Flock of Birds One of the key enablers for organizational excellence is management of collective knowledge. An Excellent organization would not only have defined its Mission, Vision and supporting values that act as guidance in how it wants to go about its business, but also identified the critical competencies that will accelerate the journey.

In this context, the ability to learn and improve as an organization becomes very critical.

When you look at flocks of birds moving – whether it is at the end of the day or during migrations, the patterns they form are dynamic and very interesting.

While weather conditions and the intent of the flight make for some variations, we see that the strongest of the flock would be ahead. They also take turns to lead from among the ‘leadership team’ as it were.

The younger or weaker ones are not left behind, though they usually trail. The reason being that any headwinds are broken by the spearheads and the ones that follow can fly with less resistance!

Constant learning – whether at project level – through positive retrospectives – or at organizational unit or entire organization levels – is needed to ensure that all minds are open to be awed by new insights that are generated every day and use them to continually improve.

I would highly recommend a book called ‘The Fifth Discipline’ by Peter M Senge for anyone interested in creating, growing or just understanding a learning organization.

Though almost 25 years old since Senge first proposed the laws of the Fifth Discipline, they are still relevant today.  If you are familiar with Agile approaches, you might be able to find some relevance based on the Agile values and principles too. The fifth discipline is essentially systems thinking.

The book has a detailed treatment of these topics, but to give you a very high level summary of how learning together as a team helps us share and support each other, as a way of working. Even if we can internalize just a few of these and apply them in our contexts, we can see a lot of benefit.

Some of the sub-bullets are my interpretations, with a few of my own experiences in applying them.

The laws, briefly, are:

  • Today’s problems come from yesterday’s solutions
    • many times we are short sighted in solving problems that the downstream consequences are felt later
    • the concept of ‘technical debt’ where known compromises can soon pile up and make systems very complicated!
  • The harder you push, the harder the system pushes back
    • current day trends of co-creation or involving all stakeholders in change initiatives address this challenge
    • as a change agent, the first thought that might cross our minds is to mandate or force some changes. Rather than that, approaches to involve and engage the individuals and teams in visualizing the change and also implement them is more sustainable
  • Behaviour grows better before it grows worse
    • looking for low hanging fruit without paying attention to the sustainability could result in this
    • it is good to look for early wins. to instil confidence among others or to validate a hypothesis. but, many times, if the behavior is as expected only when there is oversight or policing, it not only adds to the overheads, but also tends to relapse into old behavior, with renewed intensity!
  • The easy way out usually leads us back in
    • how many times have come across regression effects of ‘small’ or what is considered ‘simple’ changes!
    • somewhat related to an earlier point on short term result focus, this is when we do not spend sufficient time in planning as a team. when we optimize or take decisions with a limited view, it could have a greater impact on others and make the overall progress slower
  • The cure can be worse than the disease
    • leading to organizational fragility
    • adopting fads or just because it worked elsewhere could result in a misfit solution in your context. As a team, if the goals and the pace of progress are chosen, it is more likely to lead to steady improvements
  • Faster is slower
    • a quick fix could have a long tail of support costs
    • but, be aware of the analysis paralysis trap. we should have a focus on action. time boxing discussions and decisions is a way to limit the possibility of getting into endless confusion
  • Cause and effect are not closely related in time and space
    • the impact of something done today may not be felt for generations sometimes – such as the impact on our environment
  • Small changes can produce big results – but the areas of highest leverage are often the least obvious
    • many times, we are blinded or distracted by the need to look at big bang approaches to making changes. the associated risks may be minimized by taking baby steps
  • You can have your cake and eat it too – but not at once
    • we need to be clear of our priorities; not look for instant gratifications that might erode long term value
  • Dividing an elephant in half does not produce two elephants
    • while we may want to divide and conquer, creating silos adds to organizational inefficiency
  • There is no blame
    • does it sound like – no blame post mortems? they are the most forward looking and productive actions

So, to work and achieve as a team, we need to master the art of not only working together with a model of cooperation, but move to a more cohesive collaborative organization.

Everyone in the team is always aware of the goals, their own roles as well as those of others – ready to step in or extend to meet any shortfalls, to ensure that the team commitments are met.

It is also important to constantly sense the progress as well as the environment to make suitable adjustments to the team formation, responsibility distribution and even strategies for execution.

Do share your thoughts on this as well as any experiences from your career.

Till next time..


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