Ballet or Hockey?

Way back in the heyday of the TQM movement, Quality guru Phil Crosby talked about two kinds of organizations: Those that are like ballet, and those that are like ice hockey.

- Ballet organizations are very precise and elegant places where methodical procedures and processes ensure that every toe meets its mark on the stage.

- Hockey organizations are wild and crazy blurs where sticks and skates are flying in pursuit of the puck . . . and the goal.

In my travels, I haven't see any pure forms of such organizations. I have seen hybrids however! Yet, I think, underneath whatever the outward appearance is, all organizations are very much alike deep down . . . in certain respects.

All organizations are:

- Striving toward some goal(s) - Whether clearly visualized or not, whether intentional or not, each organization is headed somewhere.

- Trying to serve their customers - All organizations -- across the spectrum from private to public, from for-profit to non-profit -- have somebody that they exist to serve.

- Coping with growth - Whatever the age of an organization, unless if it is closing its doors for good, it will be dealing with growth issues. Growing an office, a market, a workforce. Or dealing with negative growth, aka downsizing.

- Living with constraints - There is never enough time, money or staff to address the myriad of things that need done.

- Challenged by quandaries - While some of the problems facing an organization will have an obvious solution or even a quick fix, many (if not most) of the problems are true quandaries, that is problems without any clear-cut solution.

- Grappling with inner demons - Just as an individual can have some form of mental illness, for example bi-polar disorder, an organization can have a "mental illness." Every organization has a history, a temperment, and skeletons in the closet.

- Reporting to a higher authority - All organizations have overseers such as regulators or a board of some kind that sits above, monitors what's going on, and expects periodic reports on the health of the organization.

- Endeavoring to get stuff done - Hopefully the right stuff...stuff that will serve the customer well and bring the organization closer to its goals.

This then is the arena where the OD practitioner does her work. She needs to keep all of this in mind as she operates in the organization.

The effective OD practitioner continually refines and expands her capabilities so that she is able to enter into any of the above and make a valued contribution.


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