December 28, 2006

Effective Organizations

To be effective long term, human organizations must be based on good principles, focused on appropriate purposes, environmentally fit, and adaptive. This is no easy challenge, in part because many organizations are legacies of the past, based on bad or out-of-date principles, focused on wrong purposes, and neither environmentally fit nor adaptive.

Jane Galt, on Asymmetrical Information, adds, while claiming it nearly or virtually impossible for governement organizations:

An effective organization:
  • is focused in its mission;
  • allows its people to take risks and occasionally fail ("empowerment"'s more important flipside);
  • is "flat"; it allows information to flow in both directions, usually through a lack of hierarchy;
  • provides opportunities for advancement through initiative;
  • has flexible rules and incentives;
  • recognizes both teams and individuals for their accomplishments;

As we ponder what we might do differently we need to remember four rules: Start where you are. Use what you have (and what you can readily get your hands on). Do what you can. Pause to reflect and learn from your mistakes, from the mistakes of other, and from things/ideas/practices that work.

Here are some topics, source-references, and principles to get us thinking about how to craft or re-craft organizations. As I gather this stuff together, and revisit ideas and texts, I find remarkable similarities in these sources. All seem intent on incorporating Deming's Fourteen Points and avoiding his Seven Deadly Diseases. Yet each adds or compliments in various ways. {Note: the "sources" below are arranged so as to not be repetitive, many books deal with many topics but are listed under only one "topic"}


Topics, Sources, Principles...

  • Collaboration and Public Deliberation
  • Dialogue
    • How the Way We Talk Can Change the Way We Work: Seven Languages for Transformation. Robert Kegan and Lisa Laskow Lahey.
    • Dialogue: Rediscover the Transforming Power of Conversation. Linda Ellinor and Glenna Gerard.
    • Fierce Conversations. Susan Scott. See Forest Policy post
  • Deming Design
  • Leadership: as adaptive work
    • Leadership Without Easy Answers. Ronald A. Heifetz.
    • The Servant as Leader. Robert K. Greenleaf.
  • Learning
    • The Logic of Failure: Recognizing and Avoiding Error in Complex Situations. Dietrich Dörner.
    • Normal Accidents: Living with High-Risk Technologies. Charles Perrow.
    • Educating the Reflective Practitioner. Donald A. Schön.
  • Mindfulness
    • Making Sense of the Organization. Karl E. Weick.
    • Managing the Unexpected. Karl E. Weick and Kathleen M. Sutcliffe.
  • Occam's Razor: Find a simpler way on the far side of complexity.
    • A Simpler Way. Margaret Wheatley and Myron Kellnor-Rogers. Wheatley articles
  • Overcoming Defense Mechanisms — Ending Bureaucracy
    • Overcoming Organizational Defenses. Chris Argyris.
    • Flawed Advice and the Management Trap. Chris Argyris.
    • The End of Bureaucracy and the Rise of the Intelligent Organization. Gifford and Elizabeth Pinchot. Pinchots' Bill of Rights and Responsibilities
  • Reflection
    • The Reflective Practitioner: How Professionals Think in Action. Donald A. Schön.
  • Resilience, Renewal
  • Systems Focus
    • The Fifth Discipline: The Art and Practice of the Learning Organization. Peter M. Senge. (Emphasizes systems thinking, personal mastery, mental models, building shared vision, and team learning.
    • Breakthrough Thinking. Gerald Nadler and Shozo Hibino. Nadler and Hibino's Breakthrough Thinking Principles
  • Stewardship
  • Sustainability
    • Supply Side Sustainability.T.F.H. Allen, Joseph A. Tainter, and Thomas W. Hoekstra.
    • The Living Company.. Arie de Gues.


Additional Operational Rule(s):

  • Reuse, Renew, Recycle


  • This is a personal web site, reflecting only the opinions of its authors. Statements on this site do not represent the views or policies of anyone other than the person offering up the views.

    We hope that this site will help better integrate assessments, planning, evaluation and monitoring, and other aspects of adaptive management into public service learning organizations.


  • Sharon Friedman
    Dave Iverson
    Dain Maddox
    John Rupe

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