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Mary Parker Follett: Management Visionary

‘Ahead of her time’ seems to be the most appropriate epiphet to apply to Mary Parker Follett. And many have done so: Peter Drucker described her as a ‘prophet of management’, while Warren Bennis has said:

‘Just about everything written today about
leadership and organizations comes from
Mary Parker Follett’s lectures and writings.’

Mary Parker Follett

 

Brief Biography

Mary Parker Follett was born in 1868, into a wealthy Quaker family in Boston. She was an exceptional scholar and a polymath, attending university at Harvard (the Society for Collegiate Instruction of Women – later Radcliffe College), during which time she also spent a year at Newnham College, at Cambridge University (in England). Although denied a PhD by Harvard, she studied widely in law, economics, politics, philosophy, and history. While at Cambridge University she prepared and delivered a paper that was to become, in 1918, her first book: ‘The New State’. It was about social evolution and group-based democratic government. It was reviewed by former US president, Theodore Roosevelt and remains in print today.

After studying, Follett spent the next thirty or so years (from 1890 to 1924) focusing on voluntary social work in Boston. She innovated, being the first person in the US to use a school as an out-of-hours community centre; a model that was widely reproduced across the country.

However, what interests us most at the Management Pocketblog is her work from 1924, when she turned her focus to industry. She wrote that it is ‘the most important field of human activity’ and that:

‘management is the most fundamental element in industry’

She became an early management consultant and was much in demand by industry leaders and academic institutions. She spent her time advising and lecturing, up until her death, at a relatively young age, in  December 1933.

Sadly, her work is not widely known of in the western world, despite notable figures like Drucker, Bennis and Sir Peter Parker praising her to the rafters. This is despite the fact that she anticipated a wide range of issues and thinking that is still today presented as modern and aspirational for our large organisations.

Follett’s Visionary Thinking

Let’s count the ways that Follett was ahead of her time in the field of management. I get to eight.

1. Humanistic Approach to Organisations

Growing up in the time of FW Taylor, and ahead of the work of Elton Mayo, Follett rejected the functional approach to industry in favour of her emphasis on what we now call humanistic principle. She was a progressive, rational humanist in the management field as well as in the political and social arenas, and puts me very much in mind of George Eastman, whom I also described as a visionary. She very much anticipated the work of Douglas McGregor.

2. Empowerment

Follett rejected the idea that managers and staff have fundamentally different roles and capabilities. Instead, she saw that an organisation’s success would come from recognising the part that each has to play in delivering its services or creating its products. She advocated giving power to where it matters.

3. Joined up Business (… and hence, Re-engineering and Lean?)

This created a need for a joined up organisation, where activities, departments, functions and people are properly co-ordinated – both across the organisation and from the bottom to the top (and vice versa). She referred to the relationships between staff and managers and among functions as ‘reciprocal relating’. A leader’s role is therefore to see the whole organisation and the ‘relation between all the different factors in a situation’. Is it too much of a stretch to see this as anticipating the mission of re-engineering and lean management to close gaps in process flow? I don’t think so.

4. Group Dynamics and Team Working – Participative Leadership

The equal balance of power between management and employees leads to the need for team co-operation and that, she suggested, develops a true sense of responsibility in workers. To me, it also demands a model of leadership that Robert Greenleaf was to call ‘Servant Leadership’. Follett did not herself go as far, but identified ‘Participative Leadership’ as the style that involves a whole team in creating products and delivering services.

5. Personal Responsibility

Tying together empowerment, co-ordination and group working is the sense of responsibility they inculcate in workers. Follett again anticipated McGregor’s Theory Y, by arguing that it is this which most develops people.

6.Management Training

If we are to delegate greater responsibility to our people, we must do so well. Follett was an early advocate of management training, believing when many did not that the leadership aspects can be taught.

7. Transformational Leadership

In a paper called ‘The social construction of leadership: From theory to praxis’, Edith Rusch notes the unacknowledged similarities between James McGregor Burns’ articulation of ‘Transformational Leadership’ and Follett’s writings. She presents a compelling argument that Follett not only anticipated the ideas of transformational leadership, but that she was the first to put them forward and even used the term.

8. Win-Win Negotiation and Conflict Management

One particular interest of Follett’s was conflict. She suggested three approaches of domination, compromise and integration, that  Kenneth Thomas and Ralph Kilmann would later refer to as competing, compromising, and collaborating. Her thinking on the benefits and mechanisms of creating integrated ‘win-win’ resolutions is rich and sophisticated. In her suggestion that we uncover the real conflict and get to each party’s deeper aims, and then seek to satisfy those, she anticipated a lot of the thinking in best-selling negotiation book, ‘Getting to Yes’.

My one Favourite concept…

from all of Follett’s writing is this: the idea of ‘circular response’. This is that our behaviour helps to create the situation to which we respond. It is the idea of a feedback loop of self reinforcing interpretations and behaviour. I don’t doubt that the essence of this very modern sounding idea goes back to the ancients and classical writings of many cultures. But her articulation of it (and of the compelling phrase ‘circular response’) is so clear, that it has got me thinking.

Thank you…

to Mary Parker Follett. Before I started researching this blog, I knew nothing of her (unlike almost all other management thinker subjects). I had hoped that, being less known, there would be little to read and writing this would be quick. Far from it. But I have gained a lot from learning about Follett, and I hope you will too.

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Team Decision Making

The Management Pocketbooks Pocket Correspondence Course

This is part of an extended management course. You can dip into it, or follow the course from the start. If you do that, you may want a course notebook, for the exercises and any notes you want to make.


Managers often need to reach decisions as a part of a team; either as:

  • a member of a management team
  • a facilitator of their own team

In both cases, it will serve you well to understand some of the do’s and don’ts of team decision-making*.

Group Think

In the 1970s, the social psychologist Irving Janis examined how groups make decisions. He found that the group’s dynamic often inhibits exploration of alternatives. People find disagreement uncomfortable, so the group seeks consensus before it is properly ready. As the group approaches consensus, dissenting voices are rejected (and, indeed, often self-censored). Janis said:

‘Concurrence-seeking becomes so dominant in a cohesive group that it
tends to over-ride realistic appraisal of alternative courses of action.’

When we fall prey to Group Think, decisions tend to be based on ‘what we all know’ – members feel inhibited from challenging the consensus and relevant information, ideas, challenges are not fully introduced.

The group tends to a higher collective confidence in a decision than individuals have in the same decision made individually. Groups tend to endorse higher risk decisions than the individuals would – perhaps due to the degree of confidence resulting in group members agreeing to decisions that they would not make as individuals. This is called Risky Shift’.

Other features of Poor Group Decision-Making

People with more extreme positions are more likely than others to have clear arguments supporting their positions and are also most likely to voice them. This enhances risky shift.

The order in which people speak can also affect the course of a discussion. Earlier comments are more influential in framing the discussion and moulding opinions.

Once people have expressed an opinion in a group, it can be hard, psychologically, for them to change their mind.

Charismatic, authoritative and trusted individuals can also skew the debate around their perspectives – which will not always be objective or ‘right’.

Finally, it takes time for a group to discuss a topic and time is often at a premium. There will be pressure to curtail discussion and move to a decision.

Towards Better Group Decisions

  1. Start with a diverse team.
  2. Don’t let leaders, experts or charismatic individuals state their opinions or preference up front
  3. Start with a round robin of facts, data and evidence. Follow up with another round robin of comments, questions and interpretations of that evidence. This forms a solid base for discussions.
  4. If you must take a vote, put it off until after discussion and then ideally, do a secret ballot to establish the balance.
  5. Appoint a devil’s advocate to find flaws in data and arguments.
  6. Before a decision is finalised, ask everyone to take the position of a critical evaluator and look for errors, flaws and risks.
  7. Divide the team into subgroups to discuss the issues, and have them debate the decision.
  8. Invite outsiders into the team to create greater diversity of thinking and overcome prejudices and confirmation bias.
  9. Give all team members equal access to raw data, so they can reanalyse it for themselves.
  10. Facilitate the discussion to ensure every voice is heard and respected – even the least senior and least forceful members of the group. If they deserve their place in the group, consider their perspectives to be of equal value.

Further Reading 

  1. The Decision-making Pocketbook
  2. The Wisdom of Crowds

* Grammatical Note

To apostrophise do’s or not?

  • In favour of not apostrophising is that it is neither a contraction nor a possessive term, suggesting that there is no good grammatical reason for introducing an apostrophe
  • In favour of the apostrophe is the core function of punctuation to improve readability. The apostrophe stops it being dos and don’ts.

We sometimes forget that grammatical and punctuation ‘rules’ evolved to codify standard usages, but that language is fluid and grammar must serve the primary purpose of aiding communication.

By the way, you’ll see that I did not apostrophise 1970s.

If you think I should either have written dos, or found an alternative (thus subordinating words and meaning to style and correctness)… Sorry.

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Bruce Tuckman's Group Development Model

There are a number of Pocketblogs about Bruce Tuckman’s highly successful model of group and team development.

Here is a quick reference to them all.
Click the headings to go to the blog.

Forming, Storming, Norming: The Tuckman Model of Group and Team Development

… a general introduction to the model – part of the Pocket Correspondence Course series of blogs.

Swift Trust–Why some Teams don’t Storm

… introduces the model and looks at the storming phase and uses the concept of ‘swift trust’ to understand why some teams skip over this phase.

Tuckman Plus

… looks at an additional phase: the ‘yawning’ stage.

Tuckman Plus, Part 2: Transforming

… looks at another additional phase: the ‘transforming’ stage.

Team Performance Beyond Tuckman

… isn’t strictly about Tuckman – it introduces the ‘Drexler/Sibbet Team Performance Model’.

There’s more to Bruce Tuckman…

But if it is Tuckman and his ideas that interest you, then you might expect him to feature in our Management Thinkers series. And you’d be right. He’s here:

Bruce Tuckman: Group Development

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Forming, Storming, Norming: The Tuckman Model of Group and Team Development

The Management Pocketbooks Pocket Correspondence Course

This is part of an extended management course. You can dip into it, or follow the course from the start. If you do that, you may want a course notebook, for the exercises and any notes you want to make.


‘How do new groups of people develop into
effective teams?’

Bruce Tuckman developed the best known and most widely used answer to this question in the early 1960s. Working for the US Navy, he reviewed a wide range of group dynamics research, to identify a sequence of discrete stages that described the findings of most of the studies.

Tuckman himself ascribes the success of his model over other, later models, to the catchy labels he created for the stages.

Tuckman Group Development Model

1. Forming

When a group first comes together, people are keen to get on with the task at hand, but have little idea what is expected of them. In building relationships, they start with the superficial dialogue familiar to anyone who has arrived in a room full of unfamiliar people. As a team leader, focus on giving people work they can get on with and, at the same time, get to know their colleagues. Tuckman referred to this as the forming stage.

2. Storming

People are social creatures, and we need to assert ourselves, find our allies, and make a niche for ourselves. In the next stage, storming, the group turns inward, focusing on relationship building. Conflicts arise as, like hens in the farmyard, we each seek our place in the pecking order. The group may also start to challenge your leadership so, while you keep them focused on work, you need to assert your leadership and provide support to individual team members.

3. Norming

Following the intensely social storming phase, we withdraw into task-focused activities. We hunker down and get on with the work. The group is now more cohesive, focusing on creating procedures, fulfilling defined roles and making progress. This is the norming stage, and it is often very productive. Because people know what their role is now, focus your leadership on creating links between team members and establishing routines and team habits..

4. Performing

As the quality and depth of relationships build, the group reaches its final stage, performing. Group members support each other in their tasks and show greater behavioural flexibility. The group now feels like a team, with individuals stepping into leadership roles as their capabilities and interests dictate. Your leadership can be very subtle, focused on maintaining the productive environment in which the team can thrive, providing them with the information and resources they need, and protecting the team from disruptive interruptions and distractions.

5. Adjourning

Two decades later, in 1977, Tuckman collaborated with Mary Ann Jensen in reviewing further research studies. As well as endorsing his earlier model, their analysis suggested a fifth stage ‘for which the perfect rhyme could not be found’ in Tuckman’s own words.

They called this stage adjourning, although many authors (including me) prefer the term ‘mourning’. As the group separates, there is a palpable sense of loss. The joy of working successfully with valued colleagues is important to us and we mourn its loss. Like in the case of  ‘real’ mourning, you should make time for your team to reflect on the transition and celebrate the past.

Additional Phases

Trainers and writers have introduced additional phases to the model, which each have their value. Two of these, the ‘yawning’ stage and the ‘transforming’ stage have been covered in earlier Pocketblogs:

Critique

Tuckman’s model was not based on primary research and has been criticised for its linear nature and its discrete stages. Despite this, it accords well with people’s experience and has been applied in a number of related formulations.

As a manager, use the model to understand the evolution of your team, and in interpreting what happens among the groups with which you work.

Further Reading 

  1. The Teamworking Pocketbook
  2. The Management Models Pocketbook
    looks at Tuckman in Chapter 3

Other Pocketblogs you may like

Swift Trust–Why some Teams don’t Storm

… introduces the model and looks at the storming phase and uses the concept of ‘swift trust’ to understand why some teams skip over this phase.

Team Performance Beyond Tuckman

… isn’t strictly about Tuckman – it introduces the ‘Drexler/Sibbet Team Performance Model’.

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Tuckman Plus

The conclusions in Bruce Tuckman’s ‘Developmental sequence in small groups’ are among the best known management models.  In it, Tuckman proposed that groups go through four stages of development: forming, storming, norming and performing.

Later, he and Mary Ann Jensen wrote a follow-up article, ‘Stages of small group development revisited’, in which they proposed a fifth stage, adjourning.  We summarised these stages earlier this year, and looked at why teams don’t always go through the storming phase.

The Tuckman Group Development Lifecycle model: forming, storming, norming, performing and adjourning

Critical Review

Tuckman and Jensen’s critical review in 1977 was just the first re-analysis of Tuckman’s original 1965 paper.  As recently as 201, there was a wide review article: ‘40 years of storming: a historical review of Tuckman’s model of small group development’ by Denise Bonebright, a graduate student at the University of Minnesota.  In it, Ms Bonebright concludes that there are new theories that are ‘exponentially broader and deeper than Tuckman’s original model. They provide detailed discussion of many aspects of group dynamics from forming through adjourning.’

These theories examine a range of other factors, and yet they do not

‘provide the same breadth of application. HRD scholars and practitioners can learn something from a model that has proved valuable for almost 45 years. The utility of providing a simple, accessible starting point for conversations about key issues of group dynamics has not diminished.’

Can we extend Tuckman’s Model?

There are two principal extensions to Tuckman’s model that give valuable insights, yet do not add unnecessarily to its complexity.  We will look at the more sophisticated early in the new year, and tackle the simpler, commoner one here.

Yawning

Are you getting tired at the end of a long year?  Is your team getting stale and bored?

Tuckman Group Formation - Yawning Phase

A lot of management trainers add an extra phase beyond performing: ‘yawning’.  This recognises that a team, once formed and into performing stage, can become stale.  It is a teaching aid as much as an extension of the  model, to highlight the importance for a team leader to keep the team fresh and challenged – in both the task and relationships dimensions – if you are to maintain high performance.

It is also a reminder that, if your team slips from its high performance levels, this may be what is happening.

Tuckman Model of Group Formation - extended to include Yawning phase

Some Management Pocketbooks you Might Like

The Management Models Pocketbook, bt Mike Clayton

The Tuckman model and its variants are described in The Management Models Pocketbook.

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