The Problem of the Strategy, Culture, Change & Filters
Post 10 of 13
Author: Peter Jay Sorenson CMC®, StrategicOrganizationDesign.com
Stickhandling in a Hidebound Culture
30 August 2013
The structural features of the 777 Program1 are excellent tools to propel the organization forward. But they all ride on the back of conversations.2 Conversations can be less formal, like at the water cooler, or more formal, like in a meeting. Meetings range from one-on-one to gaggles of 1000. The biggest I have ever designed and facilitated were with 800 people. And they worked. We achieved the outcomes that we set out to achieve.
So you have two variables to manage: formality and size.
And all of them are forums.3 An intentionally chosen and designed setting in which information and expertise are put on the table for everyone to see and thoughtfully discuss. In other words, a forum is a place where you deliberate.4
And since the 777 Program was complex both vertically and horizontally they needed to create a new set of forums (meetings) in which to deliberate (thoughtfully consider critical issues). The most unique element of the meeting process was the use of large-scale meetings. These meetings ranged in size from 30 people to 120 people and were highly participative. These large-scale meetings became a productive, routine way of doing business on the 777 Program. But it did not start that way. At first it was an awkward exercise. A set of tasks and approaches to learn. People had to learn how to design the meetings. They had to learn how to facilitate the meetings. And most critically, people had to learn how to participate in the meetings.
I have been designing, facilitating, and participating in meetings for over 50 years. I started when I was in student government roles at Santa Clara High School in Santa Clara, California. In general, the quality and effectiveness of the meeting design, facilitation, and participation skills and behaviors that I have seen in organizations are very low. We, in general, as a global society, lack the skill and discipline to design meetings well, facilitate them proficiently, and participate in them constructively. People on the 777 Program were no different. They had a steep learning curve to climb in order to build the competencies necessary to have large-scale meetings, in particular, and meetings, in general, become an organizational capability.
One of the principles underlying the notion of large-scale meetings is the concept of “the whole system in the room.”5 The idea is that if you want to make choices and decisions that impact a bunch of people in different chunks of the organization, you need to get them all together to think about and discuss it. All of the people with points of view relevant to a particular topic or situation need to be in the room and have a voice. Large-scale meetings allow these people to conduct their deliberation quickly and walk out singing from the same sheet of music and be prepared to act in concert with each other. It combines the best features of independence and interdependence.
One problem did exist with this approach at Boeing. Boeing buildings did not have enough conference rooms or classrooms that were large enough to have all of the meetings that needed to occur. So they had to improvise. They used movie theaters and community centers in their communities. The movie theaters were not made for participation. They were built for passive watching. So when you have to participate in a small group discussion in a large-scale meeting in a movie theater you have to stand up, get your group gathered and have your deliberation in spite of the configuration of the room. You have to be outcome focused and get it done! And you have to be disciplined. You have to make it work.
These large scale meetings became a key to supporting the reasons, rationale, and whys of Integrated Product Design and Manufacturing Process. Without these meetings the necessary vertical and horizontal unfiltered communication and concerted action could not have taken place. And the work could not have been done effectively and efficiently. The meetings became a foundational element upon which the 777 Program was built.
1. Integrated Product Design and Manufacturing Process, Design-Build Teams, Airplane Integration Teams, Cross-Functional Team Leadership Group, The Senior Leadership Cross-Functional Team, and the Senior Leadership Team
2. Atul Gawande, “Slow Ideas,” The New Yorker, 29 July 2013. (http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/2013/07/29/130729fa_fact_gawande)
3. Forum: A public meeting or presentation involving a discussion, usually among experts, and often including audience participation.” (The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language – 4th Edition – Deluxe Smart Phone App)
4. Deliberation: “Discussion and consideration of all sides of an issue.” “Thoughtfulness in decision or action.” (The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language – 4th Edition – Deluxe Smart Phone App)
5. See Weisbord, Marvin R. & Sandra Janoff, Future Search: A Guide to Finding Common Ground in Organizations and Communities, Berrett-Koehler, San Francisco, 1995 and Bunker, Barbara Benedict and Billie T. Alban, Large Group Interventions: Engaging the Whole System for Rapid Change, Jossey-Bass, San Francisco, 1997.