Ideas and Insights


Emerge – Emergency – Emergence

Origins

The 3 words in the title of this short paper, have floated through many conversations and dialogues of which I have been part over the last month.  They have lodged in my mind, and helped me in my thinking about my work, personal, community and global futures.

The root word emerge, originated in Middle French (mid 16thC) – émerger, and came directly from Latin, emergere – bring forth, bring to light.

 When I consulted the OED, the definitions included,

“move out of or away from something and become visible”

“recover from a difficult situation”.

Both these aptly describe the current situation of a Coronavirus emerging around the world – moving away from its original host species and becoming visible to the human species. Talk has also focused very much on ‘recovery from a difficult situation’ – how will we emerge?

From emerge comes the word emergency – a serious, unexpected, and often dangerous situation requiring immediate action”.  Clearly again an appropriate word to describe the COVID-19 events.

Emergence: a useful concept for leaders

It is the words emergence or emergent that are of most interest. These words and the concept associated with them find a home in the field of complexity science. Emergence describes,

the way complex systems and patterns arise out of multiplicity of relatively simple interactions’  Lewin & Regine (2000) The Soul at Work

In a recent paper Paul O’Neill and Tim Dalmau described the OODA loop, a practical application of this concept – that is in an iterative process – Observe, Orient, Decide, Act. As more information and understanding unfolds, and we absorb and reflect on it we decide what is the best step to take based on what we know in the moment. Then we step back and observe again to see the impact of our small step and decide based on this the next actions or steps to be taken.

In times of emergency, when the situation is complex, rather than immediately jumping to problem-solving or creating a plan to address the situation, a more effective approach is to create conditions for emergence and allow the future or solutions to emerge.

As D’Auria & DeSmet of Mc Kinsey say

What leaders require in a crisis is not a pre-defined response plan but behaviors and mindsets that will prevent them from over reacting to yesterday’s developments and help them look ahead

To me, one of the most important applications of an understanding of emergence is to allow solutions to unfold rather than push for answers too quickly.

We know that in any crisis or catastrophe 12 different aspects come into the foreground and drive a social system’s response. These are well documented in a recent article by Tim Dalmau. They are an apt description of emergence in action, and they will arise whether intended or not. But knowing they will emerge is different form creating the conditions for them to emerge and fostering them once they do.

In the words of Roger Lewin and Birute Regine (2000) we need to create conditions for constructive emergence rather than try to plan in detail our way out of the emergency.

They identify the 3 key conditions as

  1. nurturing the formation and creativity of teams
  2. evolving solutions to problems – not designing them
  3. moving from command and control to distributed influence and flat organizational structure

To what might leaders pay attention?

What one pays attention to is determined by so many factors too numerous to list, but is expressed in what types of decisions we make, what we focus upon in making those decisions and what we believe to be a priority.

To foster emergence in a time of crisis, first and most important, is the nurturance, formation and creativity of teams to develop a shared purpose.

“In order to be adaptable, people need freedom for maximum flexibility, but with freedom comes a need for an even stronger sense of direction” (Lewin & Regine, 2000 p273). 

Building on this leaders might also give priority to,

  • developing and maintaining a strong sense of mutuality, urgency and care
  • encouraging and improving the diversity within teams of both people and ideas
  • creating a sense of openness and providing opportunities for people to learn and participate
  • fertilizing connections between people and parts of the system (other teams, resources, external groups etc)
  • creating a safe space for people to express opinions and pursue their goals
  • encouraging, supporting and showing appreciation.

I and my colleagues have been part of number of weekly conversations for the last 8 weeks with individuals from across the globe. These gatherings share many of the characteristics described above, and the creativity, work and actions that have arisen from these are simply astounding.

You cannot create such emergence (and the consequent results) without listening attentively, being authentic, speaking from the heart – not just the mind and being prepared to put on the table and discuss things that had previously been taboo. It is a very sad but unfortunate fact that for some, such behaviors will be new.

Time and time again in these global meetings we are finding the more information is both available and shared the more focused, practical. relevant and realistic are the actions that follow – at first glance this may seem like a paradox, but the availability and sharing of all information (facts, data, assumptions, feelings and beliefs) is critical in times of crisis or catastrophe.

In fact, in so called normal times, they are equally valuable and the leader who acknowledges and values the behavior of others, who shares information openly, who fosters self-organizing, connecting and collaborating along with accountability will thrive in times of crisis. Not without its challenges it requires they too are accountable for their organization or team and its results. At the same time they must be able to live with paradox, ambiguity, contradictions and uncertainties, encourage experimentation, and value failures and mistakes: no small order but a profoundly satisfying and useful one.

What can leaders actually do to foster emergence?

Leaders can operate at 4 different levels or domains in order to be more effective in an emergency or crisis. These are

  • whole organization
  • across teams within the organization (network or ‘team of teams’)
  • within a team
  • the individual (one-on-one)

Organization prioroties:

  • Leaders simply cannot share enough information and provide enough background context frequently and freely – fostering whole-of-organization transparency will reap huge gains in times of emergency: video broadcasts, town hall meetings, email and “Microsoft Teams” publications, etc
  • Create central rapid response teams that assist in implementing the networking of teams, the “team of teams” approach
  • Ensure and rearticulate time and time again purpose and goals that are understood and shared across the organization
  • Promote psychological safety – where anyone can speak up and say what is on their mind without fear or retribution

Networking and connecting teams across the organization:

  • Create a robust network of crisis response teams that is empowered to operate outside the current hierarchy and bureaucratic structures of the organization
  • These teams need to be creative and adaptable, united by a common purpose – where they use the OODA loop and act fast
  • Promote understanding across all in the organization but especially in the and between teams of the new decision-making architecture and where new accountabilities lie
  • Refer to Chris Fussell’s, One Mission: how leaders build a team of teamfor many more practical suggestions and examples of how to make this happen

Within a team:

  • Ensure each leader of a team has strong personal abilities to be optimistic, remain calm, inspire confidence, has the quality of humility and knows how to frame good questions (not jump to solutions)
  • Promote multi-disciplinary groupings that are collaborative and where expertise is fostered
  • Once the team is established and is clear on its purpose and goals get out of the way and let them get on with the work
  • Allow teams to re-organize and self-organize as they go. In other words, your task is to let go, be hands off and create the bowl in which they can self-organize

With individuals:

  • Listen attentively and seek to understand
  • Offer assistance, support and guide – don’t direct
  • Demonstrate empathy
  • Re-assert context frequently

Jill Tideman

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Responding to catastrophe

In times of crisis or catastrophe there are some among us who expect leaders to act quickly with informed decisive action and one simple stable message. This primitive expectation ignores the complex reality of chaos caused by the event at hand and totally ignores fluid and moment to moment changes in reality.

Tim has prepared a short paper on what we know from how social systems behave in a time of crisis. Click here to download your copy

Tim Dalmau

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Thinking and leading in complexity, crisis and catastrophe

Using the Boyd Cycle as a guide to response

We heard today of a man riding his push bike in Auckland who noticed a passer-by sneeze into his tissue and then throw the tissue to the ground. Understanding the significance of what had just happened our bike rider immediately turned around to request the walker pick up the tissue. He intended to explain to him the significance of his actions. He never made it. The bike fell in a hole, he fell off and he now resides in an Auckland hospital with a broken pelvis.

Like the scenes two weeks ago of closely-placed backpackers partying in Bondi Beach, Sydney and the (now) spread of Covid-19 throughout Bondi, or like those who gather in parks or on beaches against public guidelines the walker, and these other groups, do so without understanding or appreciating the huge system level variables at play.

Their thinking, their choices are often made without any real appreciation of what is at stake, or what is actually going on. It was Gregory Bateson who gave us the distinction between logical levels and logical types. Such behavior is often driven by sheer lack of information or knowledge; however, it represents failing to think at the required logical level. More often it is driven by whether the individuals involved like or dislike the effects of the interventions made by governments and other societal dynamics into their daily lives and behavior.

Read more…
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Intangibles matter when designing organizations

When experts talk of the term organization design, they are referring to the operating model and processes, systems, capabilities and structures that underpin and organization and help it to deliver value to its customers and stakeholders, efficiently and effectively. Organization design is both an art and science! Read more…

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Bold Herakles: An heroic organizational archetype

The Greek myths are full of heroes, men and women who lived a long time ago and dealt with the gods directly – often, it appears, on equal terms. The most popular of the hero stories were the stories of Herakles the hero who was not only a man but a god.

There are many tales of Herakles. Picture, if you will, a man of great energy and drive, plenty of good will towards people and a tendency to take the most direct path to any goal. He is good-humoured, generous and courageous. On the other hand, compared to other heroes like Odysseus, Perseus and Jason, he is not very clever, nor particularly charming. His lack of subtlety is symbolised in his choice of the club as his preferred weapon. He has a violent temper and an enormous appetite. He is macho man. Read more…

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Successful change: driven by clear outcomes

Over the last twelve months the theme that has permeated most of our Ideas and Insight articles is change – approaches and pitfalls to successful change.

In the recently reviewed book, “Inclusive Leadership: the definitive guide to developing and executing an impactful diversity and inclusion strategy” again the message is clear – if initiatives such as developing and delivering a diversity and inclusion strategy are not placed within a change management frame – with clear and well thought out outcomes driving the change then the results will be sub-optimal at best, and complete failure at worst.

But, good change depends on clear outcomes.

In this short video Jill provides some timely tips and reminders about the nature and need for well-crafted outcomes.

Click here more information on well-formed outcomes from a previous post.

Jill Tideman

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Leading complex organizations

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A business reporter for the BBC recently posted a story that caught my eye. It was titled, Why businesses may need to start hiring biologists. (Click here to to watch the video). It attracted my attention because my initial training was as a biologist, and I had always thought that my background gave me many advantages and ways of understanding organizations, teams and people that I have come to work with. On the other hand I have not encountered many biologists in the business world except in organizations focused on the environment or perhaps healthcare. Read more…

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A celebration of Dick Knowles’ eight decades

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Dick Knowles

We have had the privilege of working with Dick Knowles for just under twenty years. Tim Dalmau first met Dick at Sundance at a conference on self-organizing systems theory .

He recalls the first encounter: “I listened to this guy outline how he had brought about a fundamental and deep change in the worst performing Du Pont plant in the world to the point where it became the best, and stayed so. I thought if this is real, then he has something I should know about. I went up to him and asked him if he had used the company’s safety consultants to engender this dramatic and sustained shift and I remember his reply vividly: ‘Hell no, I wouldn’t let those guys near my plant’. This immediately validated his credibility in my mind.”

Read more…

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Survive or thrive: Strategies for chaotic, turbulent and disruptive times

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Download a thought-provoking paper. Jill Tideman has written about  the nature of the impact of chaos, turbulence and disruption in the business environment. She suggests five really practical ways that leaders and organizations can position themselves adapt to, and be resilient in the face of this.

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Transition: the blindspot of change

Oops!!

 

Change is the only constant. And it happens at every level of our existence – from our own bodies right through to the whole planet.

 

When it is initiated by others in companies, departments, hospitals, mine sites and the like, it is labeled organizational change, and a plethora of literature exists on this subject. The vast majority of change programs initiated in large organizations fail – for many well documented and known reasons.

 

But too often the results are disappointing because change management is not sufficient in itself; it needs to be supplemented by transition management. Transition is the blind spot of so much well intentioned organizational change.

 

William Bridges points out that can be triggered by others (as a response to an organizational change), by events (death of a spouse, break up of a relationship)  or by oneself through a choice (new country, new relationship, new role). It can happen in as apparently simple a situation as a unit or section reshuffle of people into new roles or returning from an extended stay in another country. It can start when the change starts or may even begin before the change starts, in anticipation so speak.

 

In the case of transition triggered by organizational change, the leader’s role is to help individual managers and staff members move through to new beginnings.   Read or download our  paper that describes this blindspot in change management and what to do about it

 

For an introduction, view this short video by Tim

Tim Dalmau and Jill Tideman

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''A truly useful and practical book'' Rich Shapiro, EY

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