Changing Conversations in Organizations

I’m currently reading Patricia Shaw’s "Changing Conversations in Organizations" after John Moore recommended it to me. I’m finding it challenging and great – in particular for the emphasis it puts on the non-formal networks in organisations. It ties in with a conversation I had last week with Flemming Madsen of Onalytica.

He quoted a figure I regard with due scepticism – that 80 per cent of the work done in an organisation is done via informal networks, not the formal hierarchy and structure of the company. Whether the figure is correct or not, it does generate some important thoughts.

I believe that the real work of change is certainly done via informal networks – making it very helpful to see those networks using tools like Flemming’s. At the same time, participating in those networks in an informal and improvised way, as suggested by Patricia, seems both scary and hugely effective. In too many current change projects that I see, the change is advocated from the top and a formal process put in place, with appropriate job titles and resources (or not, ofttimes). And yet nothing happens. The formal organisation is immune to its own attempts to change itself.

The other thought comes down to another possible difference between leaders and managers. Managers tend to try and bend the practice of the organisation to the theoretical model set out in an orgchart. Leaders are more likely to focus on the practice and results – and then create a theory afterwards. It means that managers are forever wedded to the organisational structure and hence become part of the formal system – the antibodies against real change.