I'm involved in a process of listening and learning about a local organization that is very complex. As I've talked with a wide cross section of people, and this conversation has been going on for over a decade, there is one theme that continues to resonate.
Working within this complex organization are a group of professionals who provide their services on a contractual basis. Over the years, I've been told that the relationship between the organization and these professionals is not healthy. Based on what I've seen, heard and encountered, this a well-functioning organization at the top of its class in its industry. I'm very impressed with the people whom I've met who work there. They are big picture people who see how it impacts their daily work as leaders. That is a rare commodity in today's business world.
I'd like to use this scenario about relationships of professional service providers working within a larger complex organizational system to make a point about how to resolve complex issues simply.
Let's use my Circle of Impact diagram as a guide to understanding the real nature of the problem and its solution.
The problem as it continually gets portrayed to me is a Relationship problem. However, if you really listen to what they are saying, two other perceptions emerge.
The organization and the professional group do not share the same perception of what their mission is. A Mission is an Idea that becomes the rationale for how we organize our businesses. If we have competing conceptions of what our mission is then we are going to have conflict about how we Structure our organization.
The Relationship problem, therefore, is also an Idea and an Organizational Structure problem.
Within our scenario, the group of professional service providers work within the structure of the larger organization. The issue is not simply, what should our financial and operational agreement be. Those issues are more easily resolved.
The deeper issues are ones of Values and Mission (Purpose).
Based on what I've learned, their differences in perception become less distinct when viewed from the perspective of what their shared Impact should be. Ultimately, they both want high quality service provided to their clients. If this Idea is too general a Vision, or not clear in terms of how they organize their work and relationships to achieve it, then the problems will persist.
How do you resolve such a complicated scenario?
It starts with their Relationships.
The organization and the professional service providers must establish mutual respect and trust, and work from there.
If there is no respect, then mistrust grows. If there is no trust, then division also grows.
If respect and trust are missing, then the shared values that matter will erode.
While every issue has a relational, conceptual and organizational component to it, resolution begins with resolving the relationship question.
Leadership in a Relational Context?
There are many levels to the relational context of an organization.
There are three types of relationships in an organization.
The Traditional Hierarchy of Accountability.
The Collaborative Relationship of Work Teams.
The Social Network of Friends and Co-workers.
Each type of relationship needs respect, trust and share values to function well.
It is important, then, that leaders who are responsible for developing the structure of the organizations do so in such a way that issues can get resolved at the point where the problem occurs.
A clear measure of the relational strength of an organization is the degree to which persons, at the farthest removed from the executive suite, feel free to build collaborative relationships to address and resolve conflicts and organizational structure problems.
When issues get passed up the chain of command, that should be resolved by the parties at the point of the problem, it is a sign that there is a problem in how each level of the organization is relating and communicating with one another.
When managers and supervisors are trained and equipped to develop the problem solving capacity of the people who are accountable to them, then relational strength of the organization grows. With that development, obstacles and inefficiencies are removed.
All leadership begins with the individual initiative.
Developing this capacity in the various relationships of people within the organization will bring strength to the organization that has been missing.
To achieve this two strategic realities need to be recognized.
Leadership from the bottom of the organizational chart starts at the top.
Leadership initiative is led by middle managers and supervisors who become leadership developers through their relationship with those with whom they share responsibility.
This is the future of organizational leadership in the 21st. Century.