Print Page   |   Contact Us   |   Sign In   |   Register
Complexity Matters
Blog Home All Blogs
The Complexity Matters blog features the Thursday Complexity Post as well as other complexity inspired news items.


Search all posts for:   


Top tags: complexity matters  buscell  health  research  culture  stopMRSA  news  cohn  community  innovation  nature  catching butterflies  MRSA  education  healthcare  neuroscience  medicine  positive deviance  leadership  relationships  resilience  music  science  technology  networks  art  environment  leaders  organizations  ecology 

Structures that Unleash Collaboration and Innovation

Posted By Prucia Buscell, Thursday, April 24, 2014

A vibrant economy needs more organizations where people thrive, and evidence suggests we're far from that ideal. A recent Gallop report finds 70 percent of American workers are disengaged from their jobs, and nearly 20 percent of the disengaged actively resist their employers' goals. Gallop also reports disengagement may cost up to $550 billion a year in lost productivity, and untold losses in employee potential. With only 22 percent of employees committed to their work and thriving, there clearly is an urgent need to plant seeds to grow engagement.

In their new book, The Surprising Power of Liberating Structures, Keith McCandless and Henri Lipmanowicz, both experienced in business and skilled facilitators, give us an entire seed catalog: 33 Liberating Structures which, used alone or in combination, provide an endless variety of ways to include and engage people in groups of any size.

The authors identify the sweet spot where changes are easy to implement and make a big difference: the routine practices that people use to structure how they interact when they meet to plan, learn, solve problems, and make decisions. They call these practices "microstructures" and they have found that nearly everyone uses the same five conventional microstructures over and over: presentations and lectures in the classrooms, managed discussions, status reports, open discussions and brainstorms. Unfortunately, these five conventional structures are designed primarily to direct and control and are inadequate for engaging people. In contrast, Liberating Structures (LS) are designed to make it easy to include and engage everyone regardless of rank or seniority.

In introducing LS the authors help us become much more aware of the ubiquitous presence of structures and how they both support and constrain all our activities. They show us how we can configure them to help us achieve surprisingly better outcomes. The conversations we start, the questions we ask, and our listening skills all make a difference. The authors challenge us to observe circumstances and events more closely with attention to what's really important to us and to others. They make it clear that we can all learn to use simple structures that enable any group of people working together to radically improve collaboration, innovation and decision-making.

With LS everybody affected by a problem can be included in discovering how to tackle it. The role of leadership is to participate and support but not dictate. The book has a whole chapter on how leaders using LS can learn to contribute their own best while energizing others to develop and flourish in their work.

Creative icons represent each of these microstructures on the Liberating Structures website.

LS are easy to learn. For example, in 1,2,4,All, participants get a minute to reflect on an issue and write their thoughts. They get two minutes to share their thoughts in pairs, and two minutes to repeat the process in a group of four. The four person groups each decide on the most important points to share with the whole group. The entire exercise can take three to 15 minutes, and surprising new ideas are likely. All participants, regardless of position, can articulate and test their ideas in a safe space and all have an equal chance to contribute. Good ideas can emerge from anyone. There is no limit on how many people can be included.

With TRIZ, inspired in part by a Russian inventor, participants are invited to engage in creative destruction and dispatch sacred cows. They think of an important objective and then list everything they can do to achieve the exact opposite. Some of the suggestions are likely to be hilarious. During the second step their task is to identify anything they currently do that resembles the things on their list. Now they know what they need to creatively destroy in order to make space for innovation. Other LS will help with a deeper dig for solutions.

This book is elegantly structured and designed for easily accessible answers to questions. Part One offers a thoughtful discussion of "The Hidden Structures of Engagement," how to see them under the surface, how they work, and how the power of small changes can induce transformations without expensive training and personnel changes at work and without strife at home. In Part Two, the authors share their wisdom on learning and using different LS. They suggest ways to match specific challenges to specific structures. Is your purpose unclear? Try 9 Whys. It works at home just as well. Lipmanowicz recalls a colleague saying she used 9 Whys to help her daughter crystallize ideas for a school paper. Want to analyze progress to date and decide how to proceed? Try What, So What, Now What. That too works in home and career. Mixing LS can refine inquiries and discoveries. The authors suggest ways to string several LS together to work on complex issues. But they stress their examples are not prescriptions. While LS are easy to understand, advanced skill using all of them takes practice. "Learning to customize Liberating Structure designs for the specific purpose of each complex challenge is an art form that can be improved over a life time," the authors declare.

An extensive field guide explains each LS, its structural elements, its possibilities, its derivation, and some tips, potential traps and variations.

The stories from the field are instructive. Lisa Kimball is an experienced entrepreneur who started using LS in the 1980s. In her work with the U.S. Army, a User Experience Fishbowl allowed soldiers about to deploy to Afghanistan to hear first-hand experiences of soldiers returning from war. That included vital information on how they built trusting relationships with women in rural villages to improve intelligence and discourage Taliban recruitment. Officers reported they learned far more from personal exchanges than from formal summaries. Michael Gardam, MD, medical director of infection prevention at the University Health Network in Toronto, explains the way Social Network Mapping showed new relationships developing across units and diverse disciplines as people collaborated to stop the spread of infections. Simple Ethnography interviews, ranging from housekeeping to executives, then documented the culture changes and differences of habits and behavior brought about by new ways of working together.

Liberating Structures may be the seeds to grow engagement in your organization. They may also nurture new thoughts and actions in your communities and personal lives.

To learn more, participant in a PlexusCall May 9, in which Henri and others will discuss Liberating Structures. Buy the book, visit the LS website, and attend the Liberating Structures Workshop May 29-30. Read the Gallop State of the American Workplace Report.

Tags:  buscell  complexity matters  culture  innovation  leaders 

Share |
PermalinkComments (0)

Leaders Face New Challenges in a Networked World

Posted By Prucia Buscell, Thursday, February 13, 2014

The language of leadership often reflects hierarchy and elaborates distinctions between leaders and followers. The "great man" theory of history proposed by nineteenth century philosopher Thomas Carlisle still offers an appealing view of extraordinary men and women shaping and moving events through their own personal strength and charisma. Scholar and author Mila Baker, PhD, argues one of the most profound social shifts in recent years has been erosion of individual power and the rise of collective power enabled by technology and social media.

"We need a mindset and language of leadership that maintains equilibrium between leading and following-a conception of leadership that is agile and stateless in its composition," she writes in her new book Peer to Peer Leadership: Why the Network is the Leader. "Like the U.S. Constitution guides and influences the nation's trajectory without stifling the rights and freedoms of its populace, organizations' design needs to facilitate leading and following on an equal platform."

Dr. Baker isn't saying CEOs have no role. She is saying today's changing business world requires them to adopt new thinking and behavior. In the architecture of a peer to peer network community, every computer-or electronic device-represents a node. The network connects people and provides instant flow of information. All nodes within the network are equal participants in a larger whole, a concept Dr. Baker calls equipotency. Electronic technology is no longer just a tool in organizations. It changes the way we relate to one another. It enables information to be sent and received among peers working toward a common goal. Everyone leads and everyone follows. Dr. Baker tells of her own experience working in a psychiatric emergency room. Each individual had an equal opportunity to contribute, which was not defined by an individuals' role or position, but the need of the moment. "We shared power and authority-we followed and gave orders as necessary," she writes, all respecting each other's commitment to the wellbeing of patients. "In general, she says, "equipotency blurs the line between leader and follower, and at the same time clarifies the overall purpose within groups and organizations."

The dynamic action needed to respond to a situation, she says, "occurs at the intersection of art and science." That's the relational dynamic that develops within a network when all perspectives are heard, integrated and accounted for. The network becomes the leader, Dr. Baker writes, because actions are based on a consensus of needs.

So what is the paradigm for new leadership? Dr. Baker says leadership can only be demonstrated in the context of a relational dynamic. She describes leadership as a "dyad exchange structure." She says this kind of leadership is shown by "the catalytic action that occurs in the relational dynamic between two individuals working together toward a common goal." In organizations that have successfully evolved away from the Industrial Age individual-centered command and control model, dyad exchange structures will connect nodes-people-for the purpose of resolving polarities and innovating. Dr. Baker says these structures will strengthen the bonds among people, enable the network to do its work, and allow us to embrace technology "as an extension of our capacity to evolve as humans in a connected world." The connected world means we need to move beyond the idea that leadership is limited to individuals, and that information should flow mainly from boss to subordinate. Networked information in organizations means more openness and more agility. Hazards associated with increased openness can be mitigated by technology that quickly uncovers patterns and identifies risks.

Tags:  buscell  complexity matters  leaders  leadership  networks 

Share |
PermalinkComments (0)

African Rural University: Systems Thinking to Become "Creators of Circumstance"

Posted By Prucia Buscell, Thursday, November 21, 2013

Rose Asiimwe wanted to help families in her rural Ugandan village keep their children in school, so she mobilized students, parents and community leaders into a group that formed a new primary school. The school is functioning, fewer kids drop out, and the school has initiated some income-generating projects to support the poorest students. She also sparked formation of a women's development group that focuses on sanitation and hygiene. Rose Asiimwe is a sophomore at the African Rural University (ARU), an unusual institution that encourages students to bring their academically acquired technological and entrepreneurial skills back home.

ARU is a women-only institution with a vision of its graduates as change agents who can help people of Uganda and beyond make their own communities better places to live and thrive. The ARU website explains the school's core beliefs. Among them: "Lasting change comes only when people shift from reacting or adapting to events and circumstances and become creators of events and circumstances." Another core belief is that when people share a common vision they can transcend barriers caused by tribal, religious, political and gender differences.

Patricia Seybold, a consultant and CEO of her own consulting group, has written a story of the university’s founding and achievements. ARU is part of a continuum of educational institutions from primary school through college. The Uganda Rural Development and Training Programme (URDT), founded in 1987, in Kagadi, had taught children and adults of both sexes, as well as entrepreneurs and farmers, and had started a girls' school. All the students had academic grades, but primary and secondary students in the Girls School were also graded on their ability to get their families to improve living conditions while their daughters were away studying. The URDT Girls School graduated its first high school class in 2007, and those young women were already community leaders. Read an article by Robert Fritz on URDT emphasis on processes and system dynamics emphasis

Mwalimu Musheshe, named an Ashoka Fellow in 2001, founded ARU with URDT. Ashoka considered his concept of the school a system changing idea. The country's first all-women's university would create a core of visionary women leaders and role models, aid gender parity in education, and reduce infant mortality.

ARU began in September 2006 with 29 researcher students in a five year pilot program with three years of study and two years of field work in a dozen communities where they performed as "rural transformation specialists." Students visited hundreds of households in their communities, creating a baseline survey on such matters as income, health, sanitation and nutrition. That information helped identify projects people wanted, and students used their training and access to expertise to help people carry them out. ARU and its feeder schools emphasized creative processes, community learning, entrepreneurship, sustainable development and creating social capital. ARU rural transformation courses draw on science and humanities, Seybold writes, and inspiration from "traditional wisdom specialists," old men and women who know and share traditional knowledge.

Part of ARU's goal was to foster systems thinking in every part of the curriculum. As Seybold writes, it wasn’t the students' job to fix the system, but to understand it thoroughly enough so that they could help community members identify and collaborate on their shared vision. Some resulting projects have included new roads, schools, savings societies, market places and farmers' co-ops. Students also worked on how to measure impact of their work—what information to collect, how to establish data bases, and how to get feedback from community members, who were asked to play a key role in evaluating projects.

The teamwork of school and community were in play when ARU needed its own library as a condition for certification as a university. There were national standards for space and academic content, Seybold says, but planners wanted a deep understanding of who the library should serve and how. A group of students, staff, faculty, librarians and media personnel explored ARU's expectation that the new facility would be a magnet for scholars, government officials, the local community and a broader region of 10 million subsistence farmers with low literacy. They planed data bases that would be used by all, and a rich collection of agricultural samples on seeds, plants, soil and access to successful agricultural practices. Read Seybold's article here.

Tags:  buscell  complexity matters  culture  education  leaders 

Share |
PermalinkComments (0)

Samba School Lessons for Leaders

Posted By Prucia Buscell, Thursday, October 31, 2013

Business leaders can learn valuable lessons from the exuberant four day Carnival celebrations in Rio de Janeiro, Sao Paolo and other big Brazilian cities, according to a scholar who has studied how people in samba schools prepare the elaborate floats and present imaginative themes and fabulous performances in music and dance.

Carnival, with its festivals, costumes and parades coming just before Lent, the 40 days preceding Easter, has been celebrated in Brazil for centuries. Samba schools, which compete for prestigious rankings of their Carnival entries, aren't teaching institutions as the name might imply. The Rio Service Carnival Travel and Tourism website explains that samba schools are more like social clubs, community organizations, and sometimes political groups, that also spend months of every year preparing for Carnival. They got started in the 1920s, the website says, among people from the Bahia state in eastern Brazil who came to the cities bringing the music and dance of their Candomble religion. Today's samba schools are big, complex organizations, and Alfredo Behrens, a professor of Global Leadership at Faculdade FIA de Administracao e Negocios in Sao Paolo, believes big corporations should pay heed to how they operate.

Behrens, whose most recent book is Shooting Heroes and Rewarding Cowards: A Sure Path Towards Organizational Disaster, studied Mocidade Alegre, a samba school that won first place in the Sao Paolo parade in 2012 and 2013. He interviewed people throughout the organization, including dancers, who have no managerial authority, members of a 250-man percussion orchestra known as a bateria, many directors and the school's president. He writes about his findings in his Harvard Business Review blog. He explains that referees judge the samba schools wins and rankings based on 10 criteria similar to key performance indicators (KPIs) used in the corporate world.

While many samba school participants hold corporate day jobs, they put in long unpaid hours for Carnival preparation. Behrens says Mocidade members feel like family. He quotes Daniel Sena, the schools' director general of harmony, as saying winning is important, but the core of the school business is treating people nicely. "That's what makes people come back for the renewed challenges even after losing a parade," he told Behrens. Sena, who works in finance, thinks niceness is undervalued in the business world. A corporate mediator and samba coordinator told Berhens she'd seen "corporations discarding people as if they were garbage when they are past their prime" while samba schools "recycle" and respect their "oldies." Behrens says Mocidade is a closely-knit community with strong focus and great teamwork. It has more than 30 directors, who have considerable autonomy in their own projects. The president is a woman, newcomers are welcome, and the organization doesn't rely on conventional discriminatory ethnic and social hierarchies. Behrens thinks businesses in Brazil and elsewhere can be more successful if they learn how to build community and practice in ways that make people want to engage and work together. Read Behrens blog here. And see some fabulous photos in the Daily Mail.

Tags:  art  buscell  community  complexity matters  leaders  music 

Share |
PermalinkComments (0)

Leading, Learning and Transformational Change

Posted By Prucia Buscell, Thursday, September 19, 2013

Eight years after Novant Health formed through the merger of two large regional hospitals in North Carolina, some executives realized, the organization still had multiple cultures, a wide variety of policies, strategic plans and information systems, and leadership development suffered as a result.

Presbyterian Healthcare in Charlotte and Carolina Medicorp in Winston-Salem merged in 1997, creating a system that now has 14 medical centers, 360 physician clinics, 158 outpatient clinics and 25,000 employees. In 2005, two of Novant's key leaders decided to begin a leadership program that would develop a pool of internal talent to fill the many new leadership roles they knew would be needed as the organization grew, and address cultural issues that could potentially undermine that anticipated growth.

Vic Cocowitch, a leadership and organizational consultant in healthcare, Stephen Orton PhD, who works for the North Carolina Institute for Public Health at the University of North Carolina, and the two Novant executives, Jacque Daniels, Chief Administrative Officer and Debbie Kiser, Vice President of Leaning and Development, describe their seven year program in a story in the OD Practitioner, the journal of the Organizational Development Network. Their article, "Reframing Leadership Development in Healthcare," explains that Leadership Novant was based on the beliefs that leadership is continuous learning, that the work environment in a healthcare system can be used as a great learning laboratory, and that managers and leaders need to learn through their own experiences.

Novant relies on interdisciplinary teams collaborating to improve patient safety, quality of care, and solve problems, the authors write, so Leadership Novant stressed teamwork throughout its curriculum in readings, assessments, simulations and social activities. A cohort program, of five three day sessions held at an off-site facility, included activities that helped participants deepen personal relationships and networks and think and act outside of their usual comfort zone. It emphasized three themes, which the article describes as follows:

The Use of Self is based on the idea that effective leadership depends on deep self-awareness and "an ability to intentionally manage and deploy self for desired organizational impact."

Team Leadership, which requires interdisciplinary collaboration, included such action learning projects as development of a health literacy program, analyzing post-acute care facilities and strategies, and developing a "cultural due diligence process" for potential mergers and acquisitions.

Systems Thinking and Change Leadership, which were reinforced throughout the program, were emphasized through learning content aligned with organizational needs. Case studies showed system wide change as it took place. As one example, leaders presented early plans for the inception of new health information technology in inpatient facilities and physician practices.

The authors write that a successful leadership program needs to be fully supported by the organization's CEO and entire executive team, and it needs to evolve continually so that critical and unexpected events are used as learning opportunities. An earlier article by Cocowitch and Orton about an organizational development approach to healthcare leadership and the program at Novant is available here.

Tags:  buscell  complexity matters  healthcare  leaders  leadership 

Share |
PermalinkComments (0)

Family Stories Help Kids Be Resilient “Oscillating Narratives” Are Healthiest

Posted By Prucia Buscell, Thursday, March 21, 2013

Do you know where your grandparents grew up? Do you know where your parents went to school and how they met? Do you know the story of your birth?

Marshall Duke, a psychologist at Emory University and his colleague Robyn Fivush, director of Emory’s Family Narratives Lab, developed a measure that asks school children 20 questions about their families. They found that kids who know the most about their families tend to be the most resilient when they face adversity, and the measure tends to be a good predictor of children’s emotional health and happiness.

In his New York Times column "Family Stories That Bind Us,” Bruce Feiler reports on the research and suggests the one most important thing you can do for your family is to develop a strong family narrative. Feiler, who is a scholar of religion and the Middle East, is also the author of the book The Secrets of Happy Families.

Feiler says Duke and Fivush have found kids who know their family history have a strong sense of their "intergenerational selves” and know they belong to something bigger than themselves. It also helps to have family traditions that children remember and carry on.

Psychologists say every family has some unifying narrative, Feiler reports, and they tend to take three shapes. The ascending narrative says: we started with nothing, overcame obstacles and succeeded. The descending narrative says: once we had it all, but we lost everything. The healthiest, according to Duke, is the oscillating narrative: we’ve had our ups and downs, our successes and failures, but we’ve always stuck together, no matter what happened.

Leaders in business and politics also use narratives to explain core meanings, Feiler writes, and he says the military has found that teaching recruits the history of their service is more effective than bullying in promoting camaraderie and unit cohesion. He quotes Commander David G. Smith, chairman of the department of leadership, ethics and law at the Naval Academy, who advises graduating seniors to take freshmen to cemeteries to see the graves of early naval heroes and aircraft displays on campus to help them build a sense of history.

Tags:  buscell  complexity matters  leaders  resilience 

Share |
PermalinkComments (0)
Association Management Software Powered by YourMembership  ::  Legal