Mapping Your Organization

Article excerpt

WHAT DOES THE STRUCTURE OF YOUR ORGANIZATION REALLY LOOK LIKE? AND WHAT ARE THE IMPLICATIONS FOR CHANGE? AN EXERCISE WITH TINKERTOY BUILDING BLOCKS MIGHT ANSWER THOSE QUESTIONS.

We had invited senior-level executives of a retail organization to preview some training programs for their troops--lower-level managers and other employees. The corporate officers and department heads arrived, sat at tables in groups of eight, and murmured about the day's business. They were prepared either to be recalcitrant or to give an implied endorsement of the training bill of fare for the next six months.

While they waited for the preview to begin, they bantered among themselves, jockeying for position. The department heads wanted to use the informal opportunity to catch the ears of the senior officers present.

As the session began, one of us said, "Before the overview, we'd like you to participate in an exercise about leadership and decision making in groups."

Silence. The vice-president of finance rolled his eyes. Seeing him, others rolled their eyes, too.

The speaker continued. "First, we want to talk about the kind of leadership that emerges when people work together in groups. We want to discuss what the leadership looks like, who participates, how the group decides what to do, who does what, and who says what to whom. We want you to take away something that will get your own work groups to function better."

A few people rolled their eyes down from the ceiling.

Encouraged, she went on. "To give you a vehicle of understanding, we'd like you to work in groups to create a model that represents what this organization looks like." Then we handed out the Tinkertoy building blocks.

There were more rolled eyes, some blank stares, and a perceptible groan from the back of the room. The vice-president of human resources looked at his watch. The training director stood up and said, "I know it seems unusual, but if you can get past the notion of playing with toys and get on with the task of creating a model--and pay attention to the process of doing that--I think you'll find the results interesting."

At that point, the sound of Tinkertoy pieces spilling from their canisters onto the tables was music to our ears. Soon, people reached for the sticks and wheels and began asking questions, until the meeting room was filled with talk: How does this look? What should go here?

We knew the groups were engaged when we couldn't get them to stop building at the designated time. Everyone was caught up more in the task than in the process, but we planned to evoke their recollection of the process in a follow-up discussion.

We were confident that at least some of the executives left with the realization that participation and reflection are initial components of learning and that model building is an effective way to train people in participation. What actually happened?

The exercise with Tinkertoy blocks uses a technique known as psychological or cognitive mapping--the idea that a learner can build a symbol to reflect his or her perspective on an environment. In the exercise, the Tinkertoy models were visual, three-dimensional representations of the participants' organization. …