Our working lives involve such a simple idea.

We can all be better, we can all do better.

Terms such as – performance review, skill set growth, competencies interview – are all about ‘fixing’ something. Us.

This deep down assumption is a tricky thing for any business, group, or team sincerely trying to change to a more modern, less machine-like way of working.

Supporting rather than managing, trusting, encouraging networks and autonomy, concentrating on impact rather than process, is surely the sort of environment most of us would choose.

It is happening. Open minded charities, community based businesses, some areas of health care and education, innovation teams within established commercial businesses are all experimenting with new, humanising ways of lifting everyone through self-organisation rather than command and control structures. There are some great success stories.

But not everywhere.

And interestingly, the default analysis in these cases is that the teams, the people involved, need ‘fixing’ first.

That may not be right.

Is the answer to be found in comparing a business to a nation state?

Professor of politics Andreas Wimmer has just published a book called ‘Nation Building: Why Some Countries Come Together While Others Fall Apart’.

The unquestioned logic in ‘the West’ is that building a nation involves introducing democracy.

Yet this clearly hasn’t worked.

As nation & history after nation & history are examined, the author makes clear that a nation is built in reverse order.

Something important has to exist first: identification with some sort of collective purpose.

Healthy and real links between groups and ethnicities, between citizens and the State, alliances that bridge divisions: all build up a shared identity, and combat the ‘zero sum game’ mentality necessary for power grabs and abuse.

Then democracy. India is an example.

Might this help the introduction of a self-managing culture in businesses?

There’s a sneaky suspicion amongst some who have been burned by attempting such a transformation that the Leaders of the hierarchy, reluctant to really change, act out in an ‘over to you, then’ way.

Perhaps the first step is to encourage networks to organically build some sense of shared identity and purpose .

And then a self-organising transformation might stand a chance.






A bit of a theme during this summer is going to be ‘employee engagement’.

Even the phrase sounds old fashioned, doesn’t it? Echoing another time of hierarchies, of command and control.

(And what is ‘engagement’, any way?)

Lets begin a little un-picking of this oddly beached reminder of old corporate management lore.  I’m going to start with ‘tag’ questions.

Came across these in some commentary about the planned ‘Prisons and Courts Reform Bill’ in the Queen’s Speech.

Lots of (good) work is happening around the treatment of child witnesses, and the re-designing of court procedures to humanise the ordeal of giving evidence for children.
A tried and trusted questioning technique in court is to use ‘tag questions’.

A declarative statement is turned into a question.
‘ The policeman was kind to you, wasn’t he?’
‘ Mummy often shouted at Daddy, didn’t she?’

It’s a construction that leads the witness, suggests a ‘right’ answer, and is confusing.
This form of questioning is to be stopped where children are involved.

Then I looked at an employee survey in a medium sized Public Sector organization and found:

‘The management cared about helping you accomplish your personal
and professional development and career goals in a timely way?’

‘You are given opportunities to experiment and work in different ways

The structure is reminiscent of the ‘tag’ formation, isn’t it?

Whether you agree/ disagree, or rate the statement on a scale, the declarative statement makes it completely clear about the assumptions and expectations of ..‘the management’.

This is rather like confirmation bias.

Once you’ve noticed it you will see it everywhere.