Work Models You Need To Know: Ep.3 – POSITIVE POLITICS

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Politics in the workplace.  Not generally considered a good thing.  But it’s as real as the wind is reality if you’re in a sailing boat.  We need an angle if we’re going to get things done so we can earn our keep.

We can get that angle from the work of Peter Block and his model which I call his ‘Positive Politics’ model.  Not only will it help you make sense of the political relationships going on in your workplace, it gives us some strategies to make things better.

You can find this model in his brilliant book The Empowered Manager.  It’s one of the classics, now in a second edition.


First, some origins.  The word ‘politics’ comes from the Greek word ‘politikos’ which includes the words for ‘citizen’ and ‘city’.   Change ‘city’ to ‘organisation’ and you can see that any time you try to start, stop or keep something going in an organisation…it’s a political act.

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…

Eliminate change management

Positive change

We all know the usual routine – management identifies the need for more productivity and/or quality or a new strategy, the necessary actions are identified (internally, externally or a combination of both), this necessitates change, so now we ‘change manage’.

And it works……at best…..sometimes.

What we’re really doing here is coercing people to like the change we’ve decided on.  We’re doing change to them.

What if instead we did change with them?

As Peter Block says,

when someone states ‘we need to get everyone on board‘, the answer is ‘what makes you think you’re in the boat?

Imagine if, instead of management calling in the external experts, it went the other way around and the frontline team approached management and said

We’re out of ideas.  But if you can find $50k for those improvement consultants we were speaking to last week, we reckon we can work with them and find about $200k per year savings back to the business‘.

Would this require ‘change management’? Read more…

51% – the brilliantly simple concept to start creating real commitment

Read it on stairs (2)

There’s an element that gets overlooked when you set up your organisation with the right number of levels (yes, there is a right number, but that’s a different post), and when you make sure that the people in the roles will be able to add value at the level that the role requires.  You get a natural feeling of release or ‘that feels better’ as some of the key conditions that create micromanagement or disconnection are now dealt with.

Couple in some training about what the unique value-add of each level is, and we’re well on the way toward an enterprise that can seriously get things done, both today’s work, and tomorrow’s.  If you’d like some research on this, and no less than 50 years’ worth is good enough for you, check out the work of Elliott Jaques.  We use it because it works.

But there’s a darker side.

In the process of defining ‘levels’, the human need for dominance rears it’s head.  I’m talking about the idea that “I’m at a higher ‘level’, therefore I know better than you”.  Don’t get me wrong, most times this isn’t evil, and comes through as genuine caring for ‘your’ people.  But the very act of assuming you know what’s best for someone else….how comfortable are you with being on the receiving end of that?

Yet, we need people who can think in longer timespans so we’re OK in the future.  And we need people who can make things work right now so we’re OK right now.  We need all of these things for a successful business.  Hierarchy is actually natural.

So what do we do?

What we do is move to the mindset described by Peter Block as Partnering not Parenting. Read more…

The real foundation of your cross-functional issues

Does the discussion in your meetings often turn toward other departments and how they are letting you down?  Actually, why am I even posing that as a question?  Let me start again:

When the discussion in your next meeting turns toward why and how other departments are letting you down, trying saying this:

Sounds like we’ve got ourselves an org design issue.

You can predict the response: “What do you mean org design?  They know what they are there to do.  They should just do their job and deliver“.

But here’s what’s missed….the other area is staffed by people just like your team is.  And they’re probably putting in some sort of effort just like your team is.  And they probably know how to do their job about as good as your team knows how to do theirs.

So the problem isn’t the other department.  The problem is that what the other department sees itself as accountable for differs from what your team thinks it should be accountable for.

And what do you call the work of sorting out what departments and roles are going to be accountable for?  Organisational design.

It’s what sits at the foundation of your organisational issues.  It’s the key to developing your organisation.

But you won’t see it until you see  it.


The right spot for personality tests


When personality tests and cultural surveys come up with clients, they often say a little apologetically “I know you don’t think much of these, but…”. I feel bad when I hear this, because I don’t automatically think they are bad.

Far from it.

I rate things such as Myers-Briggs, the various LSI, OCI, CSI permutations, Facet 5 and all various  letters, spiderwebs and colours as great tools for  raising the performance of teams that already know what they’re doing. Read more…

You don’t need a reporting relationship to get things done


Organisations often need a watchdog role.  I know we shouldn’t call it that, we should at least say ‘ensure quality’ or ‘alignment’.  But what we are trying to achieve is to make sure that a group of people provide the services or do the work as required.

One particular role comes to mind where this function appears – Manager of Strategy.   This role is often expected to ensure that plans and outputs across the business align with the agreed organisational strategy. Read more…

Stop the battles: Using authorities to set up cross-functional work

Eli Painting 1

There is a way to create a culture of working together and stopping cross-functional work being the bane of your people’s working life, and it does not start with sending everyone away to learn how to handle conflict, find out their personality type or get 360 feedback.

Instead, it involves addressing the issue at its source by managers clarifying what they are each accountable for, confirming with their cross-over manager, then setting up role relationships for their people by integrating accountabilities and authorities.

Elliott Jaques provides  seven different types of authority to match with accountability Read more…

The simple step to improving cross-functional relationships

Cat Stone

Something actually quite strange, but common, are Finance areas taking ownership of profitability for an organisation.  You will hear comments like “March should be a big month, which will make Jim (CFO) happy”, and you’ll hear Jim saying things like “my money” and “that’s good for my bottom line”.

We see the exact same thing when HR departments take ownership of culture or employee engagement.

This comes from a good place, from Read more…

Conflict? Just work together!

Doll House Mess

Here’s a bit of non-genius – getting people to work together across departments requires setting up how they are supposed to work together across departments.   And the reverse – if people don’t work well together across departments, there is a fair chance that we haven’t set up how they are supposed to work together across departments.

Imagine this conversation: Read more…