Tag Archives: capability

Discontinuous Levels and Hierarchy

This is a series on Teal and Levels of Work. Here is the backstory for the series in case you are interested. The purpose for the series is to explore the tenets of Teal through the lens of Levels of Work. Links to each post in this series, below.
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From the Ask Tom mailbag –

Question:
In your post yesterday, you said that growth (of capability) is nested in discontinuous levels and that these discontinuous levels were readily observable. What did you mean by discontinuous?

Response:
An electric car has a continuous power-train and no gears. It goes from minimum to maximum in one continuous power curve. Humans are more like a multi-speed transmission, where each gear winds out to its maximum, shifting into the next gear.

Jean Piaget was the pioneer who observed distinct stages in childhood development.
Non-verbal sensorimotor stage (birth to 2 years), where objects that cannot be sensed (seen or heard) do not exist. I have five fingers on each hand, but hands behind my back means I have no fingers at all.
Pre-operatonal stage (2-7 years) where symbolic language emerges to indicate relationships, though relationships are ego-centric, the child is the center of its universe.
Concrete operational stage (7-11 years), where the understanding of tangible concrete elements are organized, and abstract, conceptual elements are barely understood. Attention span (timespan) at age 6 increases from fifteen minutes to one hour at age nine.
Formal operational stage (11-18 years), where cause and effect logic, abstract conceptual elements are recognized and assimilated.

Elliott Jaques continued these observations of discontinuous stages throughout adulthood (age 20 through age 70).

  • Symbolic Declarative (S-I) – Timespan – 1 day to 3 months
  • Symbolic Cumulative (S-II) – Timespan – 3 months to 1 year
  • Symbolic Serial (S-III) – Timespan – 1 year to 2 years
  • Symbolic Parallel (S-IV) – Timespan – 2 years to 5 years
  • Conceptual Declarative (S-V) – Timespan – 5 years to 10 years
  • Conceptual Cumulative (S-VI) – Timespan – 10 years to 20 years
  • Conceptual Serial (S-VII) – Timespan – 20 years to 50 years
  • Conceptual Parallel (S-VIII) – Timespan – 50 years to 100 years

Cognitive development is not simply how many problems are solved within a time-frame. All problems are not created equal. Some problems are more complex than others, and that complexity is discontinuous.

For example –

  • Problem solving at S-I – Trial and error.
  • Problem solving at S-II – Cumulative diagnostics, comparative.
  • Problem solving at S-III – Root cause analysis, cause and effect, single critical path.
  • Problem solving at S-IV – Multi-system analysis, capacity, dependency, contingency, velocity.

Each of these stages in problem solving requires capability at that level. Levels of capability are observable and distinct, become the basis to understand levels of work. Levels of work define the framework for organizational hierarchy.
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Here are all the links to this series on Teal and Levels of Work.
Teal and Levels of Work
Hierarchy is Just a Shape
All Problems Are Not Created Equal
The Question of Accountability
Teal and Theory of Constraints
Hidden Hierarchy in a Self-Managed Team
Accountability and Authority
Behaviorists Without Children
BAMS and Teal
Back to Hierarchy, For a Reason
Most Teams are Functional, Few Are Accountable
Manifest-Extant-Requisite
Stratified Levels of Self-Organization

Stratified Levels of Self-Organization

This is a series on Teal and Levels of Work. Here is the backstory for the series in case you are interested. The purpose for the series is to explore the tenets of Teal through the lens of Levels of Work. Links to each post in this series, below.
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Some interesting responses, as this series evolved. Over the next few posts, I will feature some of these with my own thoughts. This post comes from Jan De Visch in Belgium. More of his thinking is in his book Dynamic Collaboration: Strengthening Self-Organization and Collaborative Intelligence in Teams.

“A false assumption in the Teal movement is that every employee can grow to a level of self-awareness from which self-management becomes possible. Scientific research shows that this is not the case. One needs to acknowledge the variety in developmental levels of participants in self-organizing teams. An essential insight is that self-organization only works in larger contexts if you start to distinguish different types of dialogue spaces (We Spaces), which are nested in each other, and each with their own dynamics. Hierarchy is sometimes an effective answer to breaking through downward divided team dynamics. Thinking through the stratified nature within self-organization is the first step towards Teal’s sustainable development. This notion is not elaborated in the Teal movement.”

I would break this down, that a person’s self-awareness is a product of their capability (observed) and that self-management emerges (and blossoms) within that capability. Cognitive development within individuals translates into cognitive capability in the team.

De Visch’s description of dialogue spaces is consistent with Jaques observation that timespan and its concommitant evidence is language. Our ability to imagine into the future begins at a very young age with the simple words, “Once upon a time.”

Self-organization exists within stratified levels of work. Growth toward that self-awareness (and self-management) is nested within discontinuous levels. These discontinuous levels are readily observable and create the hierarchy that Teal might resist, except where it acknowledges hierarchy of recognition, influence and skill. Elliott would argue that hierarchy is more precisely identified as capability.
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Here are all the links to this series on Teal and Levels of Work.
Teal and Levels of Work
Hierarchy is Just a Shape
All Problems Are Not Created Equal
The Question of Accountability
Teal and Theory of Constraints
Hidden Hierarchy in a Self-Managed Team
Accountability and Authority
Behaviorists Without Children
BAMS and Teal
Back to Hierarchy, For a Reason
Most Teams are Functional, Few Are Accountable
Manifest-Extant-Requisite

Calibrating Time Span

“My team tells me that I don’t follow-up with them often enough, and that is why I am sometimes disappointed,” complained Sherry.

“How often is –not often enough-?” I asked.

“It seems to be different for different people.”

“Why do you think that is?”

“I don’t know,” Sherry paused. “One person can just go longer than another person without me peeking over their shoulder.”

“Sherry, I want you to think in terms of Time Span. Time Span is the length of time that a person can work into the future without your direction, using their own discretionary judgment to achieve the goal. And each person on your team has a different time span.

“Here is your exercise. Make a list of your team and beside each name, I want you to guess the length of time that each one can work independently, based on the tasks you delegate. Your guess will be the first benchmark for how long you leave them to work without follow-up. Keep a log. Once each week, for a month, write down your observations of each team member’s time span.

“The data you get from this exercise will help you know better what you can delegate and the time interval for follow-up.”

Manage the Risk

From the Ask Tom mailbag –

Question:
We’ve had to hire a lot of people this year to keep up with production and increased demand in our product. We’ve had to promote people to new levels of responsibility. Often we pick wrong. How can we know someone will succeed when we promote them? How do we test a person for capability?

Response:
Testing a person to determine their capability is counter-intuitive. I do not judge people. I did not go to school for that, I don’t have a degree in that. I am not certified by any agency to practice psychotherapy. I think I would stink at it. So, I just don’t do it.

There is something that I AM expert in. And most seasoned managers are, too. We understand the work. Work is problem solving and decision making. Given a role (to recruit, or promote), most managers have a very clear understanding of the problem solving and decision making required.

How do you test a person for capability?

You test a person for capability with project work. Every manager should constantly test every team member for capability with project work. I may not be able to judge a person, but I can certainly judge the work. When I delegate a project, I pay specific attention to the problem solving and decision making in the project. Then, all I have to do is determine if, during the course the project, the team member is effective, or not. Pretty much thumbs up, thumbs down.

Managers who constantly test their team will have a running intuitive understanding of the capability of each team member.

Here is the insight. Every manager already maintains a running intuitive understanding of the capability in each team member. Project work allows us to consciously calibrate effectiveness in specific decisions to be made and problems to be solved.

Give a person a promotion, and they fail, you have a chocolate mess on your hands. Give a person a project and they fail, you have a failed project, and, as the manager, you can manage the risk in the project.

A Simple Feedback Loop

Emily was already in the plant. Out on the line, she tacked up a small white board. She wrote -Today’s target – 175 units. She tied the marker to a string and let it dangle.

She called a quick team huddle. “Listen up,” she said. “Instead of waiting for the QC report, I want to start tracking finished units before they leave the line.” She explained the tick marks and assigned a team member to count the marks at 10:00am, 2:00pm and 4:00pm.

I showed up during lunch. “Emily, I am glad you were in class for our discussion of control systems and feedback loops.”

“Yeah, we were going to talk about that, but all we did was talk about my morale problem.”

“Not exactly,” I replied. “Think about this. Before today, you had a dysfunctional control system. The results from the QC department were delayed by one day and the people who could fix the problem weren’t given accurate information.

“Today, you successfully converted your troublesome control system into a helpful feedback loop. The team (who can fix the problem) now gets accurate information in real time without delay.”

Deliver the Truth

Ernesto and Emily were locked in deep discussion. Emily was learning as much about herself as she was about the problem she brought to class.

I’m the problem?” she asked.

Ernesto shook his head. “Yes, and that’s the good news,” he replied. “The one thing you have the most control of is you. Your team is consistently short on daily unit production. But to protect morale, you never delivered the bad news. You never delivered the truth, at least not the straight truth.

“What do I do?” she asked.

“Tell them the truth,” Ernesto replied. “If they don’t know what the problem is, how can they fix it?”

“What if I tell them and they quit or get mad at me?”

“People are not that fragile, people can handle the truth. It’s the load that usually comes with the truth that people have trouble with. Look, Emily, all they need to know on Tuesday are two things. What is Tuesday’s target and as the day progresses, how are they doing toward the target?”

“So, how do I tell them, without the load?” Emily asked.

Ernesto was quick to respond. “Get a white board and in the morning, write down the target number for the day. When they finish a unit, have them put a tick mark on the board. Assign someone to add them up at 10, 2 and 4. They will figure it out.”

Creating Co-dependents

Emily was now seated in a chair at the front of the class.

“Emily, you think there is a morale problem on the line,” Ernesto began. “But, that’s not the problem. You know the team is not meeting their daily quota, but you haven’t shared the numbers with them. Bottom line, you are not telling the truth because you are afraid you might hurt someone’s feelings. By not telling the truth, you made them incapable of improvement.”

Emily’s body language retreated. Ernesto continued.

“And you have created co-dependents out of them. They are just fine not knowing what the quota is. As long as they don’t know, they don’t have to perform to it.

“When you tell them they are short, they think it’s your problem not theirs. They are perfectly willing to continue this non-accountable relationship. No skin off their nose.”

The color in Emily’s face began to pale. I called a time out. The room was very still and quiet.

“The problem we name is the problem we solve. That is why it is so important to name the problem correctly,” I said. “How will we name this problem?”

Just Try Harder

Emily was nervous as she entered the classroom. She knew that I would not allow her to be a passive observer, but front and center in the crucible. I turned to greet the other folks streaming in.

“I would like everyone to meet Emily. She has an interesting problem at work. With our help, she is going to walk us through some solutions.” Emily looked at me sideways. It would take her a bit to trust this group.

Up at the front, Emily stood. “I really don’t know what kind of problem I have,” she started. “Our manufacturing line is not meeting its daily quota and the reject rate is at 11 percent.” Emily continued to describe the circumstances, considering morale, motivation and working conditions. Then the questions came from the group.

“Who decides the daily quota?”
“How is the daily target communicated to the line?”
“Who tracks the number of completed units?”
“How does the line know if they are falling short or getting ahead of the target?”

Emily responded crisply, “The daily quota is determined by the sales forecast and what we need in stock, but the people on the line don’t need to know that. They just need to build the units faster. When the QC people pick up the units for inspection at the end of the day, they count them and it’s on my report the next day.”

Ernesto raised his hand. “So, the line doesn’t know how far they missed Tuesday’s quota until Wednesday?”

“Not exactly,” Emily replied. “I don’t want to discourage them, so I just tell them they were a little short, that they are doing good job and to try harder. I am worried about morale getting lower.”

Ernesto tilted his head to directly engage Emily. “You are treating this issue as a morale problem. Morale is only a symptom. You have to treat the root cause of the problem, not the symptom.”

Randy dragged a chair up front for Emily to sit. We were going to be there a while.

Name the Problem

It was early. Early, meaning we were the only two people on the plant floor. Emily drew a flow chart of how materials were received, then assembled and carted off to QC for inspection. She defended the competence of her workers in the assembly process.

“The issue isn’t assembly,” I said. “The issue is speed and accuracy. Have you ever counted rejects off the line?”

“Well, no,” replied Emily. “That’s what our Quality Department does.”

“So, when units leave this line, we have no idea which ones meet spec and which ones are defective?”

Emily searched in her mind for a better answer, but she couldn’t find one. “No,” she replied.

“Emily, we are talking about competence. The biggest reason for failure is incompetence. Most managers will accept all kinds of excuses. The problem is not that the line is running too fast or too slow or that it is too hot or too cold, or that we don’t have great health insurance or that the team isn’t motivated. The problem is incompetence. Most managers won’t call it incompetence, because they don’t know how to solve that problem. The problem you name is the problem you solve. The issue is speed and accuracy. The problem is incompetence.”

“So, what should I do?” Emily asked.

“Funny, you should ask. Tonight, in class, we are going to talk about control systems and feedback loops. Why don’t you come, as my guest? I will help you teach the subject.”

Did Not Do It, Because I Couldn’t

“But, I just told you that my people are competent,” Emily protested. “They have been working on the line for several years.”

“You said, the problem was reject rates. Yes, your team is competent at the task, but not competent at accuracy and speed,” I explained. “I used to work in an accounting firm. When I started, I thought I was great at adding up numbers. And I was. I was extremely competent at adding numbers (after all, I did manage to graduate from second grade). But I was incompetent at accuracy and speed.

“Never in my life, was I taught to error-check a column of numbers by adding the column twice and comparing the totals. That practice never occurred to me. And if it had occurred, I would have immediately concluded that it would take twice the time to add the numbers twice. Logic told me so.

“I had to learn a new skill. I had to become competent at using an adding machine without looking. I never did it before, because I couldn’t.

“Before, I would add numbers up with an occasional mistake. Now, I add them up twice in less time, virtually error-free.

“Your people on the line are competent at the task, but not competent at accuracy and speed.”

Emily was silent. Finally she spoke, “Okay, I think I get it. But I am not sure what to do. How do I bring up their competence in accuracy and speed?”

“First, we are going to have to count some things.”