunities and likely pressures; representing the organisation in external contexts; judge priorities for corporate investment.
  7. Total coverage: defining basic parameters – state and disseminate the values of the whole; consider how these values may best be expressed in contexts with different value systems and different social and political economies; design contexts for the future of the whole in places or activities that may appear peripheral but will eventually be sources of strategic advantage; sustain the whole by producing new strategic business units by acquisition, mergers and joint ventures and divesting where appropriate.

The difficulty with this framework emerges when there needs to be no strategy ceiling, and the behavior of the enterprise needs to be relational, delivering type IV quality within the client’s domain of relevance. The alignment of the levels must therefore not be determined by a prior design-time strategy ceiling but in response to the present ‘WHY’ of the client’s relation to their situation representing an opportunity.[4],[5] This is a shift from affiliation to a founding model established at design-time ‘above the ceiling’. In its place comes an alliance formed at ‘run-time’ around containing some particular set of dilemmas in the client’s situation. It requires a change to the way the levels are understood in which the four quadrants are explicitly aligned to the particular client situation. It helps to see this difference if we speak of ‘service units’ rather than ‘business units’.

The first four levels remain the same, being about the way infrastructural capabilities (1-2) and intra-service-unit organisation (3-4) operate.  The changes come in the levels 5-6 which deal more explicitly with inter-service-unit alignment, and with the superstructural assumptions in level 7 which become primarily about creating value in the client situation:[6]

  1. Prescribed output: responding to concrete demands.
  2. Situational response: assessing concrete needs.
  3. Systematic provision: handling concrete systems.
  4. Comprehensive provision: developing multiple services.
  5. Field coverage: shaping overall operations within the client’s domain of relevance – align service units to the client’s context-of-use within an operational field[7]; act as the source of the mission and as the source of both current and new propositions; relate the separate activities of service units at level 4.
  6. Multi-domain coverage: framing operational fields aka domains of relevance – monitor, obtain and shape intelligence about clients’ contexts-of-use across multiple domains of relevance; protect the domains against excessive turbulence, alerting field coverage of opportunities and likely pressures; represent the whole in clients’ contexts-of-use; judge priorities for strategic investment..
  7. Overall coverage: defining basic parameters – state and disseminate the values of the whole; identify client domains of relevance for the future of the whole in places or for activities that may appear peripheral but will eventually be new sources of value; sustain the whole by creating new service units and potential composite services through alignments between them by acquisition, mergers and joint ventures and divesting where appropriate.

Viewed in this way, these two sets of supply-side levels 1-4 and demand-side levels 5-7 can be used to examine the ‘double alignment’ of ‘West’ know-how[8]:

  1. Vertically, to ensure that roles are defined in terms of the first supply-side set, aligning role-holders’ interests to supporting the use of units’ services at the edge; and
  2. Horizontally, to ensure that the dynamic processes of collaboration and co-creation align the relations at the edge between units’ services and client situations, conforming to the second demand-side set.

These correspond to Kotter’s “two systems, one organisation“, the first being about the organisation of the hierarchical North-South, and the second being about the way the East-West networks are organised.  Managing the tension between these two forms of organisation is fundamental to enabling an enterprise to sustain relational behavior.

[1] Two kinds of insight emerged from the use of career path appreciation: (i) a critical examination of the numbers of levels in a hierarchy, and whether they were necessary to its effective operation – leading to the identification of pseudo-levels; and (ii) a comparison between the level at which the role was defined as compared with the level of which the role-holder was capable – here mismatches led to difficulties in fulfilling expectations of the role and/or behaviors going beyond the remit of the role itself.
[2] Complex behavior (as distinct from chaotic, complicated or simple behaviors) reflect the relation between the horizontal cause-and-effect linkages and the vertical control linkages. See the drivers of organisational scope.
[3] In his book on levels of abstraction in logic and human action, Jaques approximates these timespans chronologically in terms of where the breakpoints came: levels 1-2 ~ 3 months; levels 2-3 ~ 1 year; levels 3-4 ~ 2 years; levels 4-5 ~ 5 years; levels 5-6 ~ 10 years; and levels 6-7 ~ 20 years. When dealing with relational organisations, these have to be converted into time spans relative to the granularity of the component activities, but in a way that reflects the way the relationships are structured.
[4] ‘Client’ is used here in the sense of the position of the client in tempo, entanglement and East-West dominance – the problem is local to the client’s situation or context-of-use, and the models for delivering value have to be actively aligned to that situation.
[5] Remember that the strategy ceilings are derived from the 4-quadrant analysis of the theory-of-use implicit in the behavior of the enterprise.  The ordering of these quadrants comes from the ways in which their timespans of discretion/spans of complexity are nested – it takes longer to shape behaviors supporting the ‘WHY’ than to shape the behaviors supporting the ‘WHAT’.
[6] Thus levels 1-2 relate to the infrastructural capabilities of the ‘WHAT’; levels 3-4 relate to the intra-service-unit organisation of the ‘HOW’; levels 5-6 relate to the inter-service-unit organisation of the ‘WHO-for-WHOM’; and level 7 relates to the superstructural assumptions of the ‘WHY’.
[7] This ‘operational field’ is the domain of relevance with respect to the client’s situation.
[8] Referred to in a footnote to the last point 4 of tempo, entanglement and East-West dominance.  This is what leads to the need for ‘tripartite leadership’ – see The Double Challenge: working through the tension between meaning and motivation in a large system.  Tripartite leadership involves top leaders, professionals and clinicians e.g. in “Leading Psychological Services: A report by the Division of Clinical Psychology”, British Psychological Association, February 2007. For clinician you can substitute any edge role that is about shaping the response to the particular situation. The religious domain is another domain in which I have had particular experience of the challenges facing tripartite leadership e.g. Asymmetric Leadership: supporting a CEO’s response to turbulence.

Tempo, Entanglement and East-West dominance

October 9th, 2012

by Philip Boxer BSc MBA PhD

A provider-supplier may face new challenges when it becomes actively involved in supporting a client-purchaser’s experience of value.  This depends on whether or not the client-purchaser’s experience of value is dynamic i.e. on the demand tempo at which the client-purchaser’s experience of value is changing.  In the following diagram this is shown as a move into the top-right-hand quadrant.

But why should this quadrant require an approach to governance that is East-West dominant?  To understand this, we need to say more about ‘tempo’:

‘Tempo’ refers to the rate at which structural changes take place in the way a system relates to its environments. In the figure above, three spaces are identified – that of the suppliers, of the Provider and of Clients. Within the suppliers’ space, the supplier’s environment is their users within the Provider. Within the Provider’s operational space its environment is the multi-sided demands presented by its Clients; and within the Client’s space the environment is the context-of-use within which each Client’s demand arises. This allows us to distinguish three tempos:

  • Acquisition tempo – the rate at which suppliers are able to meet new requirements.
  • Alignment tempo – the rate at which the Provider is able to align new value propositions to new demands from Clients through processes of orchestrating and synchronizing multiple products and services, including those of complementors.
  • Demand tempo – the rate at which new forms of multi-sided demand emerge from Clients that need to be satisfactorily addressed.

The normal assumption is that the tempo of change within each space can be considered independently – the spaces can be ‘disentangled’ from each other. This allows the classical purchasing cycle in the figure below to be used. This is the framing assumption characteristic of North-South dominance, implicit in which is the assumption that the ‘design time’ of the supplier can be disentangled from the ‘run-time’ of the Provider’s operational space [1]:

A different framing assumption is that the Provider is part of a socio-technical ecosystem, containing many systems of systems using overlapping and interlocking components, in which the way these systems are brought together has to be dynamically aligned to Clients’ needs.  This is the assumption of East-West dominance – there is no ‘design-time’.[2]  Under these conditions, a supplier is always adding a new component into the already ‘live’ environment of the Provider.  Its supplied component cannot therefore be ‘disentangled’ from the multiple contexts in which it is to be used:

This entanglement demands asymmetric leadership of the Provider.  This involves keeping a balance between four different aspects of the Provider’s behavior:

  1. the leadership of the organisation as a whole (North);
  2. the ‘agility’ of its infrastructures, i.e. the variety of behaviours the infrastructure is able to support (South);
  3. the variety of different ways in which the separate behaviours of the infrastructure have to be aligned to Clients’ demands, for which managers ‘at the edge’ can be held accountable (East); and
  4. the ways in which the Provider makes it in its employees’ interests to work in a way that is driven from the East rather than from within separate silos – including providing the means of managing alignment effectively (West). [3]

[1] ‘Design-time’ and ‘Run-time’ are ways of distinguishing a time prior to engagement with the Client during which a new proposition may be developed. ‘Run-time’ is the time within which there is a ‘live’ interaction with the Client.
[2] And no strategy ceiling therefore, since all aspects of the Provider’s response to the Client have to be ‘live’.
[3] ‘West’ involves a double alignment because there is both an alignment of the interests of those exercising know-how and also an alignment by that know-how of ‘South’ capabilities to ‘East’ demands.

Quality as the driver at the edge

June 20th, 2012

by Philip Boxer BSc MBA PhD

Much has been said on the subject of quality, including its tendency to focus on the quality of outputs rather than on the quality of outcome for the user of those outputs.1 See, for example, ‘Quality Management Gets Strategic and Discovers (Gasp!) The Customer‘.  The figure below approaches quality in a way that relates back to the challenges of working at the edge, of describing what-is-going-on at the edge in terms of 4 quadrants, and of addressing the limitations on quality created by a low strategy ceiling.2

The horizontal line represents the way primary task is defined, and the vertical line represents the way primary risk is defined.3 This gives us a way of distinguishing 4 types of Quality, each one built on the foundations of the one before:

  • Type I – the behaviour conforms to its contractual specification e.g. we delivered it in the time window we said we would.
  • Type II – the behaviour serves the supplier’s purpose in what it delivers e.g. we delivered it in a time window that fitted the urgency you were prepared to pay for.
  • Type III – the behaviour serves the user’s purpose in how it is delivered e.g. we installed it and ensured it was working as you expected within your environment.
  • Type IV – the behaviour continues to serve the user’s purpose over time through being adapted to the user’s changing needs e.g. we monitored its performance and modified what it was doing as your needs changed.

Using the rcKP language, the behaviours on the left are r-type and c-type, being at best customizable in ways that serve the supplier’s purpose.  In contrast, the behaviours on the right are K-type and P-type, being concerned with aligning performance to the current and/or evolving nature of the user’s situation.  Quality on the left can be defined largely independently of the context-of-use, while quality on the right cannot.

[1] A distinction can usefully be made between consumer, customer and client that speaks of increasing involvement with an active user’s context-of-use.
[2] The point being the lower the strategy ceiling, the fewer of the quadrants are judged to be relevant to quality, arms-length contracting restricting quality to the type I fulfillment of a contract to deliver.
[3] These definitions are implicit in the behaviour of an enterprise within the context of its domain of relevance, and reflect the way its managers’ identities are supported by those behaviours.

Describing what is going on (wigo)

April 16th, 2012

by Philip Boxer BSc MBA PhD
The case of the Homeless Charity uses a 4-quadrant/4-colour model for describing the ‘being’ of the enterprise.  What does this mean?

The behaviour of the enterprise reveals assumptions that are built into its structures and processes – ‘theories-in-use’.  What we are doing with this model is trying to characterise the nature of these assumptions.1

  • First come assumptions about ‘primary task’.  On the supply-side, these are assumptions about the way the work of the enterprise needs to be organised if it is to be viable. In this example, these are assumptions about the way it is possible to help people who are street homeless to bear their own histories.  On the demand-side, these are assumptions about what particular forms of demand need to be asserted if the needs arising in the overall situation are to be satisfied. In this example, these are the assumptions that the street-homeless person is making about what will enable them to cope with their particular history.
  • Next come assumptions about ‘primary risk‘.  These are assumptions about the relationship dynamics the enterprise needs to sustain between the supply-side and the demand-side if it is to sustain itself over time.  In this example, these are assumptions about what can be done for the street homeless within the funding and time constraints created by the way the enterprise works.
  • Finally come assumptions about the ‘domain of relevance’.  These are the ontic2 assumptions the enterprise is making in the way it engages in what it is doing – assumptions built into what information it tracks, how it uses its resources, how it accounts for what it is doing, and so on.

The 4-quadrants/4-colours are therefore ways of speaking about the effects of these assumptions about task, risk and relevance on the way the enterprise ‘is’. These form the backcloth against which any attempt to ‘intervene’ on the enterprise will be played out.3

[1] An ‘espoused theory’ emerges along the speaking-and-listening axis described in The ‘Plus-One’ exercise.  What we are trying to describe with the 4-quadrants/4-colours is the ‘theory-in-use’ implicit in the ‘wigo’ behavior of the organisation that  is being spoken about.  This wigo will itself be being organised by the (more or less) implicit assumptions built into its structures, the relationship between which is represented by the ‘other’ dotted line axis.
[2] The Oxford English Dictonary defined ‘ontic’ as follows: “Of or pertaining to knowledge of the existence or structure of being in a given entity.”  Thus ontical inquiry is concerned with the ontology of particular entities.  Thus any ‘realist’ assertion of ontology is mediated by the ontic assumptions being made by the observer-entity making the assertion i.e. an ontology is built by an entity making ontic assumptions.  The 4-quadrant model gives us a way of thinking about what kind of ontic assumptions the entity is making. (For an example at another scale, see ‘why critical systems need help to evolve‘).  The concept of the strategy ceiling further elaborates on the way these ontic assumptions are held by an entity in the form of stratified relations between the enterprise and demand.
[3] In the case of the Homeless Charity, the learning cycle it is capable of supporting is defined by the author’s relationship to the charity.  This cycle is a way of describing a reflexive consultation within an ecosystem, defined by 4 relationships between 5 layers of engagement:

The 4-quadrant/4-colour model describes the bottom two layers of this ‘stack’.

The drivers of organisational scope

December 7th, 2011

by Philip Boxer

Crises of delegation confront those at the top of hierarchies when their authority fails to be recognised by their followers i.e. when power-at-the-centre fails to command obedience. How are we to think about these crises? In what follows, it is proposed that crises of delegation arise when the complex overwhelms the complicated.

When power at the centre of an institution is effective, it creates strong vertical linkages of control between the leadership of the institution and its followers (or employees, contractors etc). A crisis of delegation happens when an individual faces strong horizontal cause-and-effect linkages that are in conflict with the vertical linkages: to survive, the individual can no longer afford to be obedient to the institution. Combining these horizontal and vertical linkages gives the following 2×2, derived from the work by Kurtz and Snowden:

  • In the simple system, cause-and-effect relations are repeatable, perceivable and predictable. Everyone knows the right answers that are easily provided by the leadership.
  • In the complicated system of systems, cause-and-effect relations are not so easy to predict because they are spread over time and space. Nevertheless numbers of experts can be expected to provide the right answers in support of the leadership.
  • The complex ecosystem emerges when cause-and-effect relations become apparent only in retrospect, and cannot be assumed to repeat. This happens when the sheer weight and circularity of cause-and-effect relations become overwhelming (corresponding to the turbulent fields of Emery and Trist). In this environment, the particular characteristics of the situation become crucial, and vertical control linkages become weak because right answers can only emerge retrospectively – not a good basis for central authority. This environment is described as an ecosystem because fromm the perspective of the situation, multiple separate institutions become involved, the individual having to work in relation to many different authorities, each spanning different areas of local control.
  • Finally, behavior becomes chaotic when no cause-and-effect relations are perceivable, even in retrospect. In this environment there are no right answers and everyone is in trouble knowing what to do.

While power-at-the-centre describes the exercise of strong vertical control linkages by leadership (North-South dominance as distinct from East-West dominance), power-at-the-edge (i.e. being edge-driven) describes the necessary approach to leadership in a complex ecosystem in which those closest to a situation need to be authorised if they are to be effective.

What, then, are the drivers of organisational scope? Any institution is going to face a gradual increase over time in the complexity of its environment, and therefore a demand for increasingly differentiated behaviors. We may therefore expect a progression in any institution from the simple to the complicated. The crisis of delegation arises when the complex nature of the ecosystem overwhelms the complicated basis of the institution’s existing authority, demanding the removal of its ‘strategy ceiling‘ so that it can make a transition to the relational form of organisation.[1]

The drivers of organisational scope are therefore the capacity of the institution to manage the complicated, set against the complexity of the cause-and-effect relations to which it is having to respond. Looked at like this, any institution is in a governance cycle through which it can learn how to respond to increasingly asymmetric demands. Or not.

[1] The argument I made in The Twitter Revolution: how the internet has changed us is that just as the Printing Revolution precipitated the crisis on delegation associated with the Reformation, so too is the Information Revolution precipitating a crisis of delegation in our own time. The difference, however, is that whereas then the crisis heralded the emergence of the complicated as the dominant form of organisation (giving science its place in the world), the current crisis of delegation is heralding the emergence of the complex as the (coming-to-be) dominant form of organisation. With this emergence, of course, come the challenges of asymmetric leadership and asymmetric design.

The case of the homeless charity

October 28th, 2011

by Philip Boxer

In the previous blog I introduced the whole economy of leadership.  Here I outline a case showing my diagnostic use of this economy.

The case is about a non-profit organisation that had developed a model for providing long-term psychodynamic psychotherapy to the street homeless.  It was par excellence an edge organisation, providing an organisational platform that sought to align the needs of funders, psychotherapists-in-training, homeless shelters and traumatised individuals. The following describes the four different forms of ‘truth’ within a domain of relevance with which members of the organisation were identified:[1]

The members of the organisation were identified with different aspects of the work of enabling the homeless to bear their traumas through the use of long term psychodynamic psychotherapy.  Within this chosen domain,

  • Volunteer psychotherapists in training worked with homeless persons for up to 2 years – the ‘WHAT’.
  • Management used a model that provided assessment (of need), supervision (of volunteers) and support (to the whole process) – the ‘HOW’.
  • Driving all this was the relation to the particular form taken by the needs of the street homeless, for example shaping where and how these needs could be encountered – the ‘WHY’.
  • Who the organisation could be for whom was determined by the way funders were prepared to fund its work – the ‘WHO/M’. So what was the problem?

I was a Board member, and the challenge we faced in common with many other non-profits was a change in the way funding was made available, with the attendant changes this demanded in strategy.  This case was essentially about a failure of strategy – hence the homelessness.

Previously, funders had been prepared to pay for the whole service as a ‘good thing’ – this was the history that both the Director and the Board were familiar with.  But funders were increasingly wanting to link their funding to outcomes related to specific projects. The difficulty was that the needs presented by the homeless were multi-sided, and not easily fitted into simple output measures.  To be effective, the work being done had not only to address the homeless person’s direct need, but also to meet their indirect needs by the way the work ‘fitted’ alongside other things being done, for example arranging accommodation and food, managing addictions and addressing health needs.  This was not only a complex ‘narrative’ that was difficult to get funded. It also demanded edge-driven collaboration between multiple organisations.

The organisation needed  to get funders involved with its work. But to do this, it needed to make its models more dynamically responsive to the multi-sided nature of the needs being presented by the homeless, so that its role within the larger ecosystem could become clearer.  In terms of the network-forming leadership roles, this demanded triple-loop learning of the organisation.  In practice, however, the attachment of the Director and the Board to old ways of thinking about the service made this impossible, the organisation continuing single-loop behavior under its founding model. It was not able to be strategic:

A closer look at the full economy of leadership shows why this was the case.  The full economy adds in the network-enabling forms of leadership and the relationships within the economy as a whole, the anti-patterns of leadership being shown in square brackets.  It shows how the organisation was split:

  • The ‘heart’ of the organisation was in the volunteers’ work with the clients under supervision.  For the volunteers this was a valuable extension to their training. ‘Management’, whether in the role of the Senior Management Team (SMT) or by Administrators, belonged to a different kind of agenda, being inimical to the volunteers’ work but suffered by them as necessary to complying with Board requirements. The disconnect between the work with clients and the SMT was symptomatic of this. Equally, the agenda of the volunteers in extending their training had no real relationship to the Board’s view of the organisation.
  • The ‘head’ of the organisation was in the work of the Director and her administration supported by the Board, all three of which were more identified with the past ways of doing things than current pressures for change.  Given that the allegiance of the SMT was more to working with volunteers than with the Director’s or Board’s agendas, their demands for super-reasonableness reflected their resistance to engaging with the demands for change emerging from the work with clients.  The members, who constitutionally elected the Board, were also irrelevant, with no real involvement either with the Board or with the work of the organisation, other than voting at their Annual General Meeting.

So it was a classic case of clinicians working on a Faustian basis, with ‘management’ and ‘Board’ split off and responding to a quite different set of agendas – agendas that nevertheless would ultimately determine the demise of the organisation.

Of course numbers of things were done to try to build positive connections across the economy as a whole [2] in order to try and overcome these difficulties, examples of which were:

  • the (w)edge management process, developed to provide a better alignment between the work of the organisation and the way it could be held accountable to funders.
  • Board members spending time ‘in the field’ with members of the SMT and volunteers in order to better understand the work of the organisation.
  • Research commissioned with Peter Fonagy on the long-term benefits of the work with the homeless, to better inform funders of the nature of the needs being dealt with.
  • Alliances built with the other organisations alongside which the work was done, for example St Mungo’s, so that better collaborative alliances could be built, with these other organisations becoming Members.
  • A group relations conference design by Barry Palmer enabling the organisation to develop a relationship between  its different parts and itself as a whole.
  • Research commissioned on the system dynamics between street homelessness and the behavior of the larger social care system, for which homelessness was a symptom, in order to better situate outcome measures within the context of this larger dynamic.

Ultimately, however, attempts to develop an effective relationship to strategy failed, with an attendant failure to create a place for this particular form of long-term work in the minds of the funders.[3]  The consequence was that rather than closing the organisation, the Board merged it with a larger not-for-profit within which it’s work could form a part of a larger whole, within which the multi-sidedness of its work could be better addressed.[4] The absence of an effective relationship to strategy continued, however, and the work of the organisation was eventually closed down.

[1] The ‘truth’ of a discourse is an effect of its structure. It is what the speaker subject to the discourse’s structure feels to be ‘true’.
[2] From the perspective of the Board, these demanded consulting interventions.  The diagnostic status of the economy of leadership could therefore be thought of as framing the nature of the need for these interventions.
[3] Fundamentally, the anti-patterns on the left side of the economy were never overcome… personally, I never really grasped the extent of (and basis for) the resistance that persisted to the end. In retrospect, using volunteers in the way that it did probaly compounded this by rendering invisible much of the real demands at the edge.
[4] The merger addressed the funding issue by placing the operating model alongside a number of other services, enabling the multi-sidedness of homeless needs to be managed more effectively. The merger was an intervention’ that changed what the organisation identified itself with. But it didn’t change the economy of leadership that persisted into the new organisation.