Get That Work Landed!  Lessons from Air Traffic Control

Prefer to watch rather than read? Click here to watch the video – 4 mins, with captions.

Air Traffic Control has it’s act together.  Because if it doesn’t, things go wrong.  Really wrong.

Here’s four lessons we can pick up that are easy to apply in your organisation to lift your performance in getting strategy delivered.

Read more…

Circle Work: achieving cross-functional customer focus


Ask any group of people to draw their ‘org chart’, and they’re going to draw something like this:

Org chart traditional

There is nothing wrong with this – it’s a useful diagram that shows managerial relationships – who is accountable for which teams.  This has value simply because if a given team is doing great, or not so great, it’s convenient to know who to talk to.  And we can have meetings of five teams by coordinating five calendars instead of forty.

Here’s the thing though – this visual representation becomes the dominant mental model for how we think about work.  Notice how it implies four separate people, only connected through one other who sits ‘over’ them.  It’s not a big leap from here to see how relationships of dominance and dependence can emerge, with the friendly version being the ‘caretaking’ manager, the not-so-nice version being the autocratic manager.  Either way felt ownership of the work is gathered in just the one person.  Not nice if you’re that person.

(Click here  for a pdf version of this post)

So here’s a change.  Draw your team like this….

Org chart circle

…as a Circle, that gathers around the work of the team – it’s mission.  But notice a key feature – we still have a managerial leadership  role.  And we define that role very deliberately – as the role that takes accountability for the team delivering it’s mission.  So it has the authority to convene meetings, to name the conversation that needs to be had, and, when required, to make decisions if the team can’t naturally find a consensus that makes sense.  Read more…

Why Your Organisation Is Busy Yet Nothing Gets Done (blame Michael)

OK, if you haven’t seen this before, this will land somewhere between ‘nice one’ and ‘holy freakin’ #@&* what have we been doing’.

It’s the reason why your whole organisation, your team, and you yourself have the permanent feeling of too much on and nowhere near enough of that ‘let’s get after it and get it done‘ vibe.

It’s the reason why whenever I ask ‘how’s things?‘ the answer I get is the wry smile, shake of the head, then ‘you know….flat out as always, you know how it is‘.

Yes, I do know how it is.

So let me set it up for you.  As always, I didn’t invent this stuff, I’m here to make genius useful when I find it, and this comes from Eli Goldratt’s Critical Chain, and further made sense of by Rob Newbold and Bill Lynch in The Project Manifesto.

It goes like this, which is deliberately over-simple: Read more…

The underlying killer of accountability


“We need more accountability around here” Chloe said.

“What do you mean by that?” I asked.

“You know, people caring, people hitting their marks, doing what they said they would.  You know, being accountable” she replied with a slight tone of ‘what is wrong with you’.

“Like you do?” I asked

“Do you think I don’t” was the quick reply.

“No, not that at all, sorry” I immediately answered.  “I meant that question literally, you mean you’d like people to care about the place like you do as the CEO?”

“Well…..yeah.  That would be great!”

“So why don’t they?” I asked.

Chloe laughed – “I thought that’s what you were here to fix”.

I didn’t laugh at all.  I looked straight into her eyes.

“No.  This is what you have caused.  So it’s what you are here to fix”.

The pause was somewhat awkward.

“OK….I get it.” she said.  “So what can I do?”

“The word I use for what you’re looking for is ‘ownership'”.  I said.  “You want people around here to act like it’s their place.  Like it’s their money.  Like owners”.

“Yep, that pretty much it”. Read more…

What Exactly Is The Strategy Role?

Santos and Josh know strategy

Santos and Josh know strategy

(This one’s a longer read, perhaps save it for later or have a read at home.  Cheers, Adam)

Hey Adam,

Wondering if you can help me – my organisation has created a Strategy role and put me in it. I’ve got some generic KRAs, but a lot of room to design my own ‘value-add’. Would appreciate your view on what you see the value of such a role is.

OK, let’s talk about what the role isn’t to start with.

The strategy role is not there to take sole accountability for delivering strategy!  

Do not take on this accountability alone, either explicitly, or implicitly. It’s going to be tempting as you’re going to want to show that you’re valuable, and the core areas will gladly hand you accountability for the future to get it off their plate! It will seem like a win/win, but this degenerates into a lose/lose every time as you’ll be crying “no one here thinks of the future”, they’ll be crying “Strategy doesn’t understand I’ve got real numbers to hit here”, and the CEO will be crying “why can’t we all just get along!”

Strategy is delivered by those that either currently make or do the things customers use, or by new areas that will make or do the things customer use in the future. In other words, strategy is ultimately delivered by Sales and Operations areas (whatever you call them),even in you are involved along the way.  Not you on your own.

What Strategy Is There To Do

So if Strategy doesn’t deliver strategy on it’s own, what does it do?

It ensures both the happening of, and the quality of, the conversations necessary to both develop and implement strategy that will see the organisation continue to be both valuable and viable in it’s community.

Don’t get fooled by the simple sentence – the more simple and straightforward the sentence, the more complex and involved the actual execution (‘land someone on the moon and bring them back safely by the end of the decade‘….simple right?). These conversations are why you exist, but getting them happening requires you to do the following:

Take The Mystery Out Of Strategy. Read more…

“You can’t talk to my people” is NOT Requisite!!!

Exit Sign


I’ve heard that principles of Requisite Organisation mean that people can’t talk to people in other teams without checking with the manager first.  This seems to be against all modern ways of working together as an organisation, so just wanted to check in with you as I know you are an expert in this model.


I’m very glad you checked.  First principles, ‘Requisite’ means ‘what is required’ and in our model, which we call Requisite Enterprise as it uses these principles among others, it’s about designing and leading work so it’s fulfilling for customers, employees, beneficiaries and the planet.

This means that a way of working that causes frustration and disintegration of relationships is never going to be requisite in our model.  Saying ‘you can’t talk to them without checking with me first‘ is therefore obviously not part of what we teach in our workshops and online.

The Managerial Relationship

But…we can acknowledge where this comes from.  We use the Elliott Jaques idea of making managers accountable for their teams serving their customers (internal or external), and so give managers the authority to ultimately decide the way ‘work works’ and who does what in their area if that’s required.  This is called authority to ‘assign’ work.  And we describe the relationship between Managers and the team members using the Jaques term ‘Task Assigning Role Relationships’ or ‘TARRs’.  (BTW…we insist that before decisions managers also get the input of all those effected as an absolute minimum)

It is, however, a mistake to therefore think that this authority to ‘assign work’ means ‘a person may only do work directly assigned by their manager’, or even further ‘only the manager may talk to this person about work’. Read more…

A Talk – Designing for Quality Leadership

Adam ACSA May 2017

Something different this time around – a talk!  I spoke recently at the Leadership, Culture and Governance Symposium put on by Aged & Community Services Australia in Adelaide.

The topic – Designing for Quality Leadership   The point?  Leadership depends as much on your organisational design as it does the people in the jobs, so….stop fidgeting and start building something! 

Click here to watch.  Goes for about 40 minutes, and sorry about the hissing at the start – that blissfully goes away at 4:15.

It’s the stuff we teach in detail in our workshops and our online learning so you can design departments and enterprises where people can do great work.

And…if you’d like to see what was on the screen, or want the super-quick version,  click here to see the slides.  I’ve written short explanations on many of them so they make sense even without the presentation itself.

Feel free to download and distribute the slides to those who might be interested if you think it might help create a conversation that makes your place better.

Thanks to Derek Dittrich from ACSA and Tim Levett for the video production.

As always, if there is anything I can help with, just let me know.


Cross-functional work – a method for getting it sorted


I was wondering if I might be able to seek your guidance on sorting out cross-functional relationships.  Is there a process you suggest we follow so we can really sort ourselves out so we can be a better organisation for both customers and employees?


Very glad you asked – getting clear in this area is about not forcing people to rely on favours and politics to get their basic work done.  It’s a service to our fellow humans!

Cross-functional roles, or ‘Task-Initiating Role Relationships’ (TIRRs) as Elliott Jaques referred to them are how work gets done.  We tend to to see the org chart as reality, when it’s actually just a visual representation of who reports to who, and what each person is there to deliver.  In reality all work is passed on to someone, either internal or external – so all work is some sort of flow, which means…it mostly goes across.

This means that it’s one of the fundamental accountabilities of every manager to set up how work ‘works’ in their area.  And a crucial part of this is the TIRRs.

So how do we do this?  First we start with WHO.

We teach in our workshops and our online learning that Read more…

You already know how to get your organisation to work

You know this isn't healthy right?

You know this isn’t healthy right?

First it was no fat.  Then it was no carbs.  Now it’s no sugar.

If you want to be healthy, you already know what to do.  You know what good food is, or at least you know what bad food is.  And you know you should go for a walk.  Or a run.  Or something involving a little sweat.

It’s not complicated.

But it’s not easy to do is it?  Which is why the raft of quick-fix, follow-this-easy-plan diets continues to proliferate, why we live under the illusion that if we find the right magazine article we will magically reach a healthy weight and why we see people in the aisles of the supermarket squinting at lamingtons to check the sugar content!

Eat more fruit & veg.  Eat less pies.  Go for a walk.

Simple.  But it takes discpline.


First it was strategy, then it was reengineering.  Then it was lean and six sigma.  Now it’s innovation and complexity. Read more…

Five Decisions: The Simple Way To A Better Organisational Design

Number Plate

Lots of organisational design ideas out there.  The urge to play with levers has never been stronger, CEOs are answering surveys saying ‘organisational design is the most important thing’, and the last decade has even seen the sallow colour of Teal become some sort of top o’ the hill aspiration.

Which is just strange.

So let’s make sense of it and make it simple (remembering that simple and easy are not the same….).  Whichever way we do it, we need to organise ourselves so we can:

  1. Decide what to do right now, in the present conditions, looking at actual reality….so the customers being served get what they were promised.
  2. Decide any changes that need to be made to the tools, support, technology configurations, skills, guidelines so the above decisions are easier and better and don’t cost us the earth.
  3. Decide what changes to the way the whole network is put together will let us do things better now, or move to doing those new things we decided.  By network we mean suppliers, different teams, different technologies, support areas – all the things that combine to create what the customers get.
  4. Decide what different futures to invest significant time and resources into so we can continue to be viable, valuable and provide gainful employment.  Note: these decisions are best made with information gained from experiments or pilots…hence the needed innovation movement.
  5. Decide the fundamental value or purpose for the wider community behind all of this and how we will be organised so we can stay connected and see that purpose actually happen.

As you read through these five decisions, you’ll see each decision is supported by the next one. Read more…