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Wellington Daily News - Wellington, KS
Author Stephen Balzac offers ways businesses can increase revenue and attract more clients.
Systems, Silos, and Spaghetti
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By Stephen Balzac
Author Stephen Balzac offers ways businesses can increase revenue and attract more clients with his 7 Steps Ahead philosophy. Whether you're trying to hire the right people or get your team on track, this is the place for accurate, useful ...
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Author Stephen Balzac offers ways businesses can increase revenue and attract more clients with his 7 Steps Ahead philosophy. Whether you're trying to hire the right people or get your team on track, this is the place for accurate, useful information. Stephen is an expert on leadership and organizational development, a consultant and professional speaker, and author of \x34The 36-Hour Course in Organizational Development,\x34 published by McGraw-Hill, and a contributing author to volume one of \x34Ethics and Game Design: Teaching Values Through Play.\x34 Contact Steve at steve@7stepsahead.com.
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By steve
July 16, 2013 11:10 a.m.



This is an excerpt from my upcoming book, Organizational Psychology for Managers.

 

Traditional systems engineering argues that we identify the key systems and then decompose them into progressively smaller systems. Thus, a helicopter might be decomposed into a flight subsystem and ground subsystem. The fight system can be further decomposed into a drive system and navigation system, and so forth. Eventually, we get down to the smallest possible subsystems and then start building them up again. Each system communicates with other systems through a predefined interface. This approach is quite common in engineering disciplines, from aeronautic to software. It is also a common approach with human systems.

Unlike mechanical or electronic systems, however, human systems rarely maintain clean interfaces. Human systems are porous. In small organizations, this can work very well, but can become hopelessly chaotic when the organization grows. The lines of communication between different organizational systems start to look like a plate of spaghetti. While it’s great that everyone is talking, the lack of discipline in the process leads to confusion and lost information.

On the flip side, when systems are tightly controlled, they can easily transform into silos. In this case, each group retreats behind its own metaphorical moat and interacts with other silos only through very limited channels. Organization members will typically express great frustration with the “bureaucracy.” The key is to develop loosely coupled interfaces, allowing for flexibility in communications without either chaos or rigidity. Accomplishing that requires understanding a number of different organizational components.

Consider a typical business: Marketing. Sales. Engineering. Human Resources. QA. IT. The litany of departments goes on and on. Every organization, be it a business, a non-profit, a church or synagogue, a school, a sports team, and so on is composed of a variety of moving parts, of departments and teams that themselves can be viewed as smaller organizations. The larger organization comes to life out of the interactions of the smaller organizations.

As anyone who has ever been part of a large organization, be it a corporation or a club, well knows, each subgroup in the organization is constantly struggling for resources, constantly trying to demonstrate its importance to the organization as a whole. Just as the larger organization is a complex system, each subgroup is itself a system, taking in information and resources and, we hope, putting out value to the organization as a whole. These systems all interact with one another, sometimes in very elaborate ways.

Even more important than the obvious and visible departments within the larger organization, though, are the hidden systems: how and why the organization does things, attitudes about success and failure, how the organization hires, fires, and promotes, beliefs about how mistakes should be handled, problem-solving and innovation versus blame, and so forth.

To understand the vortex of interactions between these systems, we first need to understand the organization’s DNA: its culture.

Understanding Organizational Culture



J. J. Abram’s 2009 Star Trek movie featured, as a major plot point, a good deal of back story to explain how the iconic Captain James Kirk became the person he was in the original series. What is interesting, however, is that when Star Trek first went on the air in 1967, the character of James Kirk was immediately recognizable to viewers: he was an exaggerated version of another famous military figure known for his heroic feats, charisma, womanizing, and connection to outer space. That famous figure was, of course, John Kennedy, and Star Trek was a product of the culture of the space race inextricably linked to the assassinated president.

How did James Kirk came to represent John Kennedy? What does that have to do with the vortex in your company or, indeed, organizational psychology?

Culture is an odd beast, most often described as “the way we do things around here.” This description has just enough truth in it to be dangerous. There is truth in the definition since culture is, on the surface, what we do and what we see. These obvious components of culture, what MIT social psychologist and professor of business Ed Schein referred to as artifacts of the culture, are also the most trivial aspects of culture. When we focus on the artifacts, we are missing the depth of the culture’s influence. Furthermore, we foster the dangerous illusion that organizational changes can be accomplished simply by making a few alterations to the way things are done.

 



Balzac combines stories of jujitsu, wheat, gorillas, and the Lord of the Rings with very practical advice and hands-on exercises aimed at anyone who cares about management, leadership, and culture.

Todd Raphael



Editor-in-Chief



ERE Media



http://www.ere.net

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