3.4 Understanding Organization: A Leader’s Role



    EGL Newsletter Volume 3.4

    This is the beginning of a series of brief thought provoking articles as to the leader’s role in building organization capability. A major requirement is for the leader to see the organization through a system perspective. In order to make this easier, you need a model to give you a complete picture and a framework for action based on that picture. Kurt Lewin said “there is nothing more useful than a good theory”, and in that vein, I want to share with you a good theory on how to engage an organization.

    All of this is in the service of real action learning, where you take a theory, through it construct a model, and try new ways of being. Reflect on what you’ve seen, validate your theory, and try again. All leadership is a series of approximations towards a goal. These goals are kept on track through consistent intentions and fueled with commitment.

    For this series, I would like to introduce you the Organization Wheel. This model was created many years ago by my dear friend and mentor Chuck Schaefer. He built this on the medicine wheel, drawing on the ancient use of the mandala as a representational scheme of the whole of creation. Subsequently, I learned it from him, and we both used it successfully in numerous organization interventions around the world. It has stood the test of time for us, and I know it is universally transferable. Organizations are a microcosm of society, and so social systems models have direct correlation into organizations. The wheel is oriented to the ordinal directions and has, at its center, you. In every case, in every situation in life, you are standing at the center of your universe, orienting yourself to all that is around you.

    This is the first of seven parts and introduces the Organization Wheel. There will follow six more, each about the leader’s role in each of the various areas of the wheel.

    Looking to the North: A Leader’s Role

    Looking to the East: A Leader’s Role

    Looking to the South: A Leader’s Role

    Looking to the West: A Leader’s Role

    Looking Within the Organization: A Leader’s Role

    Looking at Yourself: A Leader’s Role

    Each of these will go further in depth about the wheel and the more symbolic areas that are behind the scene. You can find the Organization Wheel in our book The Ten Tasks of Change, but these parts will only be available here. If you want the most in-depth view of the Wheel and the huge body of social science behind it, opt for a conversation with Chuck.

    The Organization Wheel



    “The Organization Wheel” is a work system model that we have developed over time and find particularly easy to apply in an organization development effort. The shape of the model began to evolve in our early work with systems thinking in organization. It took form through a fascination with the Native American Plains Indian People’s “ Medicine Wheel Circle” that represents the universe of change and harmony with everything around us (Storm, 1972). We use The Organization Wheel, referred to in the book as “The Wheel”, in several ways throughout our discussion of The Ten Tasks.

    As a side note, The Wheel models the processes of your organization; those of your technical system (the value adding transformation of input into final product) and those of your human system (called “human organization” in the model) as separate yet highly interdependent networks. This comes from socio-technical systems thinking in the development of high performance organization. The knowledge generated in that field has strongly influenced our work from the beginning. If you are interested in deepening your understanding of that approach, two books, Performance by Design by Jim Taylor and David Felten and Designing a High-Performance Organization by Bill Lytle, have good mixes of theory and discussion of methodology. For a definitive overview, go to The Social Engagement of Social Science Volume II: The Socio-Technical Perspective (Trist and Murry, 1993)

    Alignment With The Environment – This element focuses on the wants, values, and quality criteria of the organization’s major stakeholders. The organization’s competitive position and the quality of its relationships and transactions with the major stakeholders. The dynamics and future trends in the environment and the implications of those trends for the organization (its strategic drivers).

    Clarity of Purpose – This element includes the organization’s defining values, core mission and vision for the future. Its strategic intent in relation to the strategic drivers in its environment and the critical success factors for achieving that intent. Its strategies and plans for achieving its goals, and the qualities of its core products in relation to those strategies and plans.

    Core Technical System – This element covers the input and output requirements of thetransformation processes that produce the organization’s core products. It’s technologies and practices for controlling the variance in those processes. The information, knowledge, skills, capabilities, and issue resolution practices required to operate, maintain, manage contingencies and upgrade those process to match the demands and dynamics of the environment.

    Human Organization – This element contains the organization’s role structure, processes, boundary locations and network of relationships for accomplishing and supporting the core transformation process, dealing with the environment, supporting the people, and adapting to the future.

    The People – This element includes beliefs, attitudes and values of those who populate the Human System. Their knowledge, skills, and capabilities. Their culture, personalities and diversity. Their career expectations. Their quality of work life expectations. Their support needs.

    The Enabling Support Systems – This element contains the organization’s technical and human process support systems. Information systems. Maintenance and supply systems. Systems for developing personal and organizational effectiveness. Access, control and authority allocation processes.

    Performance Measurement System – This element focuses on measurement and assessment of outcomes and behaviors (business, technical and human) in relation to the organization’s defining values, core mission, vision for the future, strategic intent and the strategies and plans for achieving its goals.

    Reward Allocation System – This element addresses the distribution of the benefits of participation among the stakeholders in the enterprise (external and internal). The processes for allocating and distributing those benefits. The relationship between rewards and performance.

    Action Learning – In this element are the processes of applied learning for accomplishment, alignment, integration, continuous improvement, adapting, mastery and renewal.

    Using the Wheel-


    FIRST Performance Assessment (Raises flags but doesn’t tell you why it’s happening or what to do about it):

    Checking your strategic intent and your values against your environment –

    Business “Numbers”: Profits, return on investment, market share, market penetration, etc.

    Environment trends.

    Competitive benchmarking.

    Checking your systems effectiveness and efficiency against your strategic intent and your values –

    Systems “Numbers”: Conversion cost, reliability, new product time to market, productivity, etc.

    Environment trends.

    Competitive benchmarking.

    Checking your employee needs against your systems needs and your values – Employee “Numbers”: Turnover, absenteeism, accident rates, opinion poles, grievance rates, etc.

    Environment trends.

    Competitive benchmarking.

    NEXT Gap Analysis (Tells you how it is happening but not necessarily why or what to do about it): Market research, QFRs, incident reviews, exit interviews, needs assessments, organizational sensing, interrelationship diagraphs, critical path analysis, “Senge cycles”, upward-feedback, etc.

    THEN Systems Analysis (Tells you why things are happening but not necessarily what to do about it): Socio-technical Systems analysis, functional flow analysis, process flow-charting, process reviews, survey guided-feedback, etc.

    AND Visioning and Design (Tells you what to do about it, but not necessarily how to go about it): Strategic planning, Open-Systems Redesign, Future Search conferences, information engineering, continuous process improvement, team-building, etc.

    WITH Intervention Planning and Implementation Process Management (Gives you your initial best guess on how to get there): Action planning, business planning, “change management”, project management, etc. GUIDED BY Discovery Learning: Macro and micro “PDCA”.

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