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Rodney Brim

Chris, thanks for the reflective look at Stacey's work. Given the discussion of conversations, I expected you to perhaps venture into what you thought the conversation in Ralph's mind sounded like as you traced the change in thinking.

Looking at the title at top, "the keep it simple" mantra, I was also wondering if conversations today reduce to something simple... and then I found myself looking for your simple synopsis within the blog.

Sheparding the conversation direction in an organization seems like an important construct by which to define leadership. I hadn't thought of that before reading your blog.

I tend to write about organization change as it interacts with introducing change via technology in pursuit of performance improvement. Let me know what you think if you have a chance. You can find the blogs at http://www.managepro.com/blog/index.php/category/leadership

One final question. Do you think that the conversation in organizations, in fact the culture, is a representation of what is and isn't talked about in the leader's head?

Rodney Brim,

Chris Rodgers

Thanks for your comments and questions, Rodney.

I don’t know what might have been going through Stacey’s mind at the time of the event I mentioned in the late 1990s, except that he was very open about the fact that his ideas were shifting in ways that were as yet not fully formed. I do recall that he was not particularly taken with my comment that I saw links between his perspective on self-organization and de Bono’s ideas on the “mechanism of mind” that he had set out in his early books on lateral thinking! I still see many parallels, by the way.

In relation to your final question, I see organizational culture as the ongoing process of shared sense making. Within this, the more that people make sense of what’s going on in a particular way, the more likely they are to make similar sense in the future. Patterns of taken-for-granted assumptions emerge, which tend to channel sense making imperceptibly down familiar, culturally acceptable pathways. At the same time, the potential exists for novel outcomes to emerge through this same conversational process and for new patterns of meaning to form.

So, with this in mind, do I think organizational culture is a representation of what is and isn't talked about in the leader's head? Well, my answer to that would have to be “yes and no”!

Yes … in the sense that it emerges from what is and isn’t talked about in the dynamic network of conversations that comprises the organization – and leaders are active participants in this process.

Yes … because what leaders (at all levels) say and do – including what they don’t say and don’t do – provides a powerful input to these sense-making conversations, as people perceive, interpret, evaluate and share what they see and feel.

No … if the implication is that it is only what is going on in the heads of those in formal leadership positions that matters – even less so if it only means THE leader (e.g. CEO or MD).

No … (at least not entirely) because each of these conversations takes place simultaneously both in AND BETWEEN the heads (and bodies) of those involved.

The outputs of these conversations provide inputs to further conversations, within and beyond the formal ‘boundaries’ of the organization. And so on. And so on.

Two important points are implicit in this informal coalitions view. First, culture is not a ‘thing’ that can be designed, built and communicated to others by managers. Secondly, it is the sense-making process that is shared, not necessarily the outcome; so the commonly held notion that culture is about “shared values” does not sit comfortably with the understanding of organizational dynamics that I’d subscribe to.

I look forward to visiting your blog.

Chris Traynor

Great Post thanks,
Re the Culture point above. I agree. Culture is v difficult to develop or nourish, instead it is a factor of the various cultural dynamics. In my company we had an issue after an acquistion of integrating both groups of employess due to cultural differences and some resistance from my company's side. This I suppose is a factor of a hostile acquisition.

Thanks again for the post.


Hi,I have heard so much about Ralph Stacey, but unfortunately could not collect the book you have mentioned. Actually my uncle was a fan of him and I heard some special characteristic of him from my uncle. This post really helps me to find out some more points that I desperately needed. Thanks for sharing.

David W.

Thanks for your post on Ralph Stacey’s work!

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