Monday, September 1, 2008

All-Hands-On-Strategy: Strong Relationships Make for Better Decisions

Anika and Michael are on the board of directors of the Boston Chapter of the Association for Strategic, with Anika serving as President and Michael as Program Chair. We are very pleased that our colleague and friend, Diana Smith, will be addressing the September 10th meeting of the ASP at the new InterConitnental Hotel in downtown Boston. Diana's talk, "When Good Strategies Go Bad: Strategically Critical Relationships Are Usually At Fault" will present ideas developed in her current top selling book, Divide or Conquer: How Great Teams Turn Conflict into Strength.

A $50 registration fee includes a networking reception with hearty appetizers and wine/beer as well as the presentation. So, this occasion is definitely a great reason to spend the evening in the heart of Boston. [Diana's talk will occur in conjunction with a conference on measurement in organizations hosted by the Palladium Group: contact us for special pricing for the conference.]

Diana and Michael were both students of Chris Argyris, with whom Diana and Bob Putnam authored the important book, Action Science. Like Diana, Art of the Future's perspective emphasizes the relationship between cognition, emotion, and language in the behavior of individuals and groups. Our particular concentration is on the way in which decision-makers consider and make choices about organizational futures.

Divide or Conquer
offers a range of concepts and tools the "reflective practitioner" (a term coined by Don Schön, another mentor to Michael, Diana and many others and a close collaborator of Argyris') can use to consider his or her or their own practice in strategically critical relationships or in any interaction that is important. We all hold "frames" about others, i.e., interpretations of who others are, what they mean, what they want, how they are feel about us, what we can expect of them. As a reviewer of Diana's book notes, "Frames turn patterns of interaction into more enduring relationship structures without the people involved even realizing it."

The notion that "only senior managers can or should be involved in strategic planning" is a common frame that limits organizational creativity and resilience. As our article, "Futures Thinking by Middle Managers" points out, this assumption is tied to other unseen and/or undiscussible dynamics of organizational life. For example, left on automatic, organizational forces will push middle managers away from one another. They become weaker partners in strategic thinking because their relationships don't incline them to share information, insight and wisdom. Encouraging middle managers to develop closer, authentic connections can bring a fuller spectrum of organizational talent to the challenge of making good choices.
Making the assumed, but unconsidered, frames that shape the realities of organizational life explicit can yield transformative results.

Diana's work demonstrates tremendous power comes from designing and constructing an "all-hands-on-deck" learning system that pays attention to the quality of key organizational relationships. It may take time for the payoff to reverberate throughout the system, but the positive consequences are long-lasting. Our own work indicates that contributions to organizational learning about the possibilities of the future exist at all organizational levels and leadership with foresight will commit to building a relationship system that releases understanding and wisdom wherever it resides.

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