TBM 33/53: But Why Is It Working?

Joshua Arnold shared this great point back in 2018:

In my own experience doing this over the years I have found that it is the opposite of the Anna Karenina principle. Unhappy teams and organizations are often very similar, while happy/successful teams and organizations can be quite different!

His point resonated with me.

I used to believe I was especially good at detecting anti-patterns. But now I know that seeing the anti-patterns is the easy part. Much harder is understanding how very different organizational cultures can produce equally positive outcomes for customers, team-members, and “the business”.

This is an important consideration when picking tools and approaches. Take two organizations: one a healthy, collectivist, consensus driven culture and the other an individualistic, single-decider culture. Both work. But copying practices from one to the other will (probably) fail.

For example, the concept of a "directly responsible individual" (DRI) will flop in the former, and succeed in the latter. OKRs might work in both, but for different reasons. A small meeting is exclusionary in one and too big in the other. A ticketing system with a single assignee field is perfect in one, and terrible for the team that prefers joint-ownership. Even psychological safety—widely known as being essential to teams —manifests differently depending on the environment.

For some people, their way is the only way. I've met people who swore up and down that science had proven—once and for all—that "When everyone is responsible, no one is responsible! It is human nature!" Yes, that matches what I've seen in some environments, but not others. Joint-responsibility is possible. And yes, in some contexts impossible.

Which brings me to self-awareness. This really starts with our own biases and worldview. We have a tendency to self-select ideas about work that reflect our beliefs. Realizing that has been a great starting point for me personally. These are my values, and they are important to me, but so is collaboration and inclusivity.

Then we move to our interactions with others. Are we actually listening? Have we explored how our team members view work, collaboration, career, and organizations? Do we want to be a company where only one “type” of person thrives? Can we more intentional?

So that is the thought for this week. Pondering…maybe these healthy organizations do have something in common. Coherence and intentionality. They are what they are. They have organizational self-awareness. Their actions match their words: