“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…

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 simple principle that keeps large groups connected

“OK, so what have we found?” asked Kathy, CEO of a mid-size manufacturer, about 1600 people.

“We’ve found a possible cause of the issues coming out of your Eastern plant” I replied, putting on the table a diagram known as a Levels of Work Analysis.  The diagram is like an X-Ray for organisational design – it shows clearly the cracks and splinters in the org design itself that are causing frustration and lack of delivery.

Kathy leaned forward and pointed at the clearly marked red areas.  “What’s going on there?”

“I need to give you a quick bit of lingo” I said.  “We use some fundamental principles that, if in place, will see frustration down and delivery up.  One of these is about having what we call building blocks in place to make sure that our natural need for connection isn’t accidentally designed out.”

Kathy’s eyebrows went up.  I waited to check I was making sense.  “Go on” she said.

“The first building block is the basic team structure.   But above that we have the wider structure, or the three-tier structure.  The fancy term for it Elliott Jaques coined was the ‘Mutual Recognition Unit’, or ‘MRU’.”

“Fancy indeed” Kathy commented.  “So how does this help me?” Read more…

How to unblock your people’s creativity

“We need more self-starters” said Matthew.  I could have sworn he was glaring at me.  He had been CEO for a year now.

“In what way?” I asked.

“Our people just won’t make decisions.”

“Why not?” I asked.

“I don’t know!  We’ve empowered our people but they’re still bringing all the decisions to us.”

“Frustrating.” I agreed.  “So what have you tried?”

“Like everyone else, we’ve done our OCI, we’ve come out…”

“…red and green.”  I finished for him.  “And you want blue.”

“How did you know?”

“Because if people are shivering, I’m pretty sure when I look at the thermometer what it’s going to say”.

Matthew sat back.  He seemed deflated. Read more…

Self-organising doesn’t mean self-directed

“The thing about Scrum” I was saying to Melinda, one of my ex-colleagues and also one of the kindest and nicest people I’d ever worked with….”is that nearly all of it makes sense in a way that’s totally requisite.”

“Scrum?” she asked.

“Sorry, what I mean by Scrum is the software development method that’s based on principles of Agile.  The Agile stuff is about frequent checking in with the customer, that developers can sort themselves out, a whole approach that makes sure a team’s collective capability is used well.  What Scrum does is nicely define roles within a team under the Agile philosophy so that everyone knows what they’re doing.  That’s my potted overview anyway.”

“Isn’t that the stuff you teach with requisite?  That by clearly defining the role relationships in terms of who can ask who to start or stop things, people can be freed up from one of most common sources of conflict?”

“Yep, all the role relationships in a Scrum Team are a version of natural requisite role relationships.  No issue there.”

“So what’s the problem?” Read more…

Why do you use this ‘requisite’ stuff?

“So you’re telling me you want to help me to get my 1,500 people to align behind delivering the strategy I’ve put in place and you’re going to use thinking from the 1950s?”

It was a fair point!  I’d known Mary for a while, she loved to learn by challenging.  “Let me ask you this.” I ventured carefully.  “Would you say gravity existed in the 1950s?”


“And would you say it’s a relevant principle to be observed by those doing work that involves things falling?”


“And do you know when Newton first put forward his concept of gravity?”

“Well I know it wasn’t yesterday” said Mary.  “When was it?”

“It was the late 1600s.” I answered.  “So anyone using gravity is using principles that were first written about over 300 years ago.  And they are still using them today.  So I wouldn’t call that an old theory, I’d be more likely to call that a well-founded and useful theory”.

“But Einstein showed that a lot of Newton’s work wasn’t quite right didn’t he?”

“Sure….if you’re getting near the speed of light Newton doesn’t hold up so good.  And particularly if you’re Neo and you swallow the red pill.  But remember, when we’re choosing principles, it’s about which ones work best in terms of explaining and predicting what’s going on.  And Newton’s law of gravity does a pretty good job in most cases.”

“OK….so what’s this got to do with the price of eggs?”

“Well, let me go back one more step first.  Did gravity exist before Newton?”

“What do you mean?”

“I mean, were things floating around all over the place until that supposed apple happened to hit Newton on the scone, then suddenly he wrote stuff down and things stuck to the ground?”

“I see what you’re getting at.  Connect the dots for me”.

“The principles we use explain why organisations are going the way they are and predict how they are likely to go in the future in terms of letting their people deliver effectively and allow them to use their full capabilities.  The principles were always there.  A guy called Elliott Jaques pieced a lot of it together, others such as Gillian Stamp, another researcher named Luc Hoebeke and countless more all combine to uncover the principles of how human capability works within organisations, and how to arrange and organise things so people can do their best work.” Read more…

No therapy required: How to get your people working together

Have you, or are you about to, invest money in getting your people to work better as a team?  To get them to get along, to understand each other, to form closer bonds so work will truly flow across your organisation like the ball moving from defence to attack?

Your motives are pure.  You want your people to work better together.

But there’s something you need to do first.  Here it is, the biggest piece of obvious you will have read for quite some time:

To get your people to work better together, tell them how their roles work together.

That’s it!

Are you laughing?  Does this seem too simple to you?  Well it is simple.  A better word for it is foundational.

Would you agree that it’s a foundational condition for effectiveness that people in roles have an understanding of how their roles fit together?  That things are easy when people ‘know where they stand’, when they know who can ask who to do what in terms of their core jobs,  the reason they are there?

We need this sorted.  Your people need this sorted.

So you have a choice.  You can invest in friendship training, and then hope that your people can figure out for themselves how their roles fit together.  They might even do so.  And if you can afford the coffees and the lunches and your competitors and/or customers are happy to wait….sounds great.

Here’s the other way.  Decide, then tell them how their roles work together.  Here’s some examples:* Read more…

The fundamental (missing) OD question….

“Run me through what you’ve asked Adrian to do.”  I was grabbing lunch with Maria, GM of People & Culture.  Adrian was her Senior Manager Organisational Development.

“I’m asking quite a bit” said Maria.  “I need him to roll-out a number of programs to get our people better across the board”.

“Give me the top three” I asked.

Maria laughed; “I knew you were going to make me focus on priorities.  OK, the top three are….

One, all managers will be going through difficult conversations training,

Two, all staff will undergo workshops to design to improve resilience…”

I must have raised my eyebrows or some other ‘tell’, as Maria paused for a second.  Then she went on…

“and thirdly, we’re going to do targeted productivity workshops to lift the amount of work we can do in certain areas”.

I nodded.  “Sounds like a fair bit, as you said.”

“But……” Maria asked.

“But…Adrian is your Senior Manager of OD right?”


“And the ‘O’ stands for Organisational”

“Yep”.  Maria frowned.

“So what are you going to ask Adrian to deliver that will actually develop the organisation?”

“What do you mean?”

“Well, what do you consider to be ‘the organisation’.”

“The people” she replied quickly.

“I know what you mean, but I can’t get past the fact that people come into the organisation, people leave the organisation, yet the work mostly just keeps going.  So we can’t just say ‘the people’.”

Maria started to answer then stopped.  She stared at me, not moving, then after a few seconds started slowly stirring her coffee.

“You know” she said, “after more than 20 years of working in this field, I’ve never actually considered what ‘the organisation’ is.  What I’m actually asking Adrian to help ‘develop’.  Is that bad?”

“Maybe.  But I know one thing for sure.”

“What’s that?”

“You’re not alone.”