Friday, February 28, 2014

In the name of ‘dynamic adjustment’ – Teams in Downturns and Upheavals

I have facilitated interactions in top teams to unblock their energies on several occasions. The period post-2008 has been particularly interesting for the insights each facilitation experience threw up. Let us examine some of them.
1.       Risk-averse team players are unaware of what they are unaware.
Teams in crisis are often hostage to the choices of key individuals. That is to say that if the authority is active in the team, there’s at least one person with titular or social power over others in the team.  The sheer discretion in sanction makes this power amplified in experience. With unequal advantage over specified resources like money and material, they tend to swear by deliverables (deliverance is another conversation). They are seduced and mesmerised in trappings of an economic contract that also gives them social power over others, irrespective of and sometimes, in spite of their knowledge of tasks and their impact. Yes.

They are risk averse for the most part, and fend their role boundaries to preserve their social identity perceptions. In doing so, they endanger their respective teams and the aggregate top team too.

Let us say there are 4 such persons with their respective pyramids in a team at the top. These 4 persons are in most cases found stuck in a dynamic that is more concerned with their fiefs than with what they could accomplish between themselves. They get so busy with short-feedback loops of tasks within their control, that they fail to see the larger picture. Seeking job security in and with operational execution, they leave overall strategic leadership matters to chance. This is not the conversational upward delegation syndrome, but the wishful thinking that if operations are ensured, strategy would be taken care of by those with the social power. Oh, how they blind each other without knowing it! The alibi they project status quo in is sworn integrity to their respective roles!

2.       Teams in crisis tend to reap the very whirlwind they want to avoid 
Why? Very strange, you may say. In a variation of the Abilene paradox, my learning has been that due to their excessive task orientation, team-members under-estimate the inter-personal competence required to confront each other. Such underdeveloped synchrony of social intelligence blocks from themselves the learning pregnant in their environments. Whether industry trends, innovative technologies and business processes of competition; these signals are below any radar that the team may have to interpret meaning and consequence.
In selfish motives of trying to protect their jobs in limited loops with a supervisor, they are uncomfortable testing early understanding of team synergy. Leaders at the top grope for reasons of team dysfunctionality. They pigeon-hole their slices of convenient evidence in a fragments of a whole. Reality eludes them like heaven eludes the strivers on earth. Why did old-fashioned diligence, consistency of purpose, charm and civility do little to protect them from the deep impasse? Found wanting for courage individually and collectively, they are often like children at a fair who lose their way in the festive spirit of an aimless crowd. Then they ask the control room to announce over the public address system that they have lost each other!
In one case, a CEO was just too nice to others within his team (read excessive need for approval), that he forgot to appreciate how the kindness killed his own edge in influencing them to do what they may not do otherwise. In another case, the leader was caught up in making a mark with revenue top-lines. He destroyed his own capacity to absorb and detect signals from his team to the impending long-term incapacity of the organisation. There have also been cases of cross-border team initiatives, where out of sight had been out of mind, until a facilitation opportunity meant speaking issues to each other’s face, and realising as a consequence how they hold themselves back habitually.

3.       Goals trump Style, but Style trumps the moment.
I have often found that when members are fused with a sense of shared purpose, seldom do they consider interpersonal issues as the dynamic of focus. They may focus on procedures, protocols or even role and team charters. Team Maturity takes time with each other.

Consensual social attraction also imbues the leader with powers of sanction with apparent status.  This creates a status-based distinction within the group.  The leader(s) and followers syndrome kicks in without much bother, due to limitations in interpersonal range. This has characteristics of unequal status intergroup relations.

 In addition, a fundamental attribution process constructs a charismatic leadership personality for the leader, which further empowers the leader and sharpens the leader–follower status hiatus. This prototype-based leadership breeds a lack of debate, and the team drains up energy faster than they know what goals they are assembled for in the first place.

In rhythmic consonance, members in a team tend to get set in patterns. These patterns are signaled by the behaviors emitted between the leader and the immediate roles around the leader role. If social power is usurped through charisma, the leader’s style has disproportionate influence over less assertive souls whose allegiance is as fragile as the regularity of their pay-check. In this syndrome, team Goals are trumped by the leader’s style. It takes a deft facilitation to depersonalise the team construct in such cases, and then design for the alternate choices for those involved in the team. The opportunity can unfold possibilities for all members with stake in the situation. Design thinking is so vital here.
Prickly downturn situations are like this fencing around a rotting stem 

Summary: Trust from togetherness is germane to the human bond irrespective of economic climate. We underestimate is the power of the environment beyond the organisation’s boundary.  It determines climate and culture in the organisation, much more than we care to acknowledge.

It is such a contrast that in years of business growth, arrogance, hubris, competitive myopia and turf wars dominated as dysfunctions in a team. It may be quick and convenient to label and look for similar phenomena in downturns. In downturns, the patterns of team dynamics are not as clear or similarly bracketed. They are a mix of role design, goal clarity, and procedural constraints that get played out through anxious overtones of a myriad personality.

Perhaps, there is a remnant of behaviors learnt during economic growth in downturn dynamics too. In teams experiencing the downturn, situations are ripe with first signs of overlearning. When left to themselves, team-members are unable to use alternate approaches or styles in interaction, let alone focus on goals, roles and procedures that can enable effective interactions. It takes conscious effort to ask and assist when in top leadership teams.

It is in unconscious regression to known ways of operation that past learning deceives us. Phenomena of emergent nature are not the same as problems of yesterday.  The teaming paradox related to learning is this : The capability to get past setbacks and the resilience to successfully overcome constraints is not a stored capability, but a capacity to be explored in interdependence. 

What have you experienced in teams of today? What do you see as you look beyond the balloon bursting cracks of pent-up cynicism? And the cake plastering on faces that feign compensation for lack of recognition?

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

What's an Entrepreneurial Orientation? Nuggets from Research and Experience

Since the GFC (Global Financial Crisis) of 2008, around the world, optimism in business has not swayed to sparks of excitement or any exuberance of self-deception.  The danger in this situation is the default neglect of patterns that may merit risk-taking. The joke as it were is on us again. We now defend passive behaviors in the guise of safety. There are a wide variety of start-ups that merit our attention. I have had the fortune to mingle with a variety of small and medium sized enterprise who have in them the distant drum frequencies of a distinctly vibrant future, on the edge of sustainable enterprise design considerations and employees wiser from the delight of authentic service.

I am naming just a few to buttress readers' sense of reality. Consider Rajeev Pathak, for example, ex-Wipro. He rushes from village road to city squares between schools of a myriad kind. Consider Vipul Redey, my junior from school  – same space, different approach, after kicking his job at CISCO. Or consider Vinay Joshi in Pune, who is pure play computing and analytics. All in all, am reminded of days, when I wished to formally research the transition phase when entrepreneurs in the quest for growth managed the ‘professionalization’ of their ventures.   While that became a difficult dream then, I am now fortunate to observe the process from up close. Here are some glimpses from the journey for leaders, entrepreneurs, and professionals who may wish to reflect on the dynamics of that transition.

1.       Paradoxes Galore : Entrepreneurial journeys are full of surprising paradoxes. Laymen may find these difficult expectations of themselves. Let us look at some of them.
a.       Weak-Tie Strong-Network : Entrepreneurs network relentlessly. In-person interactions with people who have complementary capabilities and interests are a general interaction pattern  for entrepreneurs. The paradox is that they ‘use’ relationships for an ‘end’ in mind, so their focus is not on the depth of the relationship, but of the ‘value’ in the interaction. Whether they embellish the relationship with affection, authenticity or warmth is secondary to what they wish to accomplish in the near to immediate term. You may find it surprising how they land up to a second interaction long after the first as if there were no break in time!
b.      Autonomy : Interdependence Polarity : Sociologically speaking, entrepreneurs, especially first-generation ones are social misfits, who seek to stamp out of expectations of conformance through a journey of individuation. They take a psychological risk of alienation, and the more successful ones, come to depend on the society they rebel in only to seek the support of those they first distanced themselves before.  
c.       Self-Help : Formalization Paradox  : Entrepreneurs are known to tie-up informally to enable each other. However, as expansion becomes inevitable, the remnants of bureaucracy or formalization could undermine self-help in entrepreneurial networks too. Hence CEO forum retreats, and even recent attempts in India to formalize expansionist modes of American style business networks over breakfast or lunches hinge on norms and rules of membership.
2.       Entrepreneurial Orientation : I first came across this term in the 1990s when Lumpkin and Dess made it to the Strategic Management Journal with their pentagon like constructs. They have a process view rather than a content view to the concept of entrepreneurship, and as such if any among the five below are diminished, entrepreneurial orientation would suffer. I now offer a distillation of the same given hairs lost on my head in coming to terms with the phenomena that holds these terms up.
a.       Competitive Aggressiveness : This is the entrepreneur’s parallel to the day job employee’s need for achievement or the drive to acquire. It is about venturing all parts of the chain in entirety  ahead of competition – opportunity, organisation set-up and the commercial exchange between customer and the firm.
b.      Pro-activeness : This is a judgement formed in anticipatory readiness distinct from mere initiative taking in the everyday life of an organisation man. If it were Kasturbhai Lalbhai who revolutionised textile manufacturing in Gujarat, today, perhaps Chiddanand’s characters in his book The Horse that flew stand out in context.

c.       Autonomy : An entrepreneur’s autonomy is deep grit of will rising far above mere freedom to pursue an approach to implementing formal processes at the work-place.
d.      Innovation : Essentially of Schumpeterian origin, any disruptive introduction into the value stream of the marketplace was considered innovation. Today, we know that intangible process innovations deflect economic value far in excess of algorithmic proportion than discrete manufacturing or high-sea trading of the past.
e.      Risk-Taking : As alluded to before, entrepreneurial risk is about going against the grain of societal trends and is marked by the willingness to be ostracised for such deviance. Entrepreneurs run twin risks of financial and psychological kind. Intrapreneurs count on being shielded of financial risks. Entrepreneurs also develop the fine art of distinguishing between impulsive hyper-activity and measured stretch of unprecedented nature.  This is also distinct from much touted risk-taking that is spoken of in professional circles as mark of exemplary business acumen.
3.       Glimpse of a Human Dynamic : There is a distinct relationship between entrepreneurial orientation and learning styles of professionals. In my own research it was known to us that engineers in middle-management cadres saw their firms as entrepreneurially oriented or not depending on their learning styles. 

 To put it crisply, the phenomenon we observed was this : If managers adapted in formal organisations such that they gave in to context, by examining inter-personally rich learning, they saw their firms as more organic and flexibly postured to interpret signals from their business environment. As against this, those who retained the concept intensive, rule, norm and logic laden learning styles laced in symbols of organisational policy, procedure and formality, saw their firms as rigid, conservatively postured and thus of low entrepreneurial orientation.

Well that in itself is quite a lot for a blog, I think. Am sure, you may like to respond if you need to dwell deeper.  Would you not be curious to know, for example, what with the advent of mature angel investors, what kind of moral imagination and deeply held beliefs are waiting to fruition in the embryonic ecosystem of Indian entrepreneurship today? Let me give you a clue – there’s hardly any formal academics I know of on the psycho-dynamics of such processes in India. Economists still dominate the discourse in linear extension of a vocabulary they gave us on ‘market’ and ‘value’.

Am looking forward to conducting research on some related themes of ambidexterity, innovation climate and leadership in Indian firms this year. Would you know of institutions or individuals willing to fund this effort? Do write in.