The parliament recognizes that life in organizations is inherently political - a complex social process of people constructing the future together through their everyday conversations.
Latest Activity: Nov 14, 2010
Par-lia-ment: From Parler (Fr) “to speak”. At their core, organizations are nothing more than people interacting for a purpose – or, more accurately, for a range of purposes. Some of these interactions take place in the formal arenas of the organization and follow formally designed processes, systems and procedures. Many more take place informally. The latter might include, for example, pre-meeting get-togethers to agree positions on issues; whispered asides or ‘nods and winks’ during formal meetings; water-cooler gossip; corridor conversations; private discussions; social interactions; and so on. Through this ongoing process of ‘local’ (i.e. one-to-one and small-group) interaction, people make sense of the world and decide how they are going to act. And it’s through the widespread interplay of these local conversations and interactions that formal designs, plans and programmes become established; coalitions of support for change are built; cultural assumptions become embedded; and overall outcomes emerge.
Formal Designs - ‘Coalitions of Co-operative Effort’
The formally designed structures, systems and processes are intended to bring people together to deliver outcomes in line with management’s intentions and the official ideology. This includes people both within the formal ‘boundaries’ of the organization and those beyond (such as partners, suppliers and other ‘external’ stakeholders). The belief is that a coalition of co-operative effort will form around the stated intent, as people behave rationally in pursuit of the organization’s goals. People might be inspired to act in organizationally beneficial ways because they are attracted to the goals themselves. Or they might be incentivized by other means to follow the intended course. Either way, with the formal structures, systems and processes in place, conventional management wisdom assumes that ‘doing these things better and getting them right’ is the way to ensure success.
However, a number of factors intervene to affect the ways in which these sought-after changes happen in practice.
Informal Coalitions – Individual Action Mobilizing Collective Action
Even if the formal designs of structures, processes and systems could be stated unambiguously and interpreted as intended, some of the resulting political activity would be directed towards changing these formally established ends and/or means, not just accommodating them.
As a result of the natural processes outlined above, people tend to coalesce informally around themes that dominate their local conversations and which ‘ring true’ to them. They then act on the basis of the meanings that these have for them. If the dominant themes are aligned with managers’ formally stated intentions, then it is more likely that the latter will be realized in practice. However, if these themes run counter to the official line, then other outcomes will undoubtedly materialize. Crucially, these dynamics will happen with or without managers’ active involvement. The only meaningful choice that managers have, therefore, is whether or not to engage with them in a deliberate and informed way. Even then, despite acting with intent, neither they nor anyone else can control what actually emerges.
Building active coalitions of support for change, by engaging purposefully with this ongoing conversational process and seeking to shift the nature and patterns of interaction, is what change leadership is all about. This means that ‘talk’ (including what managers ‘say’ through their everyday behaviour) is the most powerful action tool in a manager’s change-leadership ‘toolkit’.
As the conversations change, so does the organization.
Figure 1 – Outcomes Emerge from Everyday Conversations and Interactions
© 2010 Chris Rodgers Consulting Ltd