Thursday, 21 October 2010

Green Door and Elephants

“Green Door" is a 1956 song whose lyrics describe a green door, behind which "a happy crowd" play piano, smoke and "laugh a lot", from which the singer is excluded.

We are probably aware of the social phenomenon in organisations and teams when people refuse to talk about the “Elephant-In-The-Room” or the big issue that needs to be resolved, avoidance of which helps to maintain an artificial social stability as people perform intellectual and linguistic feats of avoidance in order not to begin the dangerous process of facing current reality and questioning the legitimacy of power and existing Relational Capital whose leadership is leading down an obvious path to failure.

I want to propose a technique “ITR – In-The-Room” for innovators who are trying implement successful improvement strategies, based upon recent experiences of working with innovation practitioners to construct generic Practice Maps of what is actually required to be successful in their roles and what really works.

I recently used the Baton Passing technique to facilitate the construction of a Practice Map based on current experience from over 20 organisations and over 30 practitioners, which was revisited and drastically rewritten at a subsequent session. Whilst the structure of the knowledge was interesting and valuable, populating what turned out to be a 5-Step generic process model, each step breaking down into Lesson Themes, each supported by individual Lessons using a robust structured template, I noticed 2 phenomena which exposed emergent Elephants-In-The-Room for innovation practitioners.

1. Once the Practice Map existed, it became possible for practitioners to ask each other very specific questions: in other words, it became possible for them to identify the shape and size of the unknowns (or new Elephants) that they need to convert into personal knowledge for use in order to survive.

2. There was a giant but invisible issue that ran across and through the Practice Map: an issue that I call “ITR”.

It was only once we got to a level of “granularity” that came from being able to see a practical Practice Map, that a major conversational theme emerged (perhaps the biggest Elephant-In-The-Room for people trying to do their kind of job): their political marginality as mere instruments and not participants in delivering new value.

It became clear that their biggest problem was convincing the Board (or the body that inhabits “The Room” where the real decisions get made) that they were delivering enough value or savings to justify their continued existence. But this was difficult if you couldn’t access the meeting or “Room” where the real strategy (not just the metrics or broad goals) was discussed, because your political marginality made it difficult to acquire Relational Capital with the Board members to let you enter this “Room”.
This is similar to the experience of Quality Directors in R&D organisations, where they realise that unless they can get into the high-level strategy meetings, their lives will be dedicated to tidying up wasteful strategies that they could have influenced at birth and focused on delivering value.

At the moment, ITR has 3 key stages:
A. How to Find and Understand The Room (where is it, what’s in it: locating it, finding out who’s in it, what do they care about/ their agenda, and who could be persuaded to introduce you?)
B. How to Fit in The Room (constructing your activity to meet their agenda, using their language to demonstrate that you are a key player in delivering their goals and bonuses, getting yourself invited)
C. How to Enter The Room and Get Invited Back (identifying players who you can help, working with them 1:1 outside The Room; learning about the ongoing agenda and making contact with the agenda-holder to invite you back again).