If you’re going to blog about building the effectiveness of organizations, it helps to have a model in mind of what effectiveness looks like, and some thoughts about ways of helping to bring about this effectiveness in diverse organizations.
Now the challenge is that there are literally hundreds of models describing organizational effectiveness, and many of them make useful contributions to our understanding of the dynamics of organizations. I have never taken the view that there is only one way to look at organizations – my experience as a consultant, entering into many different organizational contexts over the last 20 years, has shown me that you need to keep an open mind as to which model can offer insight into the particular dynamics of a specific organization.
Having said that, we are all influenced by some core models, or foundational frameworks. these may come from the work of influential researchers and practitioners, or they may come from our own experience. We may have been introduced to them at an early point in our careers, or met them at timely moments when they offer insight into a particular setting.
Some of my own foundational frameworks come from my time as a practitioner in South Africa during the 1990s. The process of change that the whole society was undergoing was reflected in changes taking place in organizations across the spectrum. And this coincided with a broader shift around the world in views about organizations, with increasing emphasis being placed on participation and engagement within a systems perspective.
Two books had an important influence on my understanding of organizations at the start of my career, And ideas from these books have continued to influence my practice to this day.
The first is the classic “The Fifth Discipline: the Art and Practice of the Learning Organization” by Peter Senge. I continue to call on many ideas whose origin I can trace to concepts I was first introduced to in this book, and I view systems thinking (the fifth discipline, with the other four disciplines being Personal Mastery, Mental Models, Shared Vision, and Team Learning) as central to my practice as a practitioner.
The second book is Marvin Weisbord’s “Productive Workplaces” (a third edition, to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the original text, is to to be published next week). one of the pleasures of this book is that it provides a very useful background of how thinking about organizational effectiveness has developed over the last 100 years, summarized in the simple diagram that can be summarized as:
- 1900: Experts Solve Problems
- 1950: “Everybody” Solves Problems
- 1965: Experts Improve Whole Systems
- 2001+: “Everybody” Improves Whole Systems
By linking theory (and theorists) with practical cases, Weisbord illustrates how the practice of building effective organizations has developed through the 20th century and into the 21st century. No doubt our thinking and insights into effective organizations will continue to develop, helped in no small part by writers like Senge and Weisbord who help us understand where we have come from and who continued probing the boundaries for what we still have to discover…
In my next post, I will introduce a third foundational framework that informs my understanding about organizational effectiveness.