Eight archetypes of the work environment – Canadian Government Executive

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May 7, 2012

Eight archetypes of the work environment

As One

Mehrdad Baghai and James Quigley

Portfolio, 344 pages, $50.00

 

We can learn from archetypes. They can help us lead, if they are clear and practical enough.

I have written here on the six leadership archetypes that were delineated in The Six Dimensions Of Leadership by Andrew Brown. Leaders, he argues, must be heroes, liberating role models who devote themselves to the collective good; actors, able to deliver authentic and convincing performances; immortalists, visionaries whose organizations take on their personalities; power brokers, who accomplish goals by mobilizing others to act on their behalf; ambassadors, who use their interpersonal skills to develop valuable networks of external supporters; and willing victims, content when necessary to make a personal sacrifice for the sake of a cause in which they believe.

This month, I’d like to look at some useful archetypes for how you can organize the units you work in. The archetypes are presented by consultants Mehrdad Baghai, managing director of Alchemy Growth Partners, and James Quigley, CEO of Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu in As One. They maintain that working “as one” represents the pinnacle of collective leadership, as a cohesive group of people work together effectively toward a common goal or purpose.

But how do we organize people to work together in that fashion? Their two-year study, which included poring over the academic material and 60 case studies in corporations, government and non-profit organizations, came up with eight different archetypes.

Two drivers were critical. The first was how power is exercised in the organization, from centralized and top down to decentralized and bottom-up. The second factor was the nature of individuals’ tasks, which can range from highly scripted and uniform to highly creative. A FedEx driver, for example, follows a very scripted formula each day for delivering packages while a Cirque du Soleil performer is highly creative in developing the act that will be presented to audiences.

Most governments operate, of course, in a highly directive fashion. But even within that framework, the book offers three different highly directive models that can be applied, and as command-and-control lessens, you may be able to use the other archetypes in some way in your operation:

Landlord and Tenant: The landlords hold the power and set the top-down strategy, controlling resources or access to a market and defining the tenants’ rules of participation. This is the most directive model, but actually individuals are mid-way on the spectrum between being scripted and creative. The tenants voluntarily join, but once under the landlord’s domain have to live by the rules. Control of information helps to give the landlord power. Apple’s apps store follows this approach with the company setting the rules and offering access to Apple customers for application developers.

General and Soldiers: Top-down directions of an authoritative general are translated into specific and detailed tasks for soldiers to carry out, as they operate in an extremely hierarchical, command-and-control culture. This model relies on hierarchy and rank. Career paths are clear; soldiers’ achievements are celebrated and recognized through regular promotion. The training is highly specialized, with soldiers learning specific skills and being initiated into the culture when they join. The generals are alert to the importance of creating paths for the soldiers to develop and move up the hierarchy.

How can you be a better general? The authors suggest considering how clearly you communicate your objectives and tactics. Have you translated the overall strategy into specific missions and communicated them clearly to your soldiers? Does each mission have specific objectives and operating parameters? They also ask you to consider how clearly defined your chain of command is, and how well your recruitment program is at identifying people who will fit comfortably into your culture.

Architect and Builders: Architects provide a strong, clear vision and direct people to a goal, relying on the innovation, ingenuity and diversity of the builders to achieve it. This is equally directive to the General and Soldiers model, but allows for more creativity by individual performers.

Successful architects break the project down into a coherent set of challenges that draw on different capabilities and experiences from the builders working under them. That makes the vision less daunting. At the same time, the authors stress that you need to convince those colleagues of the critical nature of their contribution, tailoring your messages to reflect the different strengths each brings to the effort.

“Are your builders ‘licensed’ to innovate and reinvent designs?’ the authors ask. “If builders are to break away from traditional thinking, they need to have the freedom and environment to apply their skills and experience. They need to feel ’empowered’ by you.” They also must be kept informed of changes to the blueprint, and the consequences of those changes, and the overall progress of the team.

Conductor and Orchestra: This archetype, and the one following, are midway on the directiveness spectrum, from highly directive to emergent, grassroots direction. The orchestra leader provides highly scripted direction for the members of the orchestra, with little room for improvisation or creative interpretation of the musical score. FedEx operates under this model, achieving consistency with a huge workforce that is not only geographically dispersed but also made up of independent contractors.

The authors suggest this works when you require work of absolute precision and consistency, as with an orchestra. It could also be valuable when lives are at stake and safety procedures are the top priority. But you need time for extensive training and re-training – rehearsals, as with an orchestra. They urge you to think twice about applying this archetype if your organization is turning into a bureaucracy and its members are becoming bored or growing stale.

Producer and Creative Team: We’re familiar with this model from the entertainment pages, but it might work in some of our teams. The producer comes up with the big idea, sees the big picture, and guides the team. But as with Cirque du Soleil productions the energy and brilliance comes from an open culture of collaboration amongst a team of independently-minded, highly-skilled team members who know the end goal.

Captain and Sports Team: There is no set direction in this collaborative effort but scripted processes and set rules are followed as the team adapts to unpredictable situations. If you have played baseball, football, soccer or other team sports, this mode of operating is in your bones (and perhaps your work colleagues’). Firefighters operate in this fashion.

Senator and Citizens: A strong sense of responsibility holds everyone together in an organization where problems are tackled democratically through sharing of opinions and debates. Despite the conceptual connection to democracy, it’s not fitting for much in government, where the direction democratically is to come from citizens not votes of individual government executives. It doesn’t seem fitting in the corporate world, either, but Semco in Brazil has succeeded with it, even allowing employees to set their own salary. The company also had a party to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the last time the CEO made a decision. Your boss, let alone the premier or prime minister, is unlikely to be impressed.

Community Organizer and Volunteers: Here the power for setting direction comes bottom-up fr

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