The book was my attempt at challenging established management 'wisdom' - so much of which was at odds with my own, practical experience of working in and around organizations. In it, I offered practitioners an alternative set of assumptions, arising from a radically different perspective on the dynamics of organizational change and performance.
My hope was that those reading the book might use it to reflect on their own experience. And, through this, to recognize that the 'unmentionables' of mainstream management - such as informal conversations, power relationships and political action - are, in fact, fundamental aspects of everyday organizational life. And, contrary to popular belief, the essence of leadership practice.
Six years on, approaches rooted in management orthodoxy remain as stubbornly ingrained as ever.
And so, the challenge of helping managers to recognize the complex social dynamics of organization within their own day-to-day practice remains as pressing as ever. Arguably more so - as most try to cope with the effects of the global recession by basing their actions on the same sets of assumptions that gave rise to the problem in the first place!
So, with that in mind, this 'sixth anniversary' post restates some of the main assumptions about the complex social dynamics of organizations on which Informal Coalitions is based.
- 'Outcomes' emerge from the ongoing process of everyday conversational interaction - even in a so-called "command and control" regime.
- The future is perpetually constructed, and meaning co-created, through these current sense-making-cum-action-taking interactions.
- The complex social dynamics of organization mean that this process is self-organizing.
- Formally designed strategies, plans, programmes, etc are also realized (or not!) through this process of conversational interaction.
- People coalesce informally around particular ‘themes’ to initiate, support or frustrate new ideas, perspectives and organizational changes.
- The potential for continuity and for change exist simultaneously within the same conversational process:
- cultural dynamics tend to channel sense-making down familiar pathways (continuity); and, at the same time ...
- small conversational shifts can have large effects -'shifting the patterns’ and stimulating new insights (change).
- Nothing happens in organizations except through the exercise of power, and the political dynamics of difference and contention.
- Change leadership (and leadership in general) emerges in the midst of everyday, ‘local’ conversations and interactions.
- Managers are both ‘in control’ (in charge) and ‘not in control’ at the same time – “doing it better and getting it right” will help with the former but not the latter.
- The formal leadership challenge is to embrace this paradox: blending the sensible use of formal, structured processes (although ‘less is more’ here!) with active engagement in the hidden, messy and informal dynamics of organization.
- ‘Talk’ is a manager’s most important action 'tool': moving beyond message passing to joint sense-making and relationship building.
- Providing vision is an act of everyday engagement rather than the formulation of an intended future state (i.e. it is about insight rather than far sight).
- The aim is to work with these natural dynamics, to build active coalitions of support for what are judged to be organizationally beneficial changes.
- Managers - like everyone else - can act with intent, but can have no certainty as to what outcomes will emerge.
... and nor can the writer of a book that sets out to help people "master the hidden, messy and informal dynamics of organizational change"!