When is a team meeting NOT a team meeting?

Q: Does your manager cancel it if they cannot attend?
A: It’s not a team meeting. It’s the manager’s meeting.Q: Does your manager set and send out the agenda?
A: It’s not a team meeting. It’s the manager’s meeting.
Q: Are you expected to attend by default?
A: It’s not a team meeting. It’s the manager’s meeting.

This is not a feature purely of generic team meetings, it applies to any regularly timed meeting in a normal ordinary command and control organisation.

Think of people who need to meet to solve some kind of mutual problem. They self organise and decide individually whether they should or shouldn’t go. The things that need to be talked or decided grow out of the shared problem. If somebody can’t come at that time or date, then the nature of the problem and the degree and nature of the missing person’s involvement in it would be the criteria that decide whether the meeting is rearranged so they can come later or at a different location.

Essentially the problem itself that causes the meeting, dictates the meeting.

On the other end of the scale from problem-driven meetings are hierarchical meetings. These are total crud. They happen because. They happen because of the features of a command and control hierarchy, such as the existence of managers, decisions made separate from the work dropping vertically from above, performance monitoring, “planning” in the absence of knowledge etc

The hierarchy dictates the meeting, who attends, the content, the form and how decisions are made within it.

Here’s the test of a meeting, whether it is a manager’s meeting or a problem solving meetings….

Does the law of 2-feet apply?

The law is simple…

If you are in a meeting and are not contributing anything of value or getting something valuable, you have the responsibility to use your 2 feet and walk away.[link]

If you cannot use the law of 2-feet, because you’re expected to be in the meeting due to because, then you’re in  a manager’s meeting.

If you can, congratulations. It’s a real meeting. Enjoy!

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Folk management

How do you think organisations work?
This is how Jeremy thinks his boiler works….

This is what a fair few people including me think a boiler works like. Not in as obviously ludicrous way, but  comments I’ve sourced from nearby people are similar…

  • I’d turn it high, so it gets really warm quicker, then turn it down to the temperature I want”
  • “If you whack it up high, it makes it hotter, which is what you want. Then turn it down”
  • “When it’s cold, turn it much hotter to reverse the cold then put it to the heat you want”

This isn’t how thermostats work, but it’s how people think they work.

Most people don’t give it much thought, instead they use the nearest metaphor they have to imagine how it works. Probably something like putting your foot down on an accelerator hard, so you speed up faster, until you reach the desired speed then you take your foot off the pedal. Or closer to the actual situation, turning on a gas fire full until it heats up a room, then turning it down again.

When people don’t know how something works, they imagine how it works. But crucially, they’ll not know that there’s a difference between imagining and knowing. There’s something called folk physics, which is the study of how people imagine the world works when they don’t know how it does.

For example people think that when water is piped through a coiled spiral of pipe, that when the water emerges from the end it will continue to spiral, in a coil of water. It doesn’t, it comes out in a straight line, but surprisingly large numbers of people think it comes out all wiggly.

What are trees made of? Where does all that wood come from? Lots of people think it comes from the soil, water and something to do with leaves and sunlight.

Trees come from fresh air. 95% of a tree come from carbon dioxide, the air around it turns into tons of wood. Sounds quite weird and unlikely, but only if you don’t know how photosynthesis works. 

This is why normal ordinary command and control management is so dumb. Because it actually is dumb. Or rather, it’s the equivalent level of dumbness as thinking that a cannonball falls faster than a marble. Just an incorrect model of how reality works, easily tested by empirical investigation. But startlingly dumb, if intelligence is the ability to acquire knowledge, then the failure to test assumptions of normal models of work is dumb cos no new knowledge is acquired.

Do targets work to make services better? No, you can test that and find out.

Do appraisals work to make services better? No, you can test that and find out.

Folk management is the result of the ongoing inability to generate new knowledge by testing the underlying theory that it relies on. Most organisations don’t know the theory that they operate under, only the visible manifestations of it. They know they do annual plans, budget monitoring, have service standards, but not that this is a choice driven by an assumption about how the world works.

As the Deming quote goes, without theory there is no learning. Without knowing the theory of how boilers and thermostats work, you can’t use it properly to keep you at a pleasant temperature. Without knowing how work works, or at least what your own theory of work actually is, then you can’t learn how to get better at it.

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Double Trouble

Mr SquireToTheGiants did a nice thing on why organisations can be like the politics and game playing of Game Of Thrones, but without the deaths or dragons, explaining double loop learning in the process. Here it is and you should click to read more.

Squire to the Giants

Double troubleThere’s a lovely idea which I’ve known about for some time but which I haven’t yet written about.

The reason for my sluggishness is that the idea sounds so simple…but (as is often the case) there’s a lot more to it. It’s going to ‘mess with my head’ trying to explain – but here goes:

[‘Heads up’: This is one of my long posts]

Learning through feedback

We learn when we (properly) test out a theory, and (appropriately) reflect on what the application of the theory is telling us i.e. we need to test our beliefs against data.

“Theory by itself teaches nothing. Application by itself teaches nothing. Learning is the result of dynamic interplay between the two.” (Scholtes)

Great. So far, so good.

Single-loop learning vs. Double-loop learning

Chris Argyris (1923 – 2013) clarified that there are two levels to this learning, which he explained through the…

View original post 2,383 more words

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This gallery contains 3 photos.

“Okay, say you go into the break room, and a couple people you like are there, say someone’s telling a funny story, you laugh a little, you feel included, everyone’s so funny, you go back to your desk with a … Continue reading

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WANTED: systemsy stuff to cheer me up

I’ve been working in an ordinary command and control organisation TOO LONG.

I’m miserable and it makes me think that all work is like this and it can never change.

I know it isn’t. I’ve been a part of, and seen in other organisations PROPER WORK. by which I mean

  • Studying work to get knowledge 
  • Measures derived from and used in the work
  • Change happening by experiment
  • Purpose discovered outside-in rather than by asking your manager

You know, systemsy stuff. 

I want to go and see somewhere doing this, cos whenever I have done in the past, it’s brilliant and makes me excited and optimistic.

So if this is you, if you work in a place that’s going or even gone systemsy in a Deming-ish or Seddon-ey way then can I come visit you to have a gawk at your stuff? Just for a few hours. I’ll be no trouble, and I’ll not blog about it unless you want me to.  You’d get the chance to show off a bit and I guarantee I’ll be impressed.

If this is you, click on the contact me button and send me a message including your contact details and I’ll get back to you with glee.  If you’re somewhere north of Manchester and south of Edinburgh that would be ideal.

Posted in command and control, deming, systems thinking | 7 Comments

The secret management model that must not be named

It’s my annual appraisal tomorrow, the lowlight of my year.

I announce my opinion of appraisals out loud, and nobody disagrees, most agree, for the usual reasons.

  • “why once a year do you talk about work and how it’s going? we have 121s every month!”
  • “why score someone with “satisfactory”? How’s THAT going to make them aspire to be better!”
  • “what’s with these VALUES?! I’ve got my own that I much prefer!”
  • “Most of the things on my appraisal were cancelled in the following months”

Everyone says they should be done “better”, but nobody says don’t do them at all.

Keen readers of this blog will have noticed that I’m fan of Deming. Despite him being old and boring, he is totally right as well. He said just don’t do them. That’s really the only answer to them.

I’m not going to list all their faults, or why they’re silly, cos I’m not that conscientious, you can google for that. Trust me, or Google, it’s up to you, either way, they’re worthless and damaging but for some reason staff can’t entertain the idea of doing away with them completely. Why’s that?

I think it’s cos they’re an essential part of an invisible and unnamed management model that nobody really grasps exists, or even has a name. The model runs everything. Like the illuminati. From the strategic plans to individual objectives in your annual appraisal. Runs ’em all. The performance monitoring, the use of binary comparisons of target against actual. Every damn thing is permeated by the secret model that nobody knows exists or has a name….

Unless they’ve read a book or two, or taken the slightest interest in how work works, then they’ll know.

It’s called ….




There. It-That-Must-Not-Be-Named has now been named. Like Lord Voldemort

Management By Objective is the name, and by their name so shall ye know them.

Plans, seem natural. Cascaded objectives from above, seem natural. Individual targets derived from plans, seem natural and inevitable.

They are not natural.

They SEEM natural because they’re all that most staff have ever seen in the workplace. They’re as natural as cars or mobile phones. Ie, ubiquitous but man-made. A choice.

They are integral parts of Management By Objectives, or MBO.

MBO is the unknown and un-named model that runs the vast majority of organisations.

You’ll have seen triangles in your work. In interminable service plans or strategic policy documents. Things that assert with a straight face what the organisation and therefore you will be doing.

This is a visual model of MBO. Your annual appraisal, no matter where you sit in the triangle, will be a monitoring of your delivery of a tiny chunk of it.

And MBO is roundly, almost comedically, discredited.

The first time i heard of it it was being debunked. I didn’t even hear of it when it was being mooted, or in its prime! It is THAT much of a secret to most staff. And that old-fashioned.

And it doesn’t work! Not as a model of how work actually works, or an aspiration of how it could work. Drucker first popularised it in the 1950s, so it’s had time enough to see if it COULD work. Look around you, does it?

Which brings me back to appraisals. Do they work? Not in theory, not if you tried really hard and THIS time made it work, but actually in your experience and of those around you, do they?

So, for a laugh, ask your manager in your next appraisal, “what is the name of the management model that we use here? that this is a part of?” Just for a laugh, cos it’ll be the only one you’ll be going to get.

Same time next year folks!

***LATE EDIT! Seems as if four years ago I typed virtually the same blog post, just much prettier cos I was all arty then. So here it is a bonus extra, to celebrate National Democracy Day*****


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Why WIFFY’s are bad and to be squashed at birth

YEARS ago some clever lady told me…

Avoid What If’s, these are called WIFFYs. Never allow them. If you see somebody asking “But…what if?” stop them there and then and ask “has it? do we have data that it is? what do we KNOW about it?”

This is not some kind of motivational “hey! don’t concern yourselves with What Ifs, just go for it, it’s your negativity and worry!

This is isn’t about THOSE What Ifs.

The What Ifs i mean, the WIFFYs, are when somebody asks something hypothetical…

“yeah, I see what you’re saying about numerical targets causing people to act odd, but WHAT IF we took the targets away and the lazier and less motivated staff don’t do the work, we’ve got nothing to make ’em do it then, its the customers who need that work done, and quick too.”

Yes, WHAT IF. Are they though? Has that happened? Where can we go to see these demotivated staff? When?

“but WHAT IF we speak to customers to find out more about what matters to them, and the problem they need solving, WHAT IF they want the moon on a stick? An executive gold plated service? What then eh?”

So, have you? And do they? What data do you have on what matters to customers?

“WHAT IF we get rid of service plans, and nobody knows what they should be doing?”

What data do you have on what they know they should be doing now? How did they get that? What data do you have on staff using service plans to find out what they’re supposed to do?

That’s the first part of a WIFFY, bring up what we know, and don’t know. The second part is to say….

“Whatever we find out is actually happening, and have data on, we will deal with, when we find it and when we have data on it.”

IE, we deal with we know, we find out about what we don’t know.

That’s it. 

Why are WIFFYs so dangerous? Because in normal ordinary command and control organisations the imaginary realm of the mind is what people deal in. Things that aren’t real are the currency of corporate thinkings. Once created, ie said out loud, it’s real.

Plans aren’t real, but they’re what people talk about, approve, monitor, cascade. There’s a big difference between a good days backed theory to be experimented with, and a series of quarterly guesses.

Risk management, that’s not real. WIFFYs by another name, they are the worst imaginings of what could go wrong, ignoring what is already predictabley going wrong.

Data-free imaginings are the how command and control organisations run. A WIFFY is the unit of currency in the market of guessology.

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