Priming The Organization For Change


All patterns build on the ability to reflect on the state of the world and to take reasonable steps of progress. The organizational patterns in this book probably feature that property more strongly than any software design patterns or perhaps even more than Alexander's patterns of urban design, because the structure undergoing evolution is human structure, the structure of an organization. An organization has to have reached a certain baseline of organizational health to do this and, in fact, a large fraction of the organizations out there do not have this ability. How do you know whether you're ready to use these patterns? And, if you're not yet there, how do you get there?

If you're not ready to deal courageously with your shortcomings and to embrace organizational change, then you need to get to a space where there is enough mutual trust and respect to lay a foundation for introspection and dialogue. Without trust and respect, there cannot be deep enough communication to get beyond discussion about process (which often reduces to blaming the role or person responsible for a given step of the process) to discussion about structure and ultimately about principles. Structure is about relationship. Principles, which generate these structures and relationships, relate directly to the organizational value propositions and what they portend for trust between roles and individuals. See BeyondProcessToStructureAndValues.

To increase trust and respect means to engage people who are not currently in dialogue; to engage them, you need to persuade them to become involved in something they currently aren't involved in. Block [BibRef-Block1983] defines politics as the attempt to have influence over that which one cannot control directly. So this problem is fundamentally political in nature.
There are two major attacks on this problem. The first attack would have your organization go through team-building exercises, would suggest changes in reward mechanisms to encourage risk-taking, or might suggest a change in management. The second approach assumes that such a core exists somewhere within the structure of the larger organization, and uses it as the target for the patterns, with hope that the health can spread to neighboring organizations.

Yet before any positive change can happen, the organization must be ready to change. In our studies, we have seen organizations in various states of readiness for change. Let's explore the most common conditions that prime an organization for change.