Bryan Pflug's blog

Inquiry-based collaboration

Workshops are a popular means of aggregating the efforts of different groups (often who have not previously worked together) within a time-boxed meeting. Such meetings can be effective in obtaining ownership for ideas, exploring options, and organizing efforts for an endeavor. While collaboration can be a powerful tool, workshops can also have many limitations - especially a willingness of participants to make a/b comparisons. In Knowledge and Decisions, Thomas Sowell describes the differences which arise between group and individual decision-making:

Among the ways in which various decision-making processes differ is in the extent to which they are institutionally capable of making incremental trade-offs, rather than attempting categorical "solutions." Consumers continually make incremental trade-offs when deciding what to buy in supermarkets or in automobile dealerships, but appellate courts may have only a stark choice to make between declaring a statute constitutional.

To mitigate some of these effects, McKinsey research suggests working together with a workshop sponsor to implement the following steps in order to enhance the outcomes from such workshops:

Overhead from switching contexts in multitasking environments

Eye inside monitorLet's consider the implications of distributing a limited amount of attention across too many competing demands. Inefficiencies exist as people or teams switch from performing one task to another. Let's call the monitoring and control function which performs such context switches our 'Work Operating System'. This Work Operating System is offered to provide a metaphor for the cognitive load that occurs as people must regularly switch between different operating contexts, and relate that to the actions which an operating system must perform as it manages the resources used on a computer. In both case, whether the computer or person switches contexts, there are resources consumed (in both time and energy) in making such transitions, and the systemic effects must be taken account of in studying the productivity of an individual or group.

Communicating concepts of operations

imageConcepts are powerful symbols of meaning we use in communications. They allow us to organize our knowledge and understanding within a particular context, and provide a framework for us to structure the actors and objects which are involved in delivering value through a set of interactions over time. Concepts help us to integrate individual observations and phenomena into viable hypotheses and theories about the world. As we use them to communicate these theories, readers can then validate aspects about a system with their own beliefs and understandings, and assess the potential value of changes which are proposed, under consideration, or available for their usage.

More rowers, fewer coxswain

When performance issues arise with teams, the underlying belief is often that these issues have resulted from a lack of direction. In response to such performance issues, businesses too often add extra layers of oversight and encouragement to reinforce previously provided direction to the workforce, regardless of whether this direction was sufficiently developed to be actionable.

Too often (and especially when done in haste) these additional levels of review and pressure are implemented without resolving overlapping and fuzzy allocations of responsibility, or assuring the clarity and achievability of the underlying objectives. This often results in inconsistently and poorly communicated target outcomes, which further confuses the people who have to actually make progress towards achieving these goal, and can further erodes their efficiency and velocity. Unfortunately, since these teams are already the ones behind schedule, this may hurt, rather than help, their efforts to move in the right direction more quickly and more effectively.


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