A Fish Out of Water

Collaboration Organizational Dynamics Personal and Team Leadership Development by Jeffrey Beeson

PMG is a medium size company specializing in the manufacturing of automotive parts.  New management was recently hired to lead the organization into the next phase of the company's development.  After a review of the business, the leadership embarked on several strategic change initiatives. How could the management be better prepared to guide these initiatives in an effective manner?

Taking the Fish out of the Water

A fish does not know what water is until it is taken out of the water.   Similarly, leaders and managers in organizations often do not see the water around them either – until they are taken out of the context of their day-to-day business. Every organization  is confronted with the tension of how best to deal with what is urgent versus what is important. How can leaders and managers clearly identify what is really important in the turmoil of everyday business?

Ensemble Enabler has developed a special interactive experience to assist managers to view their daily working environment from a new perspective.   During this group experience, individual managers gain new insights about how to deal with the management challenges which face them on a daily basis.  This reflection process enables them to develop a shared understanding as a team about how to lead complex change initiatives.

The Fish Bowl

Ensemble Enabler's  Organizational Dynamics business simulation generally runs for one day and can accomodate groups from 15 to 50 managers.  During the simulation, each manager is assigned a specific role in a company organization called IFI (Integrated Fabrications International).  The objective of the simulation is to maximize the economic value of IFI. 

There are four roles in the simulation: TOPS, MIDDLES, BOTTOMS and CUSTOMERS.  Each manager is asked to take on  an assigned role and perform to the best of his/her ability   The managers are purposely not put into roles which mirror their actual job positions.  During the simulation at PMG, for example, the CEO was assigned a role of a BOTTOM.  This type of counterintuitive assignment focuses attention not on the person, but instead on the role and its impact on the organization.  As a result, the role assignment provides a new perspective for each participant  about his/her current role in their actual business environment.

The top 16 leaders of the company PMG participated in the Organizational Dynamics business simulation.

Swimming Together

During the simulation, participants deal with the complexity of competing projects, unclear lines of decision making, multiple initiatives, financial pressures, customer / employee demands, etc. In other words, they deal with the everyday tensions and issues of running a business. 

The main difference with real life business is that during the simulation the on-going process can be stopped at any time.  Several strategic TIMEOUTS are scheduled during the course of the simulation.  These TIMEOUTS allow participants to view how the entire organization is functioning and to make changes as needed.  The group discussions during these TIMEOUTS enables deep learning and understanding by both leaders and managers.

As one of the PMG managers after the simulation noted: „We often do not question the assumptions which underlie the way we structure our work. As a result, we do not see the opportunities which we are missing.  The TIMEOUT helped me to make that connection.“

Applying the lessons

This business simulation is an eye-opening experience for all of the participants.  It is particularly well suited to support the thinking of both leaders and managers to guide and support effective change initiatives. 

In addition, this mutally shared experience creates a new dynamic in which the team members collaborate with one another. For the company PMG, the use of the Organizational Dynamics business simulation provided the foundation for a launch of the renewal of the organization's culture. 

About Author: Jeffrey Beeson

Jeffrey Beeson

Jeffrey Beeson is both the founder and CAE (Chief Alignment Enabler) of Ensemble Enabler. He brings his wealth of experience in strategy consulting and leadership development to bring systemic approaches and solutions to bear on an organization's most complex challenges.