Point Lookout: a free weekly publication of Chaco Canyon Consulting
Volume 7, Issue 46;   November 14, 2007: Healthy Practices

Healthy Practices

by

Some organizational cultures are healthy; some aren't. How can you tell whether your organizational culture is healthy? Here are some indicators.

Some believe it's possible to assess organizational health by looking at the numbers. They have dozens of "performance indicators," which they track diligently. Perhaps some of these data streams are helpful, but assessing organizational health by analyzing numerical data alone is a risky approach.

The damaged Apollo 13 Service Module, as seen from the command module

The damaged Apollo 13 Service Module, as seen from the command module. The mission was a failure, in the sense that it did not achieve its goals. But the crew returned safely, and a subsequent investigation uncovered the causes of the event. The findings of the investigation did lead to learning, and to an assortment of process changes. Other mishaps in NASA operations have led to other retrospectives of varying degrees of success. The effectiveness of such retrospectives is a measure of — and puts constraints upon — any organization's ability to learn, which, in turn, limits the complexity and novelty of projects the organizations can complete successfully. Photo courtesy U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration.

For example, I like to visit facilities in mid-afternoon and smell the air in the office and cubicle spaces. If I can't detect the odor of cold pizza, I begin to think that people are taking lunch breaks, spending time together in the cafeteria or at nearby restaurants. They aren't meeting over lunch, or responding to email from their desks, or racing to meet unreasonable deadlines between sandwiches and coffee.

All from the absence of old pizza smell. But it isn't the freshness of the air that's important; it's what the smell tells us about the behavior of the organization's people. Here are some other behaviors that suggest organizational health.

When things go wrong
When a failure happens, those whose actions contributed to the result acknowledge their contributions perhaps with some embarrassment, but definitely without fear. When people suspect that a problem might appear, they surface it immediately, rather than waiting until it's too late, all the while hoping the problem will go away.
When things go right
People share credit for successes. Supervisors credit their subordinates rather than claiming (or accepting) credit for themselves. When a team succeeds, instead of canonizing individuals, we honor the team as a team.
People look forward to retrospectives
We conduct retrospectives (also known as post mortems and after-action reviews). They're real opportunities to learn, rather than painful blamefests. We learn just as much from retrospectives when things go right as we do when things go wrong.
When we're in financial trouble
When a failure happens, those
who contributed to the result
acknowledge their contributions
perhaps with some embarrassment,
but definitely without fear
When we're in the financial soup, we do reduce expenses, but we recognize that cost-cutting tactics aren't enough. We know that growth and investment are the only long-term answers, and we find ways to grow — with new approaches, new products, new services, and new capabilities. In our search, we listen to everyone — customers, ex-customers, consultants, and employees at all levels.
When we disagree
We recognize that our relationships must survive our debates. When we disagree with each other, we do so respectfully, because we acknowledge the possibility that people on any side of the question can be wrong. In fact, people on every side of the question can be wrong. And they can be right, too — you never know.

Most important, we have a commitment to our people. We want them to develop to their full potential. That means monitoring and mentoring; rotating assignments; holding everyone accountable for failures, and rewarding success with more challenging responsibilities. It means not only training, but ongoing education. Learning — and teaching — is part of the job.

Do you work in a place like this? If not, what can you do about it? Go to top Top  Next issue: Difficult Decisions  Next Issue

52 Tips for Leaders of Project-Oriented OrganizationsAre your projects always (or almost always) late and over budget? Are your project teams plagued by turnover, burnout, and high defect rates? Turn your culture around. Read 52 Tips for Leaders of Project-Oriented Organizations, filled with tips and techniques for organizational leaders. Order Now!

Your comments are welcome

Would you like to see your comments posted here? rbrenHRHxMNgaKfIuwyaWner@ChacsHvNifvxspQhUUqIoCanyon.comSend me your comments by email, or by Web form.

About Point Lookout

Thank you for reading this article. I hope you enjoyed it and found it useful, and that you'll consider recommending it to a friend.

Point Lookout is a free weekly email newsletter. Browse the archive of past issues. Subscribe for free.

Support Point Lookout by joining the Friends of Point Lookout, as an individual or as an organization.

Do you face a complex interpersonal situation? Send it in, anonymously if you like, and I'll give you my two cents.

Related articles

More articles on Personal, Team, and Organizational Effectiveness:

Wooden shoesWhat Haven't I Told You?
When a project team hits a speed bump, it often learns that it had all the information it needed to avoid the problem, sometimes months in advance of uncovering it. Here's a technique for discovering this kind of knowledge more systematically.
American dwarf mistletoe (Arceuthobium americanum)Action Item Avoidance
In some teams, members feel so overloaded that they try to avoid any additional tasks. Here are some of the most popular patterns of action item avoidance.
An actual deck chair recovered from the sunken liner TitanicThe Deck Chairs of the Titanic: Obvious Waste
Among the most futile and irrelevant actions ever taken in crisis is rearranging the deck chairs of the Titanic, which, of course, never actually happened. But in the workplace, we engage in activities just as futile and irrelevant, often outside our awareness. Recognition is the first step to prevention.
The impeachment managers for the impeachment of U.S. President Andrew JohnsonProblem-Solving Preferences
When people solve problems together, differences in preferred approaches can surface. Some prefer to emphasize the goal or objective, while others focus on the obstacles. This difference is at once an asset and annoyance.
A keyboardOffice Automation
Desktop computers, laptop computers, and tablets have automation capabilities that can transform our lives, but few of us use them. Why not? What can we do about that?

See also Personal, Team, and Organizational Effectiveness for more related articles.

Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout

The Jolly RogerComing August 22: Dealing with Credit Appropriation
Very little is more frustrating than having someone else claim credit for the work you do. Worse, sometimes they blame you if they get into trouble after misusing your results. Here are three tips for dealing with credit appropriation. Available here and by RSS on August 22.
RMS Titanic departing Southampton on April 10, 1912And on August 29: Please Reassure Them
When things go wildly wrong, someone is usually designated to investigate and assess the probability of further trouble. That role can be risky. Here are three guidelines for protecting yourself if that role falls to you. Available here and by RSS on August 29.

Coaching services

I offer email and telephone coaching at both corporate and individual rates. Contact Rick for details at rbrenSYMXJbObDfinTzlGner@ChacEZaHTzJoyxVrPHzOoCanyon.com or (650) 787-6475, or toll-free in the continental US at (866) 378-5470.

Get the ebook!

Past issues of Point Lookout are available in six ebooks:

Reprinting this article

Are you a writer, editor or publisher on deadline? Are you looking for an article that will get people talking and get compliments flying your way? You can have 500 words in your inbox in one hour. License any article from this Web site. More info

Public seminars

The Power Affect: How We Express Our Personal Power
Many The Power Affect: How We Express Personal Powerpeople who possess real organizational power have a characteristic demeanor. It's the way they project their presence. I call this the power affect. Some people — call them power pretenders — adopt the power affect well before they attain significant organizational power. Unfortunately for their colleagues, and for their organizations, power pretenders can attain organizational power out of proportion to their merit or abilities. Understanding the power affect is therefore important for anyone who aims to attain power, or anyone who works with power pretenders. Read more about this program.

Follow Rick

Send email or subscribe to one of my newsletters Follow me at LinkedIn Follow me at Twitter, or share a tweet Follow me at Google+ or share a post Subscribe to RSS feeds Subscribe to RSS feeds
The message of Point Lookout is unique. Help get the message out. Please donate to help keep Point Lookout available for free to everyone.
Technical Debt for Policymakers BlogMy blog, Technical Debt for Policymakers, offers resources, insights, and conversations of interest to policymakers who are concerned with managing technical debt within their organizations. Get the millstone of technical debt off the neck of your organization!
Go For It: Sometimes It's Easier If You RunBad boss, long commute, troubling ethical questions, hateful colleague? Learn what we can do when we love the work but not the job.
303 Tips for Virtual and Global TeamsLearn how to make your virtual global team sing.
101 Tips for Managing ChangeAre you managing a change effort that faces rampant cynicism, passive non-cooperation, or maybe even outright revolt?
101 Tips for Effective MeetingsLearn how to make meetings more productive — and more rare.
Exchange your "personal trade secrets" — the tips, tricks and techniques that make you an ace — with other aces, anonymously. Visit the Library of Personal Trade Secrets.