The measure of a health in an organisation is the willingness to put oneself at personal risk or hardship for the betterment of the team and the trust that colleagues will do the same

The many and varied organisational dysfunctions

Organisations are not necessarily linearly predictable in their output and it can thus be difficult for an outsider to see whether a given organisation is “dysfunctional”, relatively speaking. Indeed, it is difficult even from those who are trapped in this organisational quagmire to remember what a high performing organisation feels like — some may never have experienced it at all.

Apathy

  • CI/CD fails constantly
  • Releases cause everyone fear
  • Organisational communication is haphazard and expensive
  • Work happens in a vacuum and without feedback

Self Interest

Distrust

  • Ideas to be challenged without a critique of person
  • Ideas to be suggested that are initially ostensibly nuts
  • Norms to be challenged

Protectionism and empire building

  • Those who support the shit umbrella becoming overburdened
  • Those who support the shit umbrella having their own agenda

Analysis Paralysis

Pushing Back

These problems are each expensive, complex and time consuming to unpack. Much like an ailment, prevention is far better than a cure.

Clear and unambiguous organisational vision

Any value structure for which it is possible to abdicate one's own betterment must be in service of a shared goal or outcome.

  • Objectives and key results (OKRs)
  • Publishing long term business strategy
  • Centralizing communications channels between organisational leadership and front line employees
  • Deliberate pruning of communications channels that are only used by small sections of the organisation

Strong Leadership

The notion of “leadership” is a difficult one to quantify indeed, but a cognizance of the problems above, cognizance in how one’s own example can either improve or exacerbate the above and courage to dive into these complex problems on a minute level is perhaps a good start for organisational leaders.

  • Having domain specialists set up outside normal authority to assess the health of an organisation
  • Distributing organisational power along a minimal hierarchy

Empathy

A necessary precursor to dismantling some of the protectionism inherent in organisations that are difficult to work with is the establishing of empathy between people within teams, followed by teams and so fourth as a larger organisational unit.

  • Sponsored games / activities outside the professional context
  • Improvement days / hackathons where there are no professional deliverables
  • The sharing of our non-professional selves in the professional context

Psychological Safety

  • Blameless failure analysis and post mortem with organisational accountability to change
  • Leaders showing vulnerable aspects of themselves
  • A “just culture”

Morality

  • Organisational leaders demonstrating these values at all times and in all cases
  • The publication and agreement of these principles such that all team members can be held accountable to them
  • Identifying and surfacing colleagues to retain these characteristics in difficult situations for leadership

Sweating details

  • Limiting the responsibility of organisational leaders
  • Having a process of having that responsibility documented and periodically reviewed

No guarantee of success

Reparations for a “burned” culture come at a high cost. It may be that it is impossible to fully repair an environment that is “too broken”; those who work in the environment may be so entrenched in the protectionist behavior they dislike shifting to the world of less power inherent in a “trust driven” organisation.

In Conclusion

Organisations are invariably social systems and a surprisingly small amount of time is dedicated to the understanding, maintenance and improvements of this system.

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