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Understanding Governance by Michael Soule

Understanding Governance by Michael Soule

 

Every organization struggles with the question of how to establish and maintain good governance.

Even the definition of  governance can be a challenge. Just like the descriptors  “environmental” or “sustainable” can mean different things, so too can the term “governance”.

Nevertheless, we as leaders must constantly strive to understand and improve the governance in our organizations.

Here are five essential tools to help leaders understand, nurture, and transform their organization’s governance.

 

  1. Know the difference between governance and management.

When you begin to sort out your governance structure, this will help you be clear and avoid too much overlap between different groups. Management, in a nutshell, has to do with operations, and governance has to do with structure, roles and responsibilities, but the differences go deeper than this. (See the article in our resources section.)

 

  1. Know the different basic types of governance models.

Understanding the principles of different models will help you be smart in defining your own

path, deciding when your organization needs to change or choosing a prescribed model. Below is a good outline that explores the different types and some of the possibilities and challenges of each.

 

  1. Know the history of governance in your organization.

Understanding the biography of your organization and its path of governance will give you insights into the potential future. There are many ways to approach this. This is often the first step in any major capital campaign and an important part of renewing your mission statement.

 

  1. Know the capacities of the people currently in the organization.

Understanding the capacities of each other will help you create roles and responsibilities that fit your particular situation. Spending time regularly to share individual biographies and life stories, to share personal and professional goals and to share self-assessments can help strengthen this.

 

  1. Be very clear about specific roles and responsibilities and the relationship between individuals and groups in the organization.

Overlapping roles and unclear roles are two of the primary areas that cause difficulties in an organization. There are also various ways to work on this – practicing the basics of a mandate organization (See article in the resource section) to implementing a RACI model are two promising ways.

 

The Heart of Governance: Agreements

 

An organization’s governance system is primarily a set of agreements. The organization’s success depends upon the nature of those agreements, including how they come about, how they are maintained and how they are reviewed and renewed. Agreements (like job descriptions, committee mandates, bylaws, mission statements, polices, handbooks, etc) are best when they:

 

  • Reflect the organization’s values and mission and help people feel connected to the whole organization.

 

  • Are clearly written, regularly reviewed and revised with the participation of those they effect.

 

  • Identify the pathways for collaboration and communication and outline processes for navigating changes

 

Understanding the importance of agreements and the role they play in the governance can bring great clarity to the leadership of an organization.

 

In the end, whether you follow a specific governance model or whether you create a hybrid form that meets your unique needs and skills, the underlying keys to success are the agreements that you are able to articulate, follow and renew. Personal relationships may carry the organization forward for a while but when life changes, the ways in which you have articulated the qualities of those relationships in the structural documents of your governance will be a guiding wisdom that will allow for health to continue in the organization.

 

Good governance is like good leadership; it is relational, responsive and self-aware. It strengthens relationships and a sense of community, building connection and trust. It builds confidence when it responds to needs in a direct and timely way. It creates a culture of self awareness and reflection that supports continual meaningful development.

Governance Models, An Essay by Nathan Garber with Reflections by Michael Soule

Reflections on Nathan Garber’s Article on Governance Models

The article below by Nathan Garber is a good review and summary of the basic typical models of governance in organizations and the role that boards play in the different models. In Waldorf schools, there are many variations of governance models with most following a variation on the cooperative board model. All of the models below depend upon clearly articulated lines of authority and strong leadership. In the Cooperative model, like in most Waldorf schools the leadership is more dispersed throughout the organization. The keys to success in a dispersed leadership organization is the strength of the designated leadership Council (often the College in the Waldorf school) that acts similarly to the role of the CEO in other organizations. Garber points out very accurately the key downside to cooperative governance – the inability to assure accountability between peers. The Sociocracy and Holocracy models described elsewhere in Leadtogether newsletter, and the book by Frederic Laloux, “Reinventing Organizations” all offer ways that organizations can be more collaborative and overcome the lack of natural accountability. For more on how to assure accountability, see LeadTogether Newsletter #10. – Michael Soule

 

Governance Models:
What's Right for Your Board

by Nathan Garber

Introduction

Nonprofit boards tend to follow one of five different approaches to governance. Each approach emphasizes different dimensions of the roles and responsibilities of the board and each arises out of a different relationship between board members and staff members. These in turn reflect differences in the size, purpose, and history of the organization. I call these approaches the Advisory, the Patron Model, the Co-operative model, the Management Team Model, and the Policy Board Model. I conclude with some questions to ask when you are considering changing your board structure.

Advisory Board Model

This model emphasizes the helping and supportive role of the Board and frequently occurs where the CEO is the founder of the organization. The Board's role is primarily that of helper/advisor to the CEO. Board members are recruited for three main reasons: they are trusted as advisors by the CEO; they have a professional skill that the organization needs but does not want to pay for; they are likely to be helpful in establishing the credibility of the organization for fundraising and public relations purposes.

Individual board members may be quite active in performing these functions and consequently feel that they are making a valuable contribution to the organization. Board meetings tend to be informal and task-focused, with the agenda developed by the CEO.

The Advisory Board model can work well for a short time in many organizations but it exposes the board members to significant liability in that it fails to provide the accountability mechanisms that are required of boards of directors. By law, the board has the obligation to manage the affairs of the organization and can be held accountable for certain actions of employees and committees. It must therefore maintain a superior position to the CEO. Although the board is permitted to delegate many of its responsibilities to staff or committees, it cannot make itself subordinate to them.

Patron Model

Similar to the Advisory Board model, the board of directors in the Patron Model has even less influence over the organization than an advisory board. Composed of wealthy and influential individuals with a commitment to the mission of the organization, the Patron Board serves primarily as a figurehead for fund raising purposes. Such boards meet infrequently as their real work is done outside board meetings. Writing cheques and getting their friends to write cheques is their contribution to the organization.

Many organizations maintain a Patron Board in addition to their governing boards. For capital campaigns and to establish credibility of a newly formed organizations, Patron Boards can be especially helpful. They cannot be relied upon, however, for governance tasks such as vision development, organizational planning, or program monitoring.

Co-operative Model

For a number of different reasons, some organizations try to avoid hierarchical structures. The decision-making structure in such organizations is typically labeled "peer management" or "collective management". In this model, all responsibility is shared and there is no Chief Executive Officer. Decision-making is normally by consensus and no individual has power over another. If the law did not require it, they would not have a board of directors at all. In order to be incorporated, however, there must be a board of directors and officers. The organization therefore strives to fit the board of directors into its organizational philosophy by creating a single managing/governing body composed of official board members, staff members, volunteers, and sometimes clients.

Seen by its advocates as the most democratic style of management, it is also, perhaps, the most difficult of all models to maintain, requiring among other things, a shared sense of purpose, an exceptional level of commitment by all group members, a willingness to accept personal responsibility for the work of others, and an ability to compromise. When working well, the organization benefits from the direct involvement of front-line workers in decision-making and the synergy and camaraderie created by the interaction of board and staff.

I have noted two areas of concern with this model. The first is that although the ability to compromise is an essential element in the successful functioning of this model, cooperatives often arise out of a strong ideological or philosophical commitment that can be inimical to compromise. The second concern is the difficulty of implementing effective accountability structures. At the time of implementing this model, there may be a high motivation level in the organization, which obviates the need for accountability mechanisms. But, as personnel changes take place, the sense of personal commitment to the group as a whole may be lost. In the collective model, there is no effective way to ensure that accountability for individual actions is maintained.

Management Team Model

For many years, most nonprofit organizations have been run by boards, which operate according to the model of a Management Team, organizing their committees and activities along functional lines. In larger organizations, the structure of the board and its committees usually mirrors the structure of the organization's administration. Just as there are staff responsible for human resources, fund-raising, finance, planning, and programs, the board creates committees with responsibility for these areas.

Where there is no paid staff, the board's committee structure becomes the organization's administrative structure and the board members are also the managers and delivers of programs and services. Individually or in committees, board members take on all governance, management and operational tasks including strategic planning, bookkeeping, fund-raising, newsletter, and program planning and implementation.

The widespread adoption of the Management Team model, arises out its correspondence with modern ideas about team management and democratic structures in the workplace. It also fits well with the widely held view of nonprofits as volunteer-driven or at least nonprofessional organizations. This model fits well with the experience of many people as volunteers in community groups like service clubs, Home and School groups, scouts and guides, and hobby groups. It also mirrors the processes involved in the creation of a new organization or service. It is no wonder then, that most prescriptive books and articles written between 1970 and 1990 (and many written more recently) define this model as the ideal.

Boards which operate under the Management Team model are characterized by a high degree of involvement in the operational and administrative activities of the organization. In organizations with professional management this normally takes the form of highly directive supervision of the CEO and staff at all levels of the organization. Structurally, there may be many committees and subcommittees. Decision-making extends to fine details about programs, services, and administrative practices. When working well, two criteria tend to be used in the selection of members: their knowledge and experience in a specific field, such as business or accounting; or because they are members of a special interest group or sector that the board considers to be stakeholders.

While this model works well for all-volunteer organizations, it has proven to be less suited to organizations that already have professional management and full-time employees. Indeed, the deficiencies of this model have led to the current thinking in the field which differentiates "governance" (the practices of boards of directors) from "management" (the practices of employees) and the deluge of research, articles, and manuals on this topic.

The most important shortcoming is that all too frequently, it degenerates into what I call the Micro-management Team Model in which board members refuse to delegate authority, believing that their role requires them to make all operational decisions, leaving only the implementation to paid staff. The result is invariably a lack of consistency in decisions, dissatisfied board members, resentful staff and a dangerous lack of attention to planning and accountability matters.

Policy Board Model

As noted above, the need to differentiate the board's role from the manager's role arose from the failure of many organizations to maintain proper accountability at the highest levels and the dissatisfaction of many board members over the their inability to comply with the expectations of their role. They began to ask why, when they were such competent and accomplished individuals, they felt so ineffective and frustrated as board members. This led to an examination of the role of the board, the relationship between the board and the CEO, and the relationship between the board and the community.

The originator and most influential proponent of the Policy Board Model is John Carver, whose book, Boards that Make a Difference, has had a great effect on thousands of nonprofit organizations. All Policy Board Models share the view that the job of the board is: to establish the guiding principles and policies for the organization; to delegate responsibility and authority to those who are responsible for enacting the principles and policies; to monitor compliance with those guiding principles and policies; to ensure that staff, and board alike are held accountable for their performance.

Where the models diverge is the way these jobs are done and the extent to which strategic planning and fundraising as are seen as board jobs.

Boards operating under the Policy Board Model are characterized by a high level of trust and confidence in the CEO. There are relatively few standing committees, resulting in more meetings of the full board. Board development is given a high priority in order to ensure that new members are able to function effectively, and recruitment is an ongoing process. Members are recruited for their demonstrated commitment to the values and mission of the organization.

Which Model is the Right One?

There are a number of reasons for considering a change in your governance model:

  • board members are dissatisfied with their roles or the way the board operates;
  • your organization is experiencing problems that can be traced back to inadequacies in board structure or process;
  • your organization is entering a new phase in its life-cycle;
  • the CEO has left or is leaving;
  • there has been a major turnover of board members;
  • there is a crisis of confidence in the board or the CEO.

The descriptions above, of the various governance models, will give you an idea of the strengths and weaknesses of each model, but the difficulty in making the transition cannot be overstated. Changing models is like changing lifestyles. You must abandon well-established ideas and patterns of behavior, replacing them with new ideas, roles, and activities that will seem confusing and unfamiliar. This type of change takes a considerable amount of time, energy, and other resources to accomplish. The answers to the following questions will help you to determine how badly you need to change your governance model and whether your board and organization have the necessary commitment and resources to accomplish it successfully. Take your time with each question, ensuring that each board member answers each question.

  • Do we have a clear understanding and agreement on the purpose of our organization? Is it written down?
  • What are the basic values which guide our organization and our board? Are they written down?
  • How do we know whether the good our organization does is worth what it costs to operate it?
  • What financial resources do we have and can we reasonably count on for the next few years?
  • To what extent are board members expected to contribute money and labor to fundraising efforts?
  • Do we believe that the organization should be run as a cooperative or collective - with staff participating along with board members in the governing of the organization?
  • How much time is each board member willing to give to the organization in the next year (or until the end of their term)
  • How much trust does the board have in the ability of the CEO to ensure that the organization operates in an effective and ethical manner?
  • What are our expectations about attendance at board and committee meetings?
  • What is the attendance record of each board member?
  • How do we hold board members accountable?
  • What is the record of each board member and committee with respect to meetings and results?
  • How useful has each committee proven to be?
  • To what extent do committees duplicate staff jobs? How satisfied are our members with the current board performance?
  • Who thinks we should change our governance model?
  • How much time and money are we willing to devote to increasing our own knowledge and skills to improve our performance as board members?
  • How does our board deal with differences of opinion?
  • How do members deal with decisions when we disagree?
  • To what extent is it necessary for us (board members) to be involved in the delivery of programs and services, marketing, public speaking, etc.
  • Who attends our Annual General Meeting? Why do they come?
  • As board members, to whom do we wish to be accountable?
  • How effective is our current recruitment method in getting excellent board members?

Take some time to consider these questions. The answers will tell you the degree of difficulty you will have in changing to a new governance model and where the problems lie. For additional information and for training and consulting services related to governance models, contact: Nathan Garber & Associates email: nathan@GarberConsulting.com

© 1997, Nathan Garber. Permission is hereby granted to reprint this article in part or in total provided that the author is acknowledged.

Personal Reflections on Waldorf School Governance and Effective Practices, Lynn Kern

 

 

Personal Reflections on Governance:

The Eleven Keys to Success

Lynn Kern

 

The research into School Governance is one of the most widely anticipated topics in the long history of the Effective Practices research project. Schools have been struggling with the questions of how best to organize themselves and manage their affairs so that the young human beings in their care can receive the best possible Waldorf education. “Just give us the organization structure, the policies and the practices of the successful schools so we can put them into place. We want to get on with the real work of educating children,” has been the unspoken plea of many a leader in our school communities. And yet, having completed a detailed study of the ways in which schools with strong and successful governance cultures approach this issue, I was struck by the wide variety of approaches the well governed schools have put into place. There does not seem to be a single approach, structurally or procedurally, that works well in the best schools. There is no fixed, perfect form or approach to governance in our schools. A number of different forms and a variety of policies and procedures are in place in well governed schools, and these differing forms are each effective and appropriate for the schools which employ them. Biography, size, and the stage of a school’s development all play a role in suggesting the best form for a particular school at a given time, yet even here there is no one-approach-fits-all-schools solution.

 

What then can we take away from the study of Effective Practices in governance? If the answer isn’t in the structure per se, where is it? What do all of these schools have in common that, despite their different structures, policies and personalities, allow each of them to be particularly effective in their approach to school governance? What are the overarching principles that will inform other schools which are earnestly striving to address governance issues in their communities?

 

Despite the wide variety of approaches, structures, methods and practices we documented, each of the well governed schools seem to me to share eleven key features that contribute to their ability to govern their schools at a highly effective level. These eleven keys to governance success are:

  • Conscious Agreement
  • Shared Vision
  • A Republican Approach
  • Cultivation of Leadership
  • Separation of Policy and Operations
  • Operational Leadership Teams
  • A Threefold Perspective
  • Active Participation and Destiny Meetings
  • Ongoing Review
  • Communication and Trust
  • The Collaborative Path

 

Conscious Agreement

Each of the schools with successful governance enjoys a high level of conscious agreement about their governance structure, policies and procedures. In these schools the mechanisms of governance are well understood by the employees of the school and by the broader parent community. Not only is the governance of the school well understood – it also enjoys broad support.

 

Oftentimes these schools developed their approaches to governance as the result of crisis or breakdown of some sort in the school. These crises force schools to address their governance practices, and to do so in a way that achieves the understanding and support of the employees and the parents at the school. The combination of structure, policies and practices were typically built up over time, as faculty and volunteers worked together to find approaches that best addressed the needs of the school. In no instance did a school report adopting an entire governance structure and implementing it whole. Instead they worked and struggled and built something that was uniquely their own. It is clear that there is something in the struggle to build consensus and support that sharpens the thinking and allows broad levels of understanding and support to develop. These schools have embraced the need to address governance issues and worked them through. Good governance is not something they implemented; it is something they have earned.

 

Shared Vision

Not only do these schools have broad-based conscious agreement to their governance structure, policies and practices, but they also have a clear vision of the school and where it is headed. This vision of the immediate needs and long term dreams for the school, and the understanding of the values that underlie the way in which work is done, are well articulated and talked about regularly in the community. Faculty and parents, paid staff and volunteers, all share a common vision of the school and support the values that inform the way in which the school is managed. These schools have, in the words of Rudolf Steiner, worked “to acquire the spirit that will unite the school.” This works “engenders in us our sprit of unity.”

 

A Republican Approach

All of the schools in our study of effective governance employed a republican approach to their operations. A republic is a state in which the supreme power rests in the body of its citizens, and that power is exercised by representatives chosen by the citizens. Schools with successful approaches to governance use decision making processes such as various forms of consensus to ensure that power rests in the general bodies of the school rather than in the hands of a headmaster, director or single administrator. Large bodies such as the Board of Trustees and the College of Teachers make key policy decisions for the school, and these bodies choose representatives to do the operational work on their behalf.

 

This approach, often called republican academies, is the basis on which the committee life of a well governed Waldorf school is based. Large groups consciously delegate authority and responsibility to individuals and to groups to do work on their behalf. These delegations may take the form of a job description when authority is vested in a single individual or in the form of a committee or task group mandate when the delegation is given to a group of individuals. In this way large governing bodies are able to retain authority in the key areas of decision making (policy setting) while delegating operating issues to volunteers and staff. This ensures that the proper amount of time and attention can be paid by individuals entrusted to deal with them without bogging down large governing bodies with the need to deal with operating minutiae.

 

Environments that Cultivate Leadership        

Schools with effective governance do more than tolerate their leaders – they empower their leaders, honor their willingness to serve as leaders, and consciously work to develop more future leaders for the school community.   The presence of a strong shared vision and clear delegations of authority in the form of written mandates and job descriptions allow leaders to step forward in many areas of the school’s operation. The faculty, Board and parents can be comfortable in allowing leaders in various areas to act, knowing that the depth of the shared vision and the clarity of written delegations will inform the well intentioned individuals the school has selected to do work on its behalf. The personal freedom of the various leaders in the school is maximized, meaning that people are free to be as creative as possible in the ways they choose to carry out their responsibilities. Structures that allow many people the opportunity to practice leadership mean that the school will be well served when new leaders are asked to step forward to fill a void – it will have a strong stable of experienced leaders from which to choose should the need arise. And, perhaps most importantly, because individuals and small groups have been entrusted to do work on behalf of the larger group, the time available for the most important work – educational deepening and pedagogical study – is maximized.

 

Separation of Policy Setting from Operations

The successfully governed schools are increasingly moving toward a state where the Board and the College of Teachers are the primary policy setting arms of the school. Operational implementation of the policies created by the Board of Trustees and the College of Teachers is delegated to its key administrative personnel (the pedagogical chair, the business manager and the community development chair) and to their respective committees. The College of Teachers sets educational policy out of their shared study of the growing child, and then directs the key administrative personnel of the school to work cooperatively to see that these policies are implemented. Because the College is able to successfully entrust the operational implementation of its policies to others significant time is freed in the College meetings to allow further study. The days of the College attempting to coordinate the detailed implementation of all of its policies are ending, allowing the College to become the etheric heart that is so necessary to support the development of the young people in the school’s care.

 

Similarly, the Board of Trustees is increasingly avoiding the temptation to dip into financial and development operations. The successful Board keeps its vision firmly on the horizon and its ear cocked to catch the thoughts of the moral owners of the school. Boards are learning to avoid the trap of double delegation that has so plagued them in the past. Double delegation occurs when a Board names a business manager, but then also names a Board treasurer with a remarkably similar job description and unclear separation of duties. It can also occur when a community development director is hired and a Board development committee is also created. Increasingly Boards keep their focus on the creation of policy and the long term strategy for the school, while the operational aspects of those policies are handled outside the trustee circle.

 

Leadership Team

While a number of Waldorf schools have been experimenting recently with the use of an executive director, it is interesting to note that not one school using this approach was recommended for inclusion in our study of schools with strong governance. While it may be that with increased experience schools will find a way to make the single headmaster approach work, Robert Greenleaf suggests that this will not be the case. Known for his work in the area of Servant Leadership, Greenleaf writes about the perils of a single chief in his booklet, “The Institution as Servant”. His concerns about the concept of a single chief include:

  • “To be a lone chief … is abnormal and corrupting. None of us is perfect and all of us need the help and correcting influence of close colleagues. When a person is moved atop a pyramid he or she no longer has colleagues, only subordinates. The frankest and bravest of subordinates does not talk with one’s boss as one talks with colleagues.” Communication is instead warped and filtered.
  • “A self-protective image of omniscience often evolves from these warped and filtered communications. This in time defeats any leader by distorting one’s judgment.”
  • “The idea of one-person-in-control enjoys widespread support because of the decisiveness it affords when decisiveness is needed. Yet a close observation of top persons everywhere reveals the burden of indecisiveness to be much greater that the benefit of decisiveness. The difference is that decisiveness is usually conspicuous and sometimes heroic, whereas indecisiveness is often subtle, hard to detect, and sometimes tragic. When one person is chief the multiple liabilities to the institution resulting from indecisive moments much overweighs the assets of the few cases where the chief is conspicuously decisive.”
  • “Everywhere there is much complaining about too few leaders. We have too few because most institutions are structured so that only a few – only one at a time – can emerge.”
  • “The typical chief … is grossly overburdened. The job destroys too many of them … But for the institution there is also damage. For in too many cases the demands of the office destroy the person’s creativity long before they leave office.”
  • “When there is a single chief there is a major interruption when that person leaves.”
  • “Being in the top position prevents leadership by persuasion because the single chief holds too much power. The chief often cannot say persuasively what one would like to say because it will be taken as an order.”
  • “The prevalence of the lone chief places a burden on the whole society because it gives control priority over leadership.”

 

Perhaps our successfully governed schools have intuited many of Greenleaf’s concerns. For whatever reason, these schools are increasingly moving to the use of a leadership team to manage the day to day operational matters of the school. These leadership teams manage the daily operations of the school in a collective manner, and report on their work in a regular way to those they serve.

 

A Three Fold Perspective

In the past schools employed organizational structures which were built on polarity, and this scheme seemed to bring out oppositional forces in a predictable and negative way. The Board and College were seen as the two primary organs of the school. The College was the pedagogical/cultural arm, and handled both policy setting and operations in that realm. The Board was the realm of “everything else”, and focused on policy and administration in the administrative and development realm. The Board and College in these schools might enjoy good relations for extended periods of time, but when challenges arose they frequently engaged in a game of power tug of war. While these challenges are always overcome in the end, the drain on the etheric forces of all those caught up in the struggle far outweighed the benefits from the eventual solution to the problem.

 

Schools now seem to be moving in an operational direction that is more explicitly threefold in nature, leaving the realm of opposition and polarity for one that enjoys the stability inherent in a three-legged stool. The Board and College have limited their focus to policy setting and long term strategy, leaving the operations to three carefully selected leaders. These leaders are the pedagogical chair, the administrative chair, and the community development chair. Together they form a management circle or leadership team that can ensure that policies established by the Board and College are put into effect in a way that meets the sometimes competing needs of these three realms and recognizes that the spirit of the school can only succeed when all three aspects of its being operate in harmony.

 

Active Participation and Destiny Meetings

The well-formed and active committee structure in the strongly governed schools has several benefits. One of those benefits just mentioned is that it allows many opportunities for people to practice the exercise of leadership in roles both large and small. But another, more subtle effect of the committee life is that it allows many people to develop a personal and direct experience of the school. Development officers all know the same secret – the fastest way to make someone feel like an owner of the school is to allow him an opportunity to be the servant of the school. It is interesting how quickly a parent’s speech can be transformed just by allowing him an ongoing responsibility for some aspect of school life. Often it only takes a few weeks of meetings before the phrase “the school” is replaced with “our school” or “my school”.

 

Not only does active participation create a sense of ownership and responsibility, it also sharpens thinking and moves conversations out of the philosophical (who cares?) realm into the immediate and practical (we do!) realm. This sharpened thinking, especially when coupled with the use of consensus decision making, requires people to bump into each other, find areas of agreement and, on occasion, to knock the rough edges off of each other. Consensus decision making adds another layer to this awakening process. While hierarchy allows one individual to suppress the other, consensus decision making requires true meetings between people and forces them to hear and consider what the others in the group may be considering. While consensus decision making is not always the most expeditious approach, it certainly has the advantage of being the most effective in the long run, for the school and the individuals involved.

 

It is these opportunities for us to truly meet each other that led Rudolf Steiner to demand non-hierarchical republican structures and consensus based decision making for our Waldorf schools. Only in this way can we achieve the shared understanding of the spirit that will unite the school that is essential if we are to self-administer our schools without a single headmaster or intrusive government regulation.

 

Ongoing Review

The schools with strong governance are also well disciplined when it comes to reviewing their work. They have processes in place for ongoing review of events, activities, decisions and mandates. Evaluations take place routinely at year end, but they also take place in an ongoing way throughout the year. In this way the school experiences ongoing opportunities for improvement, and continuously strengthens its performance.

 

Communication and Trust

A reflection of this interest in continuous improvement is the practice of following up immediately whenever unhappiness or uneasiness is sensed. Schools with good governance ask promptly, “What is concerning you? How can it be better? What else is needed?” Their ability to ask the Parsifal question (“Brother, what ails thee?”) ensures that issues are addressed early on, long before they have the ability to poison relationships and derail important activity.

 

The social life and trust that is built up among community members through committee life pays great dividends here. Those who are feeling concern know that they can express their perceptions candidly, and rest assured that the human connections built up over time will help them weather the discomfort of temporary disagreements about what is best for the school and its students. Conversely, those who have been delegated responsibility in one area or another at the school understand that they have a responsibility to share with others information on the decisions they are making and the thinking that informed those decisions. This trust and two-way communication are critical factors in the school’s ability to use republican academies effectively.

 

The Collaborative Path

The schools with successful governance have done more than just create well documented administrative models. They have built into their very structure the collaborative approach that Steiner insisted was essential in building a unified center. Collaboration is emphasized everywhere. It is seen in the sharing of policy setting responsibilities between the Board and the College, and emphasized in the cooperative management structure of the leadership team. The active and extensive committee structure in the school again echoes the collaborative theme.

 

These successful schools have created structures that are workable and sustainable, and that permit meaningful amounts of time to be dedicated to group study and conversation. Out of this group study comes a shared imagination that gives direction and context to each small group, committee and individual at work for the school. It is as if the members of the school community are engaged in a large-scale paint by numbers project, each one very capable of performing his or her #1 or #2 task very well, and each comfortable in the knowledge that the shared imagination developed through their study and conversation will guide each part of the school in a coordinated effort without the control and interference of a hands-on direct superior or manager.

 

Good Governance: Wide Spread Happiness

Schools with good governance are recognizable by the broad level of happiness that exists with the form of its governance and with the individuals serving in various leadership roles. If the leaders of the school are happy but there is wide spread dissatisfaction in the faculty and parent community, the governance of the school is not strong and needs attention. Similarly, if the parents and faculty are happy with the school’s governance but the small group of individuals serving in leadership positions feels overburdened and unappreciated then governance problems still exist. In the end, broad happiness and satisfaction is the hallmark of a school with truly effective approaches to governance in its structure, policies and procedures.

Lynn Kern

2009

Lynn is currently the Administrator of the Highland Hall Waldorf School in Los Angeles. She has been a school consultant, member of the AWSNA board and school administrator for many years.

This essay by Lynn Kern was done as a part of the AWSNA Effective Practices Governance Module, part of the Effective Practices Project. People working in AWSNA affiliated schools may find the module on the AWSNA website WhyWaldorfWorks under the password protected school resources section. Check with your school administrator for the password.

 

 

                                                                                                                                                                                  

 

More Governance Resources

More Governance Resources

We mentioned above the importance of understanding the differences between management and governance. There are a number of good articles about these differences but this one seems to make it simple enough and useful enough to provide insights when we want to understand governance in a deeper way.

 

Another good article on Management and Governance by Dianna Bell outlines simply and clearly the difference between what she terms Watchdog (advisory), trustee and pilot (management) types of boards. In her helpful description she encourages boards to be self reflective and to find ways to assess what model of function is appropriate, given the organizations particular history and current dynamics.

 

There are a number of resources that are focused on the idea of the organization as a living entity and that point to the helpful insights that can be found when considering the organic processes in an organization from comparing them to the life processes in the human being. These are ones in our resource collection that are worth reviewing in the light of understanding governance. One in particular that is the most extensive practical guide to working with these ideas, is the book “School as a Living Entity” by Rea Gill that describes her work to transform the governance of two different schools.

 

Another brilliant and practical work is the book “Transforming People and Organizations: The Seven Steps of Spiritual Development” by Margrete van der Brink.

 

There are three governance models that have grown outside of the Waldorf school movement but that are of importance to our work, not because they might be adopted, but because in each of them, inspired thinkers have attempted to take a deeper look at the ways organizations can organize themselves to create the highest degree of freedom in the working of the individuals and groups along with the highest degree of collaboration.

 

One is the Policy Governance work of John and Miriam Carver. Here is an article that outlines the basic ideas behind Policy Governance. There are a number of schools that have adopted, with varying success, the Policy Governance Model.

 

The second model is called Sociocracy or Dynamic Governance and was developed over the last century through research and application in the Netherlands. Sociocracy provides a new imagination and set of operating principles that focus on helping an organization become self managing throughout its structure.

 

A newer model that grew out of Sociocracy is called Holocracy, and we have included a resource that outlines the basic premises of this governance approach. Holocracy is an innovative model that embraces self regulation in a refreshing way by establishing very clear and rigid practices designed to empower and support the work of individuals throughout an organization.

 

Lastly, we would point again to the book “Reinventing Organizations” by Frederic Laloux that outlines research into the shifting paradigm in organizations toward collaborative models of self governance. The background he outlines about the shifting consciousness behind more collaborative organizations very much aligns with the social insights of Rudolf Steiner from 100 years ago.

 

Principles of a Learning Organization, Five Disciplines, Senge

Summary of the Five Disciplines of a Learning Organization by Rea Gill

Detailed in The Fifth Discipline by Peter Senge (1994)

 

1 Systems Thinking

 

Senge (1994) describes systems thinking as a “discipline that involves approaching problem solving and addressing issues, not by focusing on isolated events or parts of the whole but rather by looking at the patterns and events as interrelated parts that effect and are affected by each other and that collectively make up a unified and inseparable whole .” (p .7)

 

2 Personal Mastery

 

“Personal mastery is the discipline of continually clarifying and deepening our [the members of the organization’s] personal vision, of focusing our energies, of developing patience, and of seeing reality objectively .” (p .7)

 

3 Mental Models

 

“Mental models” are deeply ingrained assumptions, generalizations, or even pictures

or images that influence how we understand the world and how we take action …

 

The discipline of working with mental models starts with turning the mirror inward, learning to unearth our internal pictures of the world, to bring them to the surface and hold them rigorously to scrutiny . It also includes the ability to carry on “learningful” conversations that balance inquiry and advocacy, where people expose their own thinking effectively and make that thinking open to the influence of others . (pp .8–9)

 

4 Shared Vision

 

The practice of shared vision involves the skills of unearthing shared “pictures of the

future” that foster genuine commitment and enrollment rather than compliance .

 

 

Team Learning

 

The discipline of team learning starts with “dialogue,” the capacity of members of a team to suspend assumptions and enter into a genuine “thinking together .” … The discipline of dialogue also involves learning how to recognize the patterns of interaction in teams that undermine learning . The patterns of defensiveness are often deeply engrained in how a team operates . If unrecognized, they undermine learning . If recognized and surfaced creatively, they can actually accelerate learning . (pp .7–10)

 

 

From  A School as a Living Entity by Rea Gill

Basic Principles of a Living Organization, by Rea Gill

Basic Principles of a Living Organization by Rea Gill

 

 

There are two major challenges to the ongoing creative activity of an evolving organization, much like there are two elements to managing our individual lives. We have to deal within each moment and each day with what is living growing and evolving immediately before us and widely around us. We also must look at the present moment in relationship to the whole of our life and our life in the whole of culture and humanity’s evolution.

 

It is actually easier to perceive and understand the form, processes and evolution of a human being than it is an organization. The principles of human development are a part of us and as educators, it is something we have trained ourselves to perceive and that we continue to develop with our colleagues every day. We experience theses principles through our life. In our organizations, especially in schools, the principles of organizational development can also be evident but because organizations are social creations involving numerous people and have greater levels of complexity, it is harder to see and work with the processes that guide our organizations. Whereas in education, though we have classes and a student body we are a part of, students stand before us as objective reality and we are outside them. With a school, it is harder to see the whole life of the organism as we do not stand outside it in the same way. As teachers, we know it can be helpful at times to try to enter into the beingness of the student to gain insight about their nature. As social creators, it is equally as helpful to try to step outside the organization to gain perspective.

 

Once we step outside, we take a step towards becoming social scientists.

 

Here are basic principles related to the school as a living entity with thoughts on how the ideas can be practically helpful:

 

The school is a living entity:

Just like our approach to the nurturing of the students in our care, it changes things to think of the school, not as a problem to solve, but as a mystery that is unfolding. Once we start to see the school as a set of problems to be solved, it is easy to forget that it is the wholeness of the being that must be the place of our attention. Diagnosing and trying to solve school problems is similar to diagnosing and trying to change the behavior of the students. We need to consider the whole being. It is much more effective to look at the constitution and development of the student or the school. The use of metaphors is most helpful in this realm. How would you describe your organization if it were a person? How would you draw a picture of your organization as a landscape? Often a creative approach helps reveal insights about the quality and nature of the whole school.

 

The school has a biography

The founding gesture and impulse of the school, much like the conditions around the birth of a child, provide a signature to understand and provide insights into the unfolding life of the being. Every beginning has three basic elements: parents (or founders), family heredity (or culture), and the individuality/or vision. It is important for those in leadership positions in an organization to regularly reconnect with the founding (celebrate founder’s day, recognize founders, retell the founding story) for the signature of the organization will be discernable and shared. In addition, the significant turning points in life whether they are accidents or growth opportunities, have an effect on the growing being. So too do the major events in an organizations life: major crises, conflicts and cultural shifts. I have worked with a number of schools where the lack of resolution or healing of a past crisis was actually holding the community back, and where a conscious effort towards healing/resolution/understanding allowed the community to move forward with more trust and unity. Annually, there are times when a review of the year and how it fits into the ongoing biography can yield insights into its next steps in development.

 

The school grows and develops through phases in relationship to social laws

While each school is a unique endeavor, (not like a franchise that is intended to be exactly like its siblings) the school moves through phases that can be observed and understood. The character of these phases is both general and uniquely connected to one institution. A good description of the phases and their qualities, challenges and opportunities, is offered in Chris Schaefer’s Phases of School Development posted in this newsletter. A school, like any organization, is a social creation made by people that follows social laws. (It may be creative but in the end not helpful to try to depict the relationship between the years of a humans life and the organizations life. It often become too conceptual and leads people away from a deeper observation and understanding of the organization’s life and of the underlying social laws that govern its growth and development.)

 

The school is a social organism made by people.

The founders of the school and their ongoing relationship to the school has a profound impact on the unfolding life of the institution. The relationship between founders and organization and its challenges is well documented in non-profit literature. But the school also grows gradually through the gifts of those who are involved over time. As a social creation, it is important to understand that the entire organism changes (to a greater or lessor degree) with the addition of one new member. As teachers we know this is true in our classes – the addition of one child changes the entire configuration of the class in subtle or not subtle ways. With this imagination, it becomes more important how we incorporate (orient, invite and socialize) people into the organization and how we support and encourage their development and participation in the organization. As organizations grow in size, it is helpful to consider forming a group or organ that has as one of its primary responsibilities the incorporation of new families in to the school.

 

The school has body, soul and spirit

All three aspects of the being of the school need attention and behind each aspect there are principles that are uniquely important – it has physical structures and resources needing to be sustained; it has people and relationships woven into a community and culture needing to be nurtured; and it has ideas, principles, policies and processes that need conscious attention, ongoing renewal and re-creation. It is important in the ongoing renewal of the organization that the spiritual dimension is attended to regularly – a little in each meeting through developing a culture of inspiration, and more fully annually in reviewing the mission and vision. Staying connected to the vision is key to organizational harmony.

 

The school is part of its environment and the greater culture

Like any being, the school is an integral part of its environment and has an ecological importance. The health of the organism is related to the quality of the relationships it has with the world around it. How an organization participates and takes an interest in the community out of which it was born contributes much to its success. Unfortunately, this aspect of board work is quite often the one most frequently moved aside to deal with more pressing issues.

 

The school has a physiology

The school’s physiology includes a physical form and substance, a set of processes connected to its life in the world, organs for supporting the processes, a set of ideas and principles that continually shape and recreate it and a purpose/individuality that guides it. And all of these elements of the physiology are created by people and thus reflect social ideals. Torin Finser explores these relationships and qualities in depth in his book, “Organizational Integrity.”

 

A school learns as it grows

Over time, a school can take its experiences and learn from them, turning the lessons in to institutional wisdom. The wisdom lives both in the individuals and in the policies and procedures established. Like all life, the challenges that come from the future as opportunities for change test our core beliefs. It is very helpful for the community to commit to articulating their core beliefs/values and to regularly come back to renew and evolve them. The way that the school gathers its wisdom has a significant affect on the parents and the students of the community.

It has a lifespan

An organization’s lifespan is affected by the initial purpose and the changing nature of the culture. Ecologically if there is no longer a need for or support for the organism, then the organism cannot continue. This is important to keep our eyes on as we look into the future and explore aspects of sustainability. We already see a change in the culture of education since 2000. From 1980-2000 almost 100 new schools were founded. Since 2000 there have been, in North America, relatively few.

 

Principle Notes
Every organization is a social creation with a unique purpose The ongoing role of founders has a significant effect on organization.
Every organization has a biography The biography of an organization does not follow the life phases of a person. It has unique patterns and transition points.
There are social laws that govern the life of organizations
An organization is born out of its surrounding community Its relationship with the community determines to a great degree how strong its roots are.
An organization grow, lives and learns in relations to its leadership
It has a physiology of structures, ideas, principles, and processes
An organization has a relationship to the threefold nature of social life
An organization expresses healthy or not so healthy effects.
It grows and learns through mistakes and crisis It experiences the equivalent of inflammation (heat) and Sclerosis (hardening, or being overly fixed) Both sclerosis and inflammation are important aspects of its healthy life. 

 

Exploring Accountability: An Introduction

This newsletter focuses on accountability. It is a topic of conversation and a concern, not only in every Waldorf School, but also in every organization today. Most of the books, articles and essays connect accountability to improving performance and outline processes to help individuals or groups become more accountable by setting clear goals, having clear roles and responsibilities, having systems to evaluate employee performance, giving people incentives, and creating clear consequences when individuals fall short of goals. All of these suggestions can be useful in certain situations, but they fall short of being helpful to those of us working in highly collaborative horizontal organizations.

The dynamics of accountability in horizontal organizations are different. Individuals have many more meaningful relationships and are expected to carry more responsibility for the whole organization and to be responsive to collegial feedback. The typical measure of accountability -- that of improving performance -- needs to be balanced with the concern for developing the capacities of individuals. In our endeavors, it is a central purpose of our work. This difference is fundamental. Ultimately, in healthy horizontal organizations, individuals become more and more capable of guiding their own development and incentives, and consequences are more intrinsic.

The collection of articles in this newsletter explores what accountability means in a collaborative organization: what is required of us as individuals; how do we need to organize and manage our organizations to support and encourage accountability; how do we find ways to assure that our organization is accountable to those it serves.

This is an ongoing exploration that hopefully can lead to individuals gaining new insights into ways to understand accountability and bring health to our organizations.

The following articles explore the realm of personal and organizational accountability.

The One World Trust report on accountability in international NGO’s offers some insightful aspects of what makes an organization accountable to its stakeholders. While its audience is organizations working in the international arena, its principles are helpful in thinking about how we as a school engage and inform those whom we serve – families and the community at large. The article is an excerpt of the full report, “Pathways to Accountability – The GAP Framework.” The full report and the excerpt are both available in our resource collection.

In an excerpt from his important book, Reinventing Organizations, Frederic Laloux describes how organizations pioneering new horizontal forms deal with performance evaluations for groups and for individuals. It is an interesting exploration of how previous practices of control are transformed in new organizations.

 “Managing Horizontal Accountability” is an article by Darrel Ray ad David Elder that shares insights about how performance-focused horizontal teams and groups achieve their goals through four basic working principles. It is a quick read and while it was written for different settings than schools, it provides some useful tips for all of us.

 

 

Accountability and Agreements

In the history of Waldorf education and of organizational development in general, communities and organizations move through phases of development from the unconscious, implicit and intuitive to the more conscious, explicit and objective. In all the phases of development, the way in which people form and renew agreements is key to accountability throughout the organization.

Members of a small school just getting started, for example, do not usually have the inclination or the time to define everything in detail. In a pioneer initiative, where many things are done together and the group is finding its way, agreements are often unconscious or in response to emerging situations.

In a more mature, complex organization, the community develops a more formalized system of agreements, both about the whole and between the individuals and groups. Over time, a community grows in its understanding and attention both to agreements of all kinds and to the practice of what to do when agreements aren’t upheld.

In a young organization, the challenge is to make agreements conscious. In an established organization, the challenge is to find time to review and renew agreements, so that they are living in the consciousness of everyone involved and can be adjusted to the realities of the current situation.

How agreements are arrived at also makes a difference. For example, if individuals (as appropriate to the nature of the agreement) are involved in creating agreements, then they already feel invested and accountable to the outcome. Understanding this can help organizations build a culture where accountability is not something imposed from the outside, but is living within a group as a matter of organizational integrity.

Here are six areas where clear and shared agreements can strengthen accountability in the organization:

Common objectives, expectations

Make sure that the mission, goals and strategic plan are clear and shared and that people feel connected to it. Keep the focus on the goals more than on personal approaches.

Expectations and individual roles

Make sure that each individual knows what is expected and what their role is and that these are reviewed updated and shared annually. Really strive to live the motto of the social ethic: That every individual feels the whole and that the strengths of each person are acknowledged.

The environment of feedback

Make feedback and evaluation an everyday practice that doesn’t evoke anxiety.

Create time on every agenda and during every week that feedback can happen. Have active peer meetings and observations. Provide training to everyone in giving and receiving feedback (see articles in the resource section).

Agree on support mechanisms

Small peer groups that meet regularly are better than large ones for supporting one another, giving feedback, having meaningful dialog and stimulating creativity. Deal with problems when they arise. Welcome conflict as a path to resolution, create and utilize processes for dealing with conflicts that are safe and accessible to everyone. Put into place mechanisms for keeping track of things that are in process, even if you can’t deal with them immediately.

Reflect and share learning

Be sure to make reflection a regular part of meetings and the school year so that together you can share observations, insights and possible improvements. Make sure you record these, especially for annual events, as they can easily be forgotten over the year.

Celebrate

It is important to recognize and celebrate the things, big or small, that you accomplish. This overcomes the tendency to focus only on the things that aren’t getting done. Appreciation creates an environment that allows for people to feel recognized and connected to one another and to the whole.

Michael Soule

 

Managing Horizontal Accountability, Ray and Elder, IPC

To understand horizontal accountability (HA), it is easier to begin with its absence. When there is little or no horizontal accountability in an organization, people tend to engage in blame, finger pointing, passing the buck and conflict avoidance. To the degree that these are present in an organization, horizontal accountability doesn’t exist.

Most organizations have strong vertical accountability. That is, accountability to management and the chain of command, but that tends to ensure compliance rather than commitment and goal focus. It also does little to address the flow of communication and interaction between those who do the work.

Horizontal accountability can be defined as the degree to which people communicate across the organization, problem solve with all employees and teams, and build accountability for superior outcomes. Horizontal accountability creates trust between employees and management.

When people trust one another, have confidence in the leadership and have a clear goal, they can be highly productive. When people feel they have to watch their back, are unclear about the goals or see management as untrustworthy, productivity suffers.

Horizontal accountability facilitates efficient problem solving, goal achievement and less conflict and lower turnover. People feel loyalty to management, to each other and to the goals of the group. Passion, drive and high energy often characterize groups with strong horizontal accountability. Lethargy, blaming, finger pointing and conflict avoidance characterize groups low in HA.

The Problem of Under-Accountability.

Under-accountability exists in organizations where trust is low. Under-accountability is often disguised in the form of other problems. Have you heard some of these statements in your organization?

“I never see my boss so I do what I think is best and cover my rear with documentation.”

“I have been burnt by their department many times so now I cc every email I send to them and blind cc my boss.”

“We have one member who holds the rest of us back but there is nothing we can do about it so we just do their work when we have to and get along.”

“IT doesn’t listen to us. We agree to a project and scope and end up with a costly monster that doesn’t meet our needs.”

“I can’t get my project done because they can’t make a decision.”

“We have email wars between our department and marketing. They can’t get their act together but they always blame us.”

Under-accountability is most apparent in the blame game that individuals and groups play. Finger pointing and blame are the currency of accountability avoidance. Observing this, leaders may jump to the conclusion, “People just don’t want to take responsibility” but this is not necessarily true.

Under performance is costly, wastes huge amounts of resources, and is often hidden from view.   Evidence of underperformance is often hidden until an emergency hits. When half of a client’s building burned, destroying a huge portion of the company’s assets, management had to rely on employees to organize themselves and get production back on line while management focused on insurance issues and retaining customers. Organized into task teams, the organization made a remarkable recovery, losing only a week’s production with continued higher productivity long after. The President of the company soon realized that the productivity of the affected groups was much higher when management was preoccupied with other issues. We interviewed the President a year later. He told us, “Until the fire, I had no idea how much our management systems were hindering performance.” The fire response demonstrated the need to organize for more horizontal accountability and less management focus.

Another client had an unexpected labor strike that lasted six weeks. Rapidly organizing management and about 25-

50% of workers who crossed the picket line, productivity jumped to levels far higher than before the strike. After the strike, the leadership looked at both management skills and horizontal accountability to maintain higher levels of productivity. While no one was laid off, many positions were not filled in the subsequent months when people retired or resigned. The strike revealed areas of significant underperformance. Implementing Horizontal Accountability allowed the organization to capitalize on this discovery. It required some changes in management behavior as well as additional training of employees, but the return in lower labor costs more than made up for the investment.

It doesn’t take an emergency to deal with underperformance. Creating Horizontal Accountability shines a spotlight on areas of underperformance. Employees know where underperformance exists. With proper training in Horizontal Accountability they will root out underperformance and create huge performance improvements.

Horizontal Accountability

Horizontal accountability (HA) is an approach that teaches team members to take high levels of responsibility for goals and performance. In sports, the coach must rely on the team to coach one another during actual play. The best teams develop constant performance feedback between players. Players get immediate, useful feedback from teammates – without the coach doing a thing.

In an HA organization, the manager still evaluates performance but day-to-day performance information comes directly from peers. A vast amount of information can be found in the observations of peers whether in sports or business, but the information must be put into a useful and non-threatening format.

An HA coach teaches team members to critique performance in a way that reduces or eliminates defensiveness and improves skill and goal focus. HA releases productive energy that was formerly locked up in conflict avoidance and manager focused behavior. Customer focused behavior increases dramatically in an HA environment. Horizontal Accountability is an untapped source of information and energy in most organizations.

Some organizations have recognized this untapped resource and implemented various processes such as rating and ranking systems and 360 evaluations. These are good foundational tools but they miss the most important component of accountability, immediate feedback. Annual 360 reviews or even 6 month Rating and Ranking does not give the team member timely and specific feedback so they can learn rapidly and be closely accountable for the team’s goals. Something more is required to achieve strong horizontal accountability.

Micro-Performance Appraisal 

How do you get marketing and sales to become mutually accountable? How do you get engineering and operations to work the problem rather than fight each other? How do you get IT to be accountable for the external customer’s experience?

As our colleague, Barbara Bridger, formerly VP of HR at Butler Manufacturing used to say; “If it were easy, everyone would be doing it. We are doing it because our competition can’t.” Horizontal accountability is a competitive advantage. When people learn to hold one another accountable with minimal management involvement, it liberates a good deal of management time and employee energy.

Horizontal accountability means creating practices and routines that encourage and support constant “micro performance feedback.” We define micro-performance as the hundreds of daily behaviors that an individual and/or team perform to provide a service or create a product. Micro-performance focuses primarily on the interpersonal interactions between individuals and teams. It is different and more fundamental than workflow analysis or other forms of technical work analysis. In virtually all teams we have studied, performance is undermined to some degree by individual “micro-behaviors.”

Examples we have seen:

  1. A team member tends to word emails with terse and subtly offending language
  1. Members of one department tend to talk disparagingly about another department.
  1. Two team members are prone to gossiping about others in ways that create conflict in the team.
  1. A programmer has the habit of working on the things he likes best, procrastinating on other aspects of the work.

You may think, “These are things for management to deal with.” Yes, management might deal with them – if the manager is aware of the behavior. On the other hand, the peer group often knows of these kinds of behaviors long before any manager. Some of these kinds of behaviors can remain hidden and non-productive for years, even entire careers. What if the peer group was able to handle these issues intelligently, tactfully and effectively without management involvement? What would that do to productivity? How would it affect the manager’s own performance? How would it improve coordination and customer service? How would it affect the wasted energy of interpersonal conflict?

Every high performance organization we have observed had some degree of horizontal accountability deeply embedded in the culture. It may not have been called horizontal accountability, but it was clearly present. Employees observed one another and gave micro-performance information in real time or close to it. No one waited for the annual review to talk about a missed deadline. Meetings were evaluated each time for their effectiveness and timeliness. Harmful gossip was dealt with effectively. Good performance was recognized the same day and at the next staff meeting. Management set the pace by modeling and training employees how to evaluate micro-performance and deliver the information effectively.

When micro-evaluation becomes the norm, there are no surprises at review time. Mistakes become learning opportunities for the person or team receiving the information as well as the person giving the information. The receiver learns something about their performance AND the giver learns more about how to give micro-performance information. It is a very rapid learning model that leads to a clear competitive advantage. The benefits include less internal conflict, faster learning cycles, less wasted time and energy blaming and finger pointing and quicker market and customer responsiveness.

You may notice that we use the term, “information” instead of the widely used “feedback.” Feedback is burdened with a negative connotation. In an environment of horizontal accountability, information is given in relation to a specific goal. It is non-judgmental and measured against the goal. To the degree that micro-performance is focused on goals, team performance is enhanced.

Conflict Avoidance, the Big Road Block

Conflict avoidance is the biggest roadblock to horizontal accountability. People are very reluctant to share information with others when they perceive it may lead to conflict. They are also reluctant to say anything that might be used negatively by management. One of the cardinal rules of group behavior is to get along and minimize conflict, even at the cost of performance. Conflict avoidance is very strong in most groups.

People aren’t stupid…… they know that giving feedback can come back to bite them, so they avoid it. Unfortunately, this eliminates the richest fund of information on performance – peers. Peers know more about one another’s performance than any manager.

The key to effective horizontal accountability is to teach micro-evaluation skills along with a system of positive consequences for doing it. As Dr. Edwards Deming stated fifty years ago, you must take fear out of the system. When people feel safe, they will give micro-performance information much more easily and frequently. It becomes a natural and free flowing part of the culture. Defensive behaviors dissolve and goal focused behaviors increase dramatically.

Managing the White Space

There is a space that exists between departments, teams or groups in any organization where handoffs occur. We call this the white space. Handoff failures occur when the white space was not properly managed. It happens all to often at a huge cost to many organizations.

The problem with managing the white space is that the manager does not have the time or attention to do it properly and it’s not sexy and fun. In a vertical accountability model, managing the white space takes time and attention away from other things the manager could be doing. In an organization with strong horizontal accountability, the teams take a great deal of responsibility for managing the white space. When there is a handoff between engineering and operations, engineering takes the initiative to ensure a smooth transition. The manager may have little or nothing to do in managing the process. When an IT project is developed with an internal customer, the two teams take the lead in controlling project scope creep and achieving the goals on time and on budget.

By managing the white space more effectively, organizations prevent huge amounts of wasted time and effort. Rework and conflict are reduced or eliminated and higher levels of collaboration develop as people learn the basic skills or horizontal accountability.

Four Elements of Horizontal Accountability

Here are four elements of the system we use to create horizontal accountability:

  1. Flood the environment with four times as much positive as improvement information. This simple formula is proven effective in all forms of applied psychology from schools to sports and business. It has been taught by many leaders in the field, from Steven Covey in his Seven Habits of Successful People to Aubrey Daniels, Bringing out the Best in People, to Peter Drucker and many others.
  1. Ensure that all information follows simple rules that eliminate attacks and defensiveness. Keep people focused on the performance to goal aspects of evaluation rather than personal preferences or less objective approaches.
  1. Make performance information so common that people think nothing of it, “its just the way we do business day- to-day.” As with any tradition, once it is established in the culture, it is easier to perpetuate.
  1. Focus on the goals of the team. Micro-evaluative behavior must tie to the goal. Micro-performance information can be seen as arbitrary and confusing if it is not anchored to the goal.

For each of these four elements described above, there are specific methods used to teach and support this element. The techniques focus on these critical steps: What is the goal? Which specific person’s behavior forwards that goal today? The team itself identifies this using some non-threatening methods. The focus is primarily on positive, goal directed behavior and less on the corrective. The focus is on what you want, not on what you don’t want.

In a performance culture, horizontal accountability is woven into the very fabric of the organization. Every individual, including management, receives micro-performance information from those who see his or her performance most closely. This improves performance in real time. Learning opportunities are maximized and skills improve rapidly. Newer employees learn faster and senior employees learn to transfer their skills to others.

Horizontal accountability keeps manager and team focused on goals and goal directed behavior. High performance organizations aren’t necessarily smarter, better trained or equipped, they just waste less energy on mistrust, conflict and goal confusion. Horizontal accountability frees huge amounts of time, energy and emotional power for achievement of goals.

Your organization

If you are like most leaders, you are constantly looking for the competitive edge. Whether you are a Six Sigma company, a lean manufacturing plant with a kanban system, an insurance company with one-call customer satisfaction

– horizontal accountability magnifies the effectiveness of these processes. We would argue that full benefit of these processes is only achieved when horizontal accountability is deeply embedded in your culture. When each individual and team is constantly doing micro-performance appraisal, other processes and initiatives benefit greatly – not least the customer.

Take Action

Team members and managers need training and follow-up to help learn the skill of micro-evaluation. It does not come natural or easily at first. Once established, micro-evaluation creates a continuous improvement environment that is powerfully goal focused and completes the human side of most improvement processes like Six Sigma, TQM, Lean, etc. It puts everyone on the same page. Managers and team members learn rapidly and respond to market and customer needs much faster.

Horizontal Accountability is more than a catchy phrase, it is a process for creating a performance culture. First, train management in the principles and skills of Horizontal accountability, then practice them for about three months. Organizational performance will improve almost immediately. Next, train team members in the skills. With management’s supervision, participation and modeling, teams will soon learn the process and see the benefits for themselves. Finally, do an in-course evaluation to ensure you are using the skills effectively.

Visit www.teaming-up.com for more information and training on Horizontal Accountability.