Home Concepts Organizational Theory Journey to Irony II: The Lands of Gamma and Delta

Journey to Irony II: The Lands of Gamma and Delta

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Once the strengths and risks of the two sides are understood, the dialogue is directed by the leader (with potential guidance from their coach or consultant) to what happens when we try to maximize the benefits of either side at the expense of the other side. For example, let’s begin with the conclusion in our centralized organization that centralization will lead to much greater efficiency.

It turns out that such unilateral bias to one side of a paradox or dilemma soon causes the downsides of that same force to manifest. In our centralized organization, this would mean that we can centralize everything only if we are willing basically to slept at the office and ignore our family, or if as managers we always drive our subordinates to maximum efficiency. Our nights at the office would eventually lead to divorce, just as a 24/7 romance at the exclusion of work would likely lead to destitution. Total centralization causes the incapacity to customize, but totally giving way to the local interests of a subsidiary would drive up the cost to uncompetitive levels.

Barry Johnson warns us as coaches, consultants and leaders that we not try to maximize but rather carefully optimize the degree to which the parties incline toward one side or the other and for how long. Optimizing means that we must find a reasonable and perhaps flexible set-point as we take action in favor of one side or another. Finding these acceptable optimum responses and redefining them again and again is the key to polarity management—and is the key that unlocks the potential of Irony.

As the residents of Delta know, effective management of polarities requires a constant process of vigilance, negotiation and adjustments. As coaches and clients, we want our client to continuously seek and refine a dynamic, flexible balance—so that each side’s beneficial contribution can be enjoyed, without engendering serious negative consequences. As leaders, we must not just live with ironic contradictions; we must appreciate these contradictions and become contingent: extracting the insights and guidance embedded in the polarities.

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