Relational dysfunction: a silent killer

“We never manage to do what we intend to do as an organisation.”

“Our strategy looks good on paper but we never manage to actually make it happen.”

We are all familiar with organisations that are no longer able to implement their strategy or deliver their plan. In some cases, it has always been a struggle for them. For others, it just seems to be getting harder. Organisations often look for external explanations. Or perhaps they have tried changing key personnel to inject fresh vision. Cutting staff and tightening up inefficient practices is another common approach. Introducing new systems and performance improvement programmes will usually be attempted.

Yet for some, the ability to implement strategy remains elusive.

From our relational perspective, there are clear signs that there is something dysfunctional going on inside the body corporate. Yet, we meet many leaders who appear to be in denial.

“It can’t be a relational problem because people aren’t actually shouting at each other.”

“Checking whether there are relational issues will only give us bad publicity and won’t solve anything.”

“Let’s keep trying these other things and wait and see; maybe the problem will solve itself.”

Individual relational issues within or between organisations are usually about personality clashes or personal chemistry. Such personal issues are very visible and tend to get addressed (by changing the people or avoiding each other). Organisational relational issues are more insidious and pernicious and more easily ignored. Just as geographic proximity can influence how well two teams work together, relational proximity is a key ingredient of a smoothly functioning organisation.

But there is more to relational proximity than geography. Unbalanced patterns of influence and communication can trigger misalignment, causing people to work at cross-purposes. Lack of mutual knowledge and irregular periods of contact can reduce momentum and cause people to despair of effective change. All of these give a sense of relational distance.

It is not only possible to clearly identify where such issues are occurring, it is also possible to do something about them.

Whilst basic business processes and the usual measures of activity in an organisation might appear to be working normally, core relational issues may be silently hampering its ability to deliver. A sound strategic plan will include an understanding and assessment of relational dynamics, enabling you to deal with organisational silent killers before they take hold.

This article was originally published by Renuma, one of our member organisations, and is republished here with their permission.

Where does capacity come from?

“Don’t tell us we need to change. We can’t: we are already working beyond our capacity.”

“I don’t even have time to think about whether I shouldn’t be doing this.”

“I will think about doing that when I get the chance.”

There should be a fundamental difference between a group of a hundred individuals and a well-functioning organisation of the same size. Yet when individuals are working at their capacity, a hundred people can look like nothing more than a hundred people. Organisational capacity is created by good working relationships and the fluid connections they make.When an individual is working at full capacity, any curve ball, any change request, in fact anything extra, will be treated as a distraction. Even an offer to take some of their workload requires a decision, a hand-over and co-ordination. Adding more people requires all that, plus training and orientation. At full capacity, therefore, individuals become bound to do things that someone else might be able to do more effectively and efficiently.

Effective, efficient organisations realise that investment in relational connections is fundamental to building organisational capacity. Relationships are required to enable the right people to do the right things at the right time. Stop and think about that: without the right relationships, it is likely that the person, activity or timing will be wrong. Inefficiency and reduction in output follow.In order to make change happen, capacity must be used to build relationships and maintain them. Thus, ironically, in order to be in a position to increase the overall volume of work, it is necessary to be working at less than full capacity. If your organisation is already at full capacity, it becomes extremely difficult to create the relational space necessary for change.

Once an organisation has the space to change it will need to recognise the specific issues with their current relationships, address them and manage ongoing improvements to the way they relate. If relational issues are not addressed, inefficiency in engagement and connection will unnecessarily absorb an organisation’s precious capacity.

When someone in your organisation is failing to deliver (or your whole organisation is failing to deliver) it may well be that you have a capacity problem. In that case, improving working relationships is a great place to start in bringing the availability and capability necessary to increase capacity.

This article was originally published by Renuma, one of our member organisations, and is republished here with their permission.

Post-merger blues

LIVERPOOL/CAMBRIDGE – Analysis of mergers shows that they often don’t improve performance and value over the long run. Any of us who have experienced one will know that the mere process can bring enough stresses to cause operational difficulties to even an effective organisation.

The reasons for the failure to deliver the perceived benefit are commonly reported as unrealistic expectations or an inability to integrate cultures and ways of working. The issues are complex and often feel intangible, as different professional rationale, languages and histories compete within the new entity.

However mergers also represent an excellent opportunity to challenge traditional ways of working and address latent limitation which may have existed in either or both parties prior to merger. If this opportunity can be grasped, then the process of building new company together can be one that develops unity and resilience for the road ahead.

How then can boards and management teams improve the chances of merger benefits being realised? Is it possible to intentionally hasten the blending of cultures such that improvements to the bottom-line are delivered?

Experience shows that key relationships are critical to an effective merger, whether they are departmental, divisional, corporate or individual. The difficulty for those planning mergers is that they rarely have the tools to assess those crucial relationships and find ways to maintain or build them to make a merged organisation ‘great’.

Whilst there are many books about improving inter-personal and corporate relationships, none are actually improved by merely reading a book! The core to relational improvement, whether corporate or inter-personal, is that the parties engage with one another. Companies struggling with post-merger relationships do not need a report about how to improve the relevant relationships but rather assistance (preferably informed by both insight and the facts) to commit to actionable changes.

Tools now exist that have been specifically designed to identify and assess the Relational dynamic of organisations. Where a merger has taken place it is possible to forensically analyse the different aspects of group relationships. This allows potentially dysfunctional groups to build consensus around what is positive in their relationship, address weaknesses in a non-emotive way and deal with fundamental differences in perspective. Undertaking such an analysis will enable teams, by giving language and actionable information, to improve their interaction and performance.

Of course, as well as dealing with relational issues post-merger, it is possible to predict the relational impact that a merger may have on operations and service lines. In this way pro-active measures can be taken to make it a positive change for all involved!

This article was republished with permission of our Member Organization, Renuma Consulting.

New Year’s Resolutions?

LIVERPOOL/CAMBRIDGE – Keeping those promises to ourselves about losing weight, getting fitter, taking up a hobby or getting a new job seemed realistic when we made them, full of hope (or was it punch) a few weeks ago as 2015 dawned. Are we now, with many others, sadly realising that it isn’t happening?

Trying to ratchet up my own will power rarely seems to bring the changes I desire. It isn’t my decision to change that makes the difference; it is more about staying the course. Those who do succeed in keeping their resolutions seem to have two things in common. Firstly, they don’t try to do it alone. They join with others who are trying to achieve a similar change and they often have a coach to encourage them along the way. Secondly, they measure their progress. Measuring doesn’t change things in itself, but it helps keep the focus and helps identify when activity is having an impact.

Each year, organisations all over the world tell their stakeholders they are going to get fitter, leaner, better, bigger. Despite the resolution and public promise they often fail. Within organisations, we promise our boss or our employees that change will happen but the reality of the urgent and important soon takes grip. What do organisations who actually achieve change have in common? Perhaps it’s that the decision-maker doesn’t try to do it alone and they have simple ways of measuring progress.

Your network of relationships with those trying to achieve the same objectives is going to be crucial this year. How strong are those relationships? How can you achieve and maintain alignment? Who else do you need to be aligned with? Is there a way to keep track of the health of your relational network? Will you be able to tell if it is too weak and where misalignment is occurring?

This article was republished with permission of one of our Member Organizations, Renuma Consulting.