Change - Strategic Facilitation

by Tony Mann

Levels of organisational process awareness

Not all organisations are at the same stage of development, and the role of the strategic facilitator and the contract he makes with an organisation will vary accordingly. Many of you will have come across the Forming, Storming, Norming and Performing model of assessing organisational development. Another way of defining organisational development is in terms of their approach to Uncertainty and Process.

The dysfunctional organisation

The dysfunctional organisation gives little heed to process. It prefers rigid, well-defined ways of tackling issues. It even actively dislikes and distrusts process, thinking that it is ‘soft’ and irrelevant. This leads it to use the same approach to every situation, regardless of the degree of uncertainty. Some (intellectual) managers believe that strategy can be achieved simply by declaring it: by announcing that the organisation will do this or this. They do not see the need to use a process to bring things into being and actually think this rather beneath them.

Process awareness of a group

Stage 1


There is a strong leadership, but participation is not encouraged. Disagreement is seen as dissention and staff keep their heads down.

Stage 2


The organisation begins to take steps towards using process to engage staff and involve them in change. The managers use different styles to involve staff.

Stage 3

Process aware

The organisation adapts well to uncertainty and adapts the process appropriately. Managers will take responsibility for involving staff.

Some managers who have ‘come up from the shop floor’ think that by tackling the problem head-on they can resolve it! Both types of organisation – those led by intellectuals and those led by ‘doers’ – are dysfunctional. While both may exhibit the strong leadership that is always needed to make the ultimate decision, both suffer from a failure to manage change in an effective and participative way.

Revelations that have emerged from the banking crisis have highlighted directors who bullied and demeaned their senior managers and drove change through with disastrous consequences. There are examples of local authorities which went ahead with changes that have cost the rate payer dearly. Governments have driven through changes in education and health which in retrospect have had long-reaching and unfortunate consequences for children’s education and for people’s health.

Dysfunctional organisations are recognisable by the following characteristics: lack of process, unwillingness to engage in meaningful debate, heavy reliance on strong leadership, and one way conversations with the same people contributing, no matter what the strategic issue. Leaders have a mindset and a belief that they can’t be wrong. They NEVER cascade decisions (distrusting what others might say or do). Inevitably, the leader has most ‘power’ and uses it. However, success is patchy and the organisation’s stakeholders start to distrust the direction and strategy of the organisation.

It is rare in these competitive times, but if the leader is weak then the organisation becomes not only dysfunctional but ‘chaotic’. Decisions become haphazard, managers and staff become disillusioned and ‘success’ is very hit and miss.

Transitional organisations

Transitional organisations, on the other hand, have learnt that process is valuable. They begin to apply process, recognising its worth. A transitional organisational is recognisable as follows: staff at all levels contribute to debate and decisions, if not equally, then in a more balanced way; they can also work in cross-functional groups, trusting each other to deliver. Use is made of project teams; experts and specialists within the organisation are trusted but not deified, and outside consultants are used within boundaries and have effective control over their activities. Managers at all levels begin to take ownership of the process, using SPOs and this activity is accepted by the organisation and valued. Not all will be able to think process, but they recognise its value and place in their projects and plans. The result? Decisions are better; success comes more often; the leader co-ordinates and feels less need to ‘lead’ and less need to dominate.

Process Aware organisations

Process Aware organisations are the rarity! They have adopted process thinking. Each action is prepared with a process to go with it. Strategic goals only make the strategy when there is a process to accomplish it. In one company, the strategy to become a premier product manufacturer was dependent on being more effective in production. This was achieved by a concentrated re-alignment of the core processes.

Such organisations are recognisable by the following characteristics: people can be heard offering SPOs at every strategic juncture, so when people ask ‘How can we achieve that?’ they mean what process will we use to get there. People will also be checking against the UIA=0+E (see here) where the organisation is in terms of buy-in. A wide variety of models and approaches will be being used to continually improve the capabilities. Some will be invented or adapted to suit a particular situation and need – there are no ‘favourite’ models, only ones that are fit for strategic purpose. The leader has become the change leader and other members regularly take a process lead. Success is common and uncertainty is not feared; in fact uncertainty is seen as competitive opportunity to be relished. Consultants are servants to the organisation, not masters. Specialists know how to influence key decisions, but are conscious of their weaknesses and don’t overplay their knowledge. There is ALWAYS a process review at the end of each strategic initiative and lessons are learnt and remembered, but not turned into a set of rules; rather they become guiding principles for the future.