Organizing Genius: The Secrets of Creative Collaboration

There are 21 key elements of great groups that I believe emerge from Bennis and Biederman’s analysis. I have listed them below.  While the 21 elements aren’t that surprising, the book does make three surprising revelations about the elements.  First, all of these 21 elements feature in all of the great groups.  It would seem that you don’t get a great group unless all of these conditions are met, somehow. Second, these elements are not planned and implemented top down.  They seem to evolve organically from the leadership.  Third, the manifestation of these key elements is not slick, fair, institutionalized or particularly attractive taken out of context. Human Resources and Senior Management are not likely to cheerfully sign off on a strategy to create these conditions. Even if they do, you probably can’t implement these 21 elements top down and get a great group.  That is the dilemma we are left with when we finish this book. We can see what a great group looks like but it is not certain that we can actually create one deliberately!  That said, Organizing Genius is a great read, the stories are vibrant and detailed and it’s a pleasure getting a little glimpse of what it was like to work on the first personal computer, Snow White and the first U.S. jet fighter. While the stories can’t show you precisely how to create a great group, they will give you good idea of what a Great Group looks like and feels like and that is a big help!

Great Groups – Key Elements – A Checklist

  1. A clear, tangible outcome. The best outcomes are widely recognized as important or fantastic.
  2. An outrageous vision for the outcome.
  3. A leader who can get people to get personally committed to the vision and the outcome.
  4. Exceptionally capable people on the team – the best talent available.
  5. A leader that the team respects.
  6. A leader who gives the team members the information, recognition and latitude they need to deliver the outcome.
  7. A leader who keeps the team focused without micro managing it.
  8. A shabby workplace with access to all the equipment, materials, tools and training the team needs to deliver the outcome.
  9. Team is protected from bureaucracy of the sponsor/sponsor organization.
  10. The workplace enables collaboration.
  11. Team is insulated from distractions.
  12. There is one focus for the team – the outcome.
  13. Team members have responsibilities that are aligned to their expertise, interests, and capabilities.
  14. Team members are willing to work on what needs to be worked on when it needs to be worked on.
  15. People don’t always get along but everyone wants to achieve the outcome so this common desire transcends individual conflicts.

Influencer: The Power to Change Anything

Influencer: “The Power to Change Anything” was published in 2008 by McGraw Hill and was written by Kerry Patterson, Joseph Grenny, David Maxfield, Ron McMillan and Al Switzer.  It is a New York Times best seller.

The authors start out by flat out debunking the notion that the ability to influence is reserved for people with charismatic and silver-tongued DNA.  They firmly and kindly suggest that this notion is an excuse used by those of us who have tried to influence and failed or who feel daunted by the prospect of using influence to bring about significant change.  Deciding that we aren’t equipped to influence gives us permission to work on that spreadsheet that will convince the world we are right or to yell louder hoping that people will eventually “get it,” rather than getting out there and making change happen.  Having momentarily snapped us out of denial, Patterson et. al. give us a how-to manual for influencing that  is solid, accessible and informative.

While I am tempted to summarize the whole book here, I will not.  I will share a bit about the three elements of the book that I found most useful.  (I have been much more heavy-handed than the authors.  In my defense I have a few paragraphs to win you over, they have a couple hundred pages)

1) Change the Way You Change Minds:  “People choose behaviors based on what they think will happen to them as a result.”  “When it comes to resistant problems, verbal persuasion rarely works.”  Sharing personal experience is a great tool but in the absence of this tell people a story.  Tell a story that acts on their internal view of the world and gets them thinking that they have the ability to change and that change might be in their best interest.  The lesson here:  TELLING PEOPLE WHAT THEY SHOULD DO AND WHY DOES NOT WORK. STOP TRYING THAT APPROACH.

2) There are actually six influence points not the one (whatever it is) that YOU know and use over and over (with, the authors predict, limited success). The authors provide an intuitive and simple to remember influence framework that you can refer to you when you are planning (note, planning) to influence.  While the examples and teaching that the authors provide will help you quickly internalize the elements, once you see the framework you might feel a little sheepish that you hadn’t thought of it yourself.  The lesson here:  INFLUENCE IS NOT MAGIC, THERE IS A “FORMULA.”  IF YOU USE IT, YOU CAN BRING THE CHANGE YOU DESIRE.

3) There are six influence points and the more of them you use, the more success you will have. Conversely if you use  just one or two, you will fail.  The lesson here:   PEOPLE ARE COMPLEX. PEOPLE RESPOND TO DIFFERENT THINGS.  YOU ARE NOT A SHEEP, STOP TREATING THOSE YOU WISH TO INFLUENCE AS THOUGH THEY WERE.  USE MULTIPLE STRATEGIES.

I highly recommend this book.  I suggest reading it through once and marking up the parts that seem particularly relevant to you.  Chances are you will want to come back to the highlighted sections again and again as you apply the lessons of Influencer to the change initiatives you are trying to move forward.

Rocking the Boat: How to Effect Change Without Making Trouble

Rocking the Boat: How to Effect Change Without Making Trouble describes research findings concerning the strategies that managers use to create bottom up, incremental change from within their organizations. Bottom up, or “continuous and fragmented change” as Myerson characterizes it, effected by “tempered radicals” from deep within the organization is contrasted to the “revolutionary, episodic change” that “you read about in best-selling management texts.” The author describes six strategies that tempered radicals use:

  • Resisting quietly and staying true to self
  • Turning personal threats into opportunities
  • Broadening the impact through negotiation
  • Leveraging small wins
  • Organizing collective action

While the author’s research focused on social change: socially responsibility, gender, race and sexual preference equality, the change strategies and underlying mechanisms are very applicable to other kinds of organizational change including systems, people, infrastructure, and process change.

In particular, Turning Personal Threats into Opportunities, Broadening the Impact through Negotiation, and Leveraging Small Wins chapters contain a wealth of specific, practical ideas that managers can apply immediately and easily to effecting any kind of change. The author also summarizes the key elements of the strategies and the tools in tables that make excellent reference tools.

Rocking the Boat: How to Effect Change Without Making Trouble
Debra E. Myerson
Harvard Business Press
2001, 2008