Home Tools Internal Politics The Art of Organizational Coaching: In Search of Patterns and Variations

The Art of Organizational Coaching: In Search of Patterns and Variations

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Secondary Gain: A third hypothesis crosses over to analysis of the forces that sustain and energize the pattern and point to the third phase of the pattern analysis (benefits of the pattern). Once a pattern is established, there are often unintended benefits associated with replication of the pattern and the benefactors are often not those for whom the pattern was initially established. For example, a pattern that is dysfunctional in terms of the client’s formal role in the organization or dysfunctional with regard to the formal operations of the organization may yield benefits for some (or even many) members of the organization who do not want to feel accountable for their own actions or for their own personal failures:  “If I am ill (emotionally stressed out) (given too much work to do) (get no assistance) then how in the world can you expect me to do a good job!” “If the organization is messed up, then how can I ever be blamed for what has occurred . . . no one can operate in this crazy environment!” In family therapy that is based on a systems perspective, this dynamic is often labeled “secondary gain” and there often is an “identified patient” (usually a child) who is the focus of the treatment. Other members of the family gain from the identified patient’s illness, emotional stress or acting out. A similar dynamic operates in the lives of the men and women we coach and in the organizations in which we coach and with which we consult.

In the analysis of sources for organizational patterns, we are confronted simultaneously with the question of what creates the variations in these patterns. We can turn to the same three culprits: expertise, primacy, and secondary gain. With regard to expertise, we find that the level of expertise in any organization is not uniform. Some people are good at one part of the operations, while other members of the organization are good at doing other jobs in the organization. This is often labeled “the division of labor” and has been identified by many social analysts (dating back to Durkheim) as the glue that keeps any system together (be it a family, organization or society). With differences in skill levels (and accompanying differences in priorities and perspectives) come the variations in organizational patterns.  When an organization is very small, all members of the organization may be doing the same work and may hold the same perspectives; however, as the organization grows in size and age there is increasingly differentiation of functions (the division of labor)—the most important of these differentiations being between work that is specifically focused on the product or service being generated by the organization (direct services) and the work that is being done to hold the organization together  (integrative/indirect services: administration, communications, finances, etc.).  With this differentiation come variations from the uniform patterns that were created when the organization was small and young.

This leads us directly to the second source of variation: primacy. Even when the organization is very small and young there are usually tensions between different competing interests and perspectives. The tensions exist even if the organization is owned and operated by a single person: short-term financial gains versus long-term planning and financial gains, quality versus quantity, stability versus change (to name only three of many common tensions in newly-formed organizations). The seeds of variation are to be found at the very start. These variations might be very small at the start, but they are likely to become greater as the organization grows and as functions become increasingly differentiated and individual members of the organization and departments begin to become advocates for and sponsors of specific perspectives and priorities. For example, the production and finance departments might be inclined to embrace stability, while the marketing and planning departments embrace change.

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