Thursday, February 18, 2010

True Love

It was a busy morning, approximately 8:30 a.m., when an elderly gentleman in his 80's, arrived to have stitches removed from his thumb. He stated that he was in a hurry as he had an appointment at 9:00 am.

I took his vital signs and had him take a seat, knowing it would be over an hour before someone would to able to see him. I saw him look at his watch and decided, since I was not busy with another patient, I would evaluate his wound.

On exam, it was well healed, so I talked to one of the doctors, got the needed supplies to remove his sutures and redress his wound.

While taking care of his wound, we began to engage in conversation. I asked him if he had another doctor's appointment this morning, as he was in such a hurry. The gentleman told me no, that he needed to go to the nursing home to eat breakfast with his wife.

I then inquired as to her health. He told me that she had been there for a while and that she was a victim of Alzheimer' s Disease .

As we talked, I asked if she would be upset if he was a bit late. He replied that she no longer knew who he was, that she had not recognized him in five years now.

I was surprised, and asked him, "And you still go every morning, even though she doesn't know who you are? "

He smiled as he patted my hand and said, " She doesn't know me, but I still know who she is." I had to hold back tears as he left, I had goose bumps on my arm, and thought, "That is the kind of love I want in my life."

True love is neither physical, nor romantic. True love is an acceptance of all that is, has been, will be, and will not be.

Monday, February 15, 2010

A Math Puzzle!

1.  Grab a calculator. (you won't be able to do this one in your head)
2.  Key in the first three digits of your phone number (NOT the area code)
3.  Multiply by 80
4.  Add 1
5.  Multiply by 250
6.  Add the last 4 digits of your phone number
7.  Add the last 4 digits of your phone number again.
8.  Subtract 250
9.  Divide number by 2

Do You Recognize the Answer?

Hardwired Humans and...Organizational Structure

Genghis Khan knew the importance of organizational structure. In 1203 he undertook a major restructure of his army, using principles closely aligned to human instincts as the basis for his structure.


If we design our organization according to instincts we will be harnessing natural energy. If we ignore human nature there's a good chance we will be designing dysfunction into the system.


The results of Genghis Khan's restructure were spectacular. In today's business terminology, we would say he was the leader of a high performing organization! Here are the highlights of his performance review. He united the Mongol people for the first time in their history. In a 25 year period his army conquered more people than the Romans conquered in 400 years. He organized history's largest free-trade zone (the famous Silk Road). He created the first international postal system. He created a system of international law. He recognized religious freedom, financially supporting Christian, Buddhist and Moslem faiths. His creative and fearsome military capability made walled cities redundant as a defense against attack. On the balanced scorecard, his staffs were highly engaged and no general ever deserted him throughout his six decades as a warrior.


His organizational challenges were as complex as a modern global CEO's, with 100,000 warriors spread from China, through India and the Middle East across to Hungary and Russia


Really it's unsurprising that Genghis Khan would organize his "workforce" according to human instincts. Given that we are talking about the human condition, that knowledge was as available then, 800 years ago, as it is today. It's just sometimes we forget and sometimes we overcomplicate things.


What are the principles of organization design according to human instincts, and what did Genghis Khan decide?  


Principle 1 - Teams As Family-Sized Groups

Humans have an instinctive need to connect intimately with a small group of others. We are social animals and our closest connections are within family-sized groups of around seven people.


We should therefore build our organizations on work teams of around seven people (the range of tolerance is seven plus or minus two, meaning that between five and nine people is the ideal number in a team). It's handy to know that teams can be too large or too small to be naturally functional.


If a manager is asked to lead a team of say 12, 15 or even 20 people as happens in some organizations, it's useful to know that we are designing dysfunction into the organization. There are three problems with large teams. First, there are too many people in the team for individuals to bond and feel a common sense of identity. Second, the team is too large for the manager to be across the level of detail required to appropriately support team members. And third, the team is too large for the manager to be sensibly held accountable for the team's performance.


The sure sign of dysfunction of a large team is that natural forces cause the team to break into smaller units and informal "team leaders" emerge to coordinate sub-groups. These quasi-managers don't have the appropriate authorities, skills and accountabilities to act as the real leader.


If a team is too small (say two or three people) then people won't feel a sense of identity. The members of such teams often complain of being isolated. If for some sensible reason a small team exists, then the higher-level manager needs to find ways to connect the small team with a family-sized group.  


One of our clients recently moved to teams sized at around seven and reported that "suddenly things seemed to become more productive".


Principle 2 - Voices at the Table

This team size applies to each level of the organization all the way to the CEO. The CEO should have around seven people reporting to them. In this case the rule of seven coincides with the number of functions that most determine the organization's success and the level of complexity that a human being can effectively deal with. The key functions that the CEO needs to oversee will normally cover research/product development, production, sales, delivery, finance, people, external stakeholders and systems.


These functions will also reflect the voices that need to be heard around the table. If there are significantly more than seven voices, then it is highly likely that there will be duplication of voices and the leader will be trying to skate across too many activities. If there are significantly fewer than seven voices, then the leader will not hear the range of voices that should be heard to make effective, balanced decisions.

Principle 3 - Power Distribution

For hierarchical animals like humans, team managers (including senior executives) should be conscious of the distribution of power in their team.


In particular, leaders (and designers of organizations) should avoid the concentration of power in a single direct report.  


One CEO shared with us negative consequences of a structure where a Chief Operations Officer reporting to him had much more power than the rest of his direct reports. The COO had the key operating units and most of the organization's staff reporting to her. The imbalance of power in the hands of one direct report weakened both the CEO and also the functioning of the organization.

Principle 4 - Departments as Village-Sized Units

Driving to a limited number of layers is less critical than is the size of departments and operating units. As a social animal, the next most critical group beyond our "family" is our clan or village of up to 150 people. Our brain size allows us to connect and gain a sense of belonging in communities of up to 150.


One consequence for large organizations is that silos will naturally form around groups of up to 150 people. Organizations will benefit from using this natural grouping to its benefit rather than ignoring or fighting against it. One disciplined organization uses departments of around 80 people as their key organizing concept. 


Another, Gore Associates, designs its organizational units to a maximum of 150 staff. To control for this number, Gore builds facilities with a maximum of 150 car spaces. When the car park is nearing capacity, it's time to build a new plant!

Principle 5 - Avoid the Matrix

Hierarchical animals find it difficult to report in two directions. Our nature is to fit into a pecking order in a single hierarchical line of authority. Dotted lines quickly become feint lines with people spotting quickly and easily the real power line (which is the one with the control of resources).


Another problem with matrix reporting is that we often ask people to report to a boss in a different geography, fighting against our natural tendency to connect with people in the same place. We are, after all, hardwired to recognize faces above any other characteristic. Further, with matrix reporting offshore, we are weakening the power connections between people in the local geography and are setting up contest and display between senior people in a location.   

The Mongol Restructure

Genghis Khan may well have had these principles in mind in 1203!  


He used family-sized groups as his organizational foundation, organizing warriors into squads of ten (arban) who were to be brothers to one another (granted, slightly more than the range of 5-9 people). No matter what their kin group or tribal origin, they were ordered to live and fight together as loyally as brothers. No one could ever leave another behind in battle as a captive. As in the family model of the day, the eldest took the leadership position in the group of 10, but the men could also choose another to be their leader. 


He was serious about the role of this family-sized group. His law recognized group responsibility and group guilt. The family group had responsibility for ensuring correct behavior of its members. In a whole new dimension to performance management, a crime by one could bring punishment to all.


He used community-sized groups as his next layer. Ten of the squads formed a company (zagun) of 100 men, one of whom they selected to be their leader. Ten companies formed a battalion (mingan) of 1,000 men. Ten mingan formed a tumen of 10,000, the leader of whom was chosen by Genghis.


He also had an elite personal bodyguard….numbering 150 soldiers!

(Source: Jack Weatherford, Genghis Khan and the Making of the Modern World, Three Rivers
Press, USA, 2004).


No doubt Genghis Khan knew that organizational structure is one of the few levers that leaders can pull. Given the predictable consequences of structure, design of organizations should be retained as a decision of the CEO with the HR Director. The opportunity is to use this lever as an enabler to set the organization for success.


Thanks to Andrew O'Keeffe /