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Lessons from Harvard 2: Understanding Organizational “Operating Systems”

This is the second of four posts based on my experience at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health’s Executive Education for Sustainability Leadership program that I took in November 2017, led by Dr. Leith Sharp, integrated with some of our GPM Global content where appropriate. The intent of these posts is to show some interesting research and recommendations by Harvard around sustainability leadership that will be useful for sustainable projects.

The intent of the program is to educate leaders to “learn powerful new strategies for enacting high-impact sustainability leadership that positions sustainability as a driver of organizational engagement, authenticity, agility, innovation, and change-capability.” I strongly recommend others to consider this excellent program. It is a complementary offering to GPM’s sustainable project management training and practices.

Exhibit 1: The Harvard Executive Education for Sustainability Leadership Program

The first post provides some perspectives on the organizational ecosystems and the impacts of change on people and cultures. This post deals with two key “operating systems” that are often involved in many types of projects, and should be considered for all change initiatives. These two different “operating systems” are often required to work together in projects to deliver the organizational change and get to the right solution. The challenge is that they are often not able to work together. Importantly the Harvard approach to work with these challenges reinforces that these positions are neither good nor evil, simply different in how they deal with change initiatives… but that with the right approach they can work together successfully. The third post after this one provides the background on the strategy and research on new idea life cycles and the resulting model to analyze these project initiatives. The final post will deal with the strategy, tools and techniques of how to empower the two “operating systems” identified in this post to successfully implement important organizational change and deliver the expected project outcomes and benefits.

The program provided invaluable lessons, tools and techniques including an exceptional model for dealing with the different political landscapes and “operating systems” within organizations and providing strategies for how to use this insight to better implement change. Particularly multi-stakeholder and transformational change.

 

Recognition

This post’s graphics and content were adapted from the Harvard University Executive Education for Sustainability Leadership November 2017 program presentations by Dr. Leith Sharp.

 

Context

We finished the last post with the following questions…

  • Who in the zoo affects the successful implementation of new ideas?
  • How can we work with these groups and individuals to mitigate the risk and establish the social trust to obtain the authority and buy-in to design and deliver the change?

Though the following two Exhibits are tongue in cheek,they do highlight what for many organizations actually represents the real organization chart.

Exhibit 2: Recurring Disconnect between the OFFICIAL STORY & the ACTUAL STORY of how new things get done (http://www.delta7.com/)

 

Exhibit 3: Conscious & Sub-Conscious (Sharp, 2017-1, licensed for sharing and adapting under Creative Commons CC BY-SA 4.0, https://medium.com/@JimWexler/why-zappos-eliminated-the-boss-b6d5224f18a4)

The question is how do we work with and navigate the organization to better facilitate change. Are there parts of the organization that we can work with? Going back to the old rule, if you cannot name it, you cannot control / influence it.

Research from Harvard shows how two communities involved in many types of organizational change are the Command Control Operating System (CCOS) and the Adaptive Operating System (AOS). The challenge though is getting these “operating systems” to understand each other and work together effectively. In the real world though, the following is most often the case:

Exhibit 4: We Can Find Each Other in a New Kind of Design Thinking (The Hiking Artist Project by Frits Ahlefeldt, https://hikingartist.com/2013/01/16/experts-speaking-the-same-language/)

So what is the difference between these two groups? There are different ways of exploring these two operating systems. These differences can be experienced organizationally, from the sponsor or from the project manager or different project teams or stakeholders. These differences can introduce potential cultural and value based areas of conflict with stakeholders and the project team. For example, do we want a more dynamic agile open ended and change positive project management approach, or a detailed firm time / cost / scope plan that does not change and follows the approved organizational project management method… or a combination of both? Neither is right nor wrong, though there may be preferences depending on the culture, industry, client run project or contractor run project, and type of project.

 

Command Control Operating System (CCOS)

There are various ways to interpret the Command Control Operating System (CCOS). Here are some identifiers for the CCOS:

Exhibit 5: Command and Control System (Sharp, 2017-1, licensed for sharing and adapting under Creative Commons CC BY-SA 4.0)

It has been observed through GPM’s experience and research that the Command Control Operating System (CCOS) also has a tendency to focus on the following cultural values (Hibbing et al, 2013, Page 110):

  • Desire for order and security, a commitment to tradition, and group loyalty
  • See out-groups as threats
  • Conformity – Traditional values, devotion to traditional behavioral standards
  • Tradition & Process Focused

 

Adaptive Operating System

There are also various ways to interpret the Adaptive Operating System (AOS). The following are some identifiers for the AOS:

Exhibit 6: Adaptive Operating System (Sharp, 2017-1, licensed for sharing and adapting under Creative Commons CC BY-SA 4.0)

 

The Adaptive Operating System is not simply the informal network of relationships in an organization. The AOS is a deliberately curated, purpose driven activation of human potential for productive ends.

It has been observed through GPM’s experience and research that the Adaptive Operating System (AOS) also has a tendency to focus on the following cultural values (Hibbing et al, 2013, Page 110):

  • Desire for the new and novel, a commitment to individual expression, and a tolerance of difference
  • See out-groups as potential sources of friendship and new knowledge
  • Openness to change – stimulation, self-direction, pleasure, novelty, excitement, and independent thought.
  • Entrepreneurial & Open to Change

 

Complementary Operating Systems – Both are Required

Change processes frequently require both operating systems to work together efficiently and effectively.

Exhibit 7: Adaptive Organizational Design (Sharp, 2017-1, licensed for sharing and adapting under Creative Commons CC BY-SA 4.0)

 

The challenge of course is how? When describing the traditional relationship between the Adaptive and Command Control Operating Systems… Most people say something like:

Exhibit 8: Word Cloud example of Traditional Relationship (Sharp, 2017-2, licensed for sharing and adapting under Creative Commons CC BY-SA 4.0)

 

Understanding the differences is the first step, as we previously started to highlight. Each operating system has different operating rules, priorities, language etc.. Below are some more descriptors in a graphic that makes it easier to compare and contrast the two operating systems.

Exhibit 9: Leading the AOS & CCOS (Sharp, 2017-1, licensed for sharing and adapting under Creative Commons CC BY-SA 4.0)

Enormous synergy can be activated between these operating systems to enable idea flow and project success:

Exhibit 10: Optimize Synergy Between Both Operating Systems (Sharp, 2017-1, licensed for sharing and adapting under Creative Commons CC BY-SA 4.0)

These different perspectives are not new and the conflict between them is well documented. The question is how can we get these two to work together better.

Exhibit 11: The Power of a New Shared Lexicon (Sharp, 2017-2, licensed for sharing and adapting under Creative Commons CC BY-SA 4.0)

How can we get the integration, emergence and transformation required for these two operating systems to proactively empower idea flow and change delivery?

Exhibit 12 The Power of a New Shared Lexicon (Sharp, 2017-1, licensed for sharing and adapting under Creative Commons CC BY-SA 4.0)

 

One key strategy requires that all groups are aligned around a shared purpose:

Exhibit 13: Shared Purpose acts as the essential aligning force (Sharp, 2017-1, licensed for sharing and adapting under Creative Commons CC BY-SA 4.0)

Also, for sustainable or socially responsible projects, knowing that both of the following questions matter, with each able to help the other

  • What can the organization do for sustainability?
  • What can sustainability do for the organization?

 

Exhibit 14: Knowing both Questions Matter and they Support Each Other (Sharp, 2017-2)

 

Conclusion

Understanding these two operating systems, how they engage and perceive situations, what their focus and strengths are, will help set the stage for understanding how best to engage both.

Borrowed from https://www.wsj.com/articles/how-to-get-beyond-our-tribal-politics-1478271810
Exhibit 15: The objective (Illustration by Luci Gutiérrez)

 

As mentioned throughout this post though, the reality is that in most organizations these two operating systems / cultures do not work well together.

Exhibit 16: How would you characterize the relationship between these two operating systems in your organization? (Sharp, 2017-2)

This opens up the questions, how can we work with these two operating system in a manner that is comfortable to both of them that will help facilitate organization change of new ideas?

Exhibit 17: Lack of Decision-Making Agility” (Sharp, 2017-1, licensed for sharing and adapting under Creative Commons CC BY-SA 4.0)

 

In order to do that, the next post provides the background on the research on an exciting model and technique to identify and analyze new idea life cycles that can be used to make recommendations on how best to optimize these operating systems working on these new project initiatives. The next post will introduce us to the squiggle.

Exhibit 18: Disconnect between how new things get done and the Official Story (Sharp, N.D. & Sharp, 2017-1, is licensed for open sharing & adapting under Creative Commons CC BY-SA 4.0)

 

References

Anderson, Marc. (2009). The role of group personality composition in the emergence of task and relationship conflict within groups. Journal of Management & Organization. 15. 82-96. 10.5172/jmo.837.15.1.82. Retrieved on September 1, 2017 at https://www.researchgate.net/publication/269638378_The_role_of_group_personality_composition_in_the_emergence_of_task_and_relationship_conflict_within_groups

Buchanan, D., & Badham, R. (1999). Politics and Organizational Change: The Lived Experience. Human Relations, 52(5), 609–629. http://doi.org/10.1023/A:1016930112943. Retrieved on September 1, 2017 at http://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/001872679905200503

Dizikes, Peter. “Putting Heads Together – New Study: Groups Demonstrate Distinctive ‘Collective Intelligence’ When Facing Difficult Tasks.” MIT News, 1 Oct. 2010, news.mit.edu/2010/collective-intel-1001.

Eisenhardt, K. M., Kahwajy, J. L., & Bourgeois, L. J. (1997). How Management Teams Can Have a Good Fight How Management Teams Can Have a Good Fight. Harvard Business Review, 75, 77–86. Retrieved on September 1, 2017 at https://hbr.org/1997/07/how-management-teams-can-have-a-good-fight

Feldman, David Henry. Beyond Universals in Cognitive Development. Ablex, 1994.

Haidt, Jonathan and Iyer, Ravi. (2016). “How to Get Beyond Our Tribal Politics.” The Wall Street Journal. Retrieved on September 1, 2017 at https://www.wsj.com/articles/how-to-get-beyond-our-tribal-politics-1478271810

Haidt, Jonathan. (2013). The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion. Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group. Retrieved on September 1, 2017 at https://www.amazon.com/Righteous-Mind-Divided-Politics-Religion/dp/0307455777

Hibbing, John R.; Smith, Kevin B.; Alford, John R.. (2013). Predisposed: Liberals, Conservatives, and the Biology of Political Differences. Taylor and Francis. Retrieved on September 1, 2017 at https://www.amazon.com/Predisposed-Liberals-Conservatives-Political-Differences/dp/0415535875

Kahneman, Daniel. Thinking, Fast and Slow. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2015.

Kim, W. C. and Mauborgne, R. (2003). Fair Process: Managing in the Knowledge Economy. Harvard Business Review, 81(1). Retrieved on September 1, 2017 at https://hbr.org/2003/01/fair-process-managing-in-the-knowledge-economy

Lencioni, Patrick M.. (2006). Silos, Politics and Turf Wars: A Leadership Fable About Destroying the Barriers That Turn Colleagues Into Competitors (J-B Lencioni Series). Wiley. Retrieved on September 1, 2017 at https://www.amazon.com/Silos-Politics-Turf-Wars-Competitors/dp/0787976385

Martin, N. A. (2012). Project Politics: A Systematic Approach to Managing Complex Relationships. Ashgate Publishing Limited. Retrieved on September 1, 2017 at https://www.amazon.ca/Project-Politics-Systematic-Approach-Relationships-ebook/dp/B0091QC2G4

McCalman, J., Paton, R., & Siebert, S. (2016). Organizational Politics and Change. In Change Management: A guide to effective implementation (pp. 256–281). Los Angeles: SAGE. Retrieved on September 1, 2017 at https://us.sagepub.com/en-us/nam/change-management/book241248

Pentland, Alex. Social Physics: How Good Ideas Spread – the Lessons from a New Science. Scribe Publications, 2015.

Pinto, Jeffrey K.. (1996). “Power & Politics in Project Management.” Project Management Institute. ISBN-13: 978-1-880410-43-1. Retrieved on September 1, 2017 at http://my.safaribooksonline.com/1880410435

Rock, David. “Managing with the Brain in Mind.” Strategy Business, 27 Aug. 2009, www.strategy-business.com/article/09306?gko=9efb2.

Sharp, Leith. (N.D.). “Idea Flow Mapping.” Executive Education for Sustainability Leadership, eesl.sph.harvard.edu/idea-flow-mapping.

Sharp, Leith & Hsueh, Joe. (2017-1). “Executive Education for Sustainability Leadership 2017 Program – Module 1: The Secret Life of Ideas.” Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health – Department of Environmental Health

Sharp, Leith. (2017-2). “Executive Education for Sustainability Leadership 2017 Program – Module 2: Idea Flow.” Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health – Department of Environmental Health

Sharp, Leith. (2017-3). “Executive Education for Sustainability Leadership 2017 Program – Module 3: From Friction to Flow.” Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health – Department of Environmental Health

Sharp, Leith. (2017-4). “Executive Education for Sustainability Leadership 2017 Program – Module 4: Ideas and Context.” Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health – Department of Environmental Health

Sharp, Leith. (2017-5). “Executive Education for Sustainability Leadership 2017 Program – Module 5: Working With Our Social Algorithm to Unless Flow.” Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health – Department of Environmental Health

Tjosvold, D. (2008), The conflict-positive organization: it depends upon us. J. Organiz. Behav., 29: 19–28. doi:10.1002/job.473. Retrieved on September 1, 2017 at http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/job.473/abstract

 

Peter Milsom

Peter Milsom is an entrepreneurial advocate for sensible, sustainable change delivery practice. Peter has come to realize that sustainability is the perfect catalyst for Project / Programme / Portfolio / Risk / Value / Business Case and Benefits Management improvement. As an entrepreneurial methodologist Peter's unique value proposition is the vast array of tools and techniques that he brings to every engagement using the most cost effective and efficient methods based on the situation and tailored to meet your needs. This is based on his unique combination of experience and extensive training / certifications in change delivery, value / risk / benefits management business case, and business architecture.

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