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InfoQ Homepage Articles The Culture Game - Extract #4

The Culture Game - Extract #4

The second part is automatic authorization. As a manager, you have people on your staff who report to you, and you have the authority to convene meetings. You typically invite your staff and others to meetings that you convene. Your supervisor is the source of the authority delegated to you. It may also be a cultural norm to convene meetings if you are a manager in your culture, meaning that a known, customary cultural norm is granting you at least some authority to convene meetings[1].

A key feature of the Tribal Learning framework is that most of the practices in the framework do not require any additional permission from your boss than you currently have. You can simply choose to change a few things around. When you choose to implement the Tribal Learning Practices, you are choosing to encourage, maintain, and sustain more group-level learning inside your staff and inside your meetings.

Note that, as a practical matter, it is essential for you to notify your people about your plans. You need to explain to them any policy changes, however small, so they will be comfortable and can situate themselves within your organization and inside your meetings. You are being respectful when you do this, because notification is a form of respect.

There are many definitions for authorization. The one I like the best is the right to do work[2]. As a manager, you already have authorization to convene and run meetings. This means you may run these meetings as you wish. You probably already convene and execute these meetings according to current cultural norms in place within your wider organization. It may currently be normal for people to arrive late at the start of meetings. If it is typical for meetings to run later than planned, in effect you hold all the attendees as hostages until the meeting is over.

One of the tools in the Tribal Learning framework is the practice {Be Punctual}, which you may choose to implement in the following way:

Your meetings now start on time. You are always present five minutes before the start time.
The door closes at the start time. People who are late must open the closed door and then close it behind them.
Your meetings now end on time. You always organize the meeting content so this happens. You now never, ever end a meeting after the stated end time.
Your meetings used to last 60 minutes or more, and are now 50 minutes long, so that those attending have some time to get to their next meeting (if they have one) on time.

As to the question of who authorizes you to make these changes, the answer is simple: you do. The authorization comes with your role as a manager, and by virtue of your role as a convener of meetings. You have automatic authorization. This is an essential feature of the Tribal Learning approach. You can implement Tribal Learning in your organization immediately, right now, precisely because you are auto-authorized.

Authorization is an interesting subject. We often use the words empowerment and permission to refer to aspects of authorization. In this book, I define authorization as the right to do work, borrowing from the Group Relations community. This community actively examines the roles of leadership and authority in groups, conducts conferences, and publishes research on these topics[3].

For an excellent discussion of authorization, I suggest you examine the paper The BART System of Group and Organizational Analysis by Zachary Gabriel Green and René J. Molenkamp[4]. This paper provides an excellent framework for deconstructing boundary, authority, role, and task in a way that is useful for anyone who wants to make sense of the processes of innovation and change-making in organizations.

Authorization is often constrained by limitations that are undocumented or are otherwise unclear. The BART paper provides excellent coverage of these dynamics, breaking down authorization into various types such as personal authority, formal authority, informal authority, and so on. A major strength of the Tribal Learning framework is that it leverages your formal, positional authority as a manager to direct your staff, convene meetings, and so on. Don't ask permission!

You can start to generate substantial group-level learning in your organization simply by deploying the Tribal Learning Practices by yourself, with your own direct reports. This is powerful and can contribute to immediate results. The next step is to implement the Tribal Learning framework with other managers, in effect by collaborating with them to manifest change in your organization. This subject is the focus of the next section.

The same issue of authorization applies to budgeting. Since most Tribal Learning Practices revolve around interactions and meetings, there is no additional budget required, although the practices {Get Coached} and {Socialize Books} do cost something and you may have to request a budget for them. Other than these two exceptions, no Tribal Learning Practices cost a dime, and that means you do NOT have to ask for funding of any kind.

 About the Author

Dan Mezick advises leaders, teams and organizations. An expert on culture design and business agility, Dan speaks frequently at industry conferences on culture change, organizational learning, and teamwork. He is an organizer of the agile CULTURE Conference, the signal event coming to Philadelphia & Boston in September of 2012. Sponsored by INFOQ, this event is keenly focused on the emerging art & science of culture design for teams and organizations. You can learn more here.

Dan's organization New Technology Solutions provides training programs, consulting & coaching to businesses of all sizes that are seeking more business agility. You can reach Dan at , by phone at 203 915 7248, via Twitter @DanMezick, or via his blog.


[1] It is a worthwhile exercise to examine exactly where your authority to convene meetings comes from, since your authority is always granted to you from somewhere or someone else.

[2] This definition comes from the Group Relations community. Click the FAQ menu item on the home page

[3] You can learn more at the website

[4] Green, Z. G., & Molenkamp, R. J. (2005). The BART System of Group and Organizational Analysis, Boundary, Authority, Role and Task.

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