Think Enterprise: Mental Models, Interfaces, and Connections

This article was originally written as a learning tool in April of 2018 during my studies of OrgMindset, I/O psychology, Human Factors, and working with Alex Yakyma on the OrgMindset body of knowledge. The article isn’t technically in a finished state since I write and learn iteratively and incrementally (so, look for updates in the future). The concepts presented here are based on empirical observations and so I wouldn’t consider this a scholarly article.

I decided to publish the article now to thank, recognize, and honor the significant and amazing contributions of Alex Yakyma. He has pushed everyone he interacts with forward in our learning in the change management and organizational transformation space. Alex is a creative and passionate, deep thinker who is a blessing to the world.

I have personally learned and grown professionally as an OrgMindset Enterprise Coach under Alex’s tutelage over the past few years. My hope is to share some of what I learned to enhance your continuous learning journey. I also reserve a hope that one day Alex will continue to develop and mine the gold and diamonds that are the OrgMindset body of knowledge. So, please share this article widely. 🙂

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April 7, 2018

I read Alex Yakyma’s article “OMEC: Important Focus Areas for an Enterprise Coach” and I had a thought that ties into my ongoing deep OMEC learnings and research about mental models, bias, assumptions, organizational social structures in the digital age, change, CAS, and this thing we call organizational [change] transformation. This led me down a path to research I/O Psychology and Human Factors.

As an enterprise coach we need all the tools we can get our hands on to help us understand faster, coach and communicate more effectively, and …help people more.

Alex stated a few things that are incredibly interesting that I have been challenged with for decades in my attempts to positively influence organizational change.

  1. Realizing that different people in the organization may operate out of [significantly] different mental models is key, as well as the fact that getting to a better view of reality is a journey of many steps and those need proper facilitation. – Alex Yakyma

and

  1. Interactions. Enterprise behaviors in principle are irreducible to individual actions and thought processes. In fact, this is the reason why item #1 is necessary, but not sufficient. Effective interactions are at the root of organizational performance. – Alex Yakyma

Now, let us explore the “why?”

The primary observation is Alex’s points regarding people “may operate out of different models is key” and “Effective interactions are at the root of organizational performance.”

I would like to explore this a step deeper into the actual interface and connections between people and their mental models. We are all familiar with the three different forms of communication and the myriad array of tools and techniques people use to enhance the reliability and effectiveness of communication. Yet, communication remains an all too common root cause of many organizational challenges. Cliché, yes, but it is still a biggie! The biggie.

Why do people and organizations still struggle to communicate effectively in the digital age? With all the social media, electronic, psychological tools and process mechanics, we still struggle to achieve deep organizational connections as a network. Why do managers and workers constantly struggle with achieving objectives? Surely the requirements were clearly defined and documented? Why do customers get angry and push harder deadlines for less money? Why do we miss those deadlines? Why is the quality of our products and service sometimes lower than intended when we do deliver?

There is certainly a plethora of tools out there that claim to fix it. A value system. A framework. A method or set of processes. A maturity model. A body of knowledge.

But are they really fixing anything? My supposition is that the things above only address surface level challenges in communication and interactions of the components of the system. There are deeper problems built into organizations that are inherited from its people that becomes culture through behavior, history, action/inaction, and results.

Understanding the what

We all intuitively know that each person has a unique personality and their associated mental model(s) (primary, secondary, tertiary, et cetera – really a dynamic supposition influenced by recent and long-lived interactions in their environment). That mental model is affected positively and/or negatively by biases which in turn are used to make assumptions about our interactions with those around us. As a coach, this is something that, at least for myself, I’ve often taken for granted.

What we are analyzing here is the interaction (and connections or lack thereof) of these mental models with other models.

A possible solution to how we can increase the success of organizational communication

We need a more structured approach to identification of mental models so that we know how to appropriately interface with them and build robust connections.

If we break down our purpose as a change agent to its roots what we are striving for from a business coaching perspective is to affect change in the interface and connections. The mental model itself doesn’t change so easily as it will require many interfaces to be influenced to change over time.

The problem with our solutions and why they don’t stick or are incredibly difficult to implement is that the solutions do not address the problem at the right level. They are a band-aid on a broken bone.

Interestingly, individuals obviously have a collection of their own mental models. I have observed that teams also develop a unique aggregated mental model comprised of the sum of the parts, plus the interactions, connections, and other aspects of the organizational structure, culture, and influencers. So, organizations (teams of teams) have the same. Culture is an abstract concept. But how does it come to being? The culture of an organization is the execution of the aggregated mental models of its people in a fluid and dynamic state.

The States of Interfaces and Connections of Mental Models

OMEC Mental Models Interfaces
Mental Models and their interface states

Mental Model A (left) and B (right) are both potentially viable and effective independently and compatible with other mental models n. Each person’s mental models are unique and have natural patterns developed in a persons life. Some are more structured, some more dynamic.

Problems arise when the two particular potentially incompatible mental models attempt to interface with each other through communication and interactions. They are unable to make a connection (active) because of an incompatible interface (inherent to the mental model).

The interface and connections are the means and the interactions are the outcome of a fluid and dynamic stream. The outcome stream is consumed by our mental models over time, and sometimes instantly. For example, if someone walks up to you and punches you in the face, your interface with that person will immediately and probably irrecoverably be in a damaged state.

What I have observed on some occasions is that an individual mental model is not necessarily entirely out of line synchronization, phase, or incompatible with the value systems and ways of thinking that we are trying to move an organization towards. Apologies for the analogy to electricity, but it is sort of that type of connection between individual mental models.

If the mental model is broken, it is definitely completely incompatible in a binary way, but that brokenness does not mean that we can’t attempt to change the transmission and fix the problem behaviors. So that the mental model itself is not a deterrent to a successful interface and it can achieve the desired state. Conversely, think about interactions you have had with people that you believe “just get you.” Your mental models and interfaces are naturally compatible. However, this doesn’t mean that you will be able to build a robust connection.

I took a shot at identifying some states of interfaces that I’ve observed. Damaged, Fluid, Temporary, and Structured. I suspect there are others.

  1. The structured interface being the case where the strongest connections exist and hence more robust and reliable interactions between two unique mental models.
  2. Temporary interfaces exist for those interactions that are new or have only very minor interactions (frequency is low) between long time frames of disconnection.
  3. Fluid interfaces are those where there has been meaningful interaction and connections built but because of the negative aspects of the mental model, the interface is unable to solidify into a meaningful pattern of structured, reliable, and repeatable communication.
  4. Damaged interfaces are those where the connection on the interface has resulted in damaging one or both of the mental models in a negative way. It doesn’t have to be real, only perceived to do this damage.
OMEC Mental Models Interfaces_veracity
The desired interface state is structured

 

Possible Solutions

As an enterprise coach, we have a vast array of Ph.D. level theory and practice in the field of I/O Psychology and Human Factors to guide us. We also have a ton of empirically based practices in the form of prescriptive processes, value systems, frameworks, methods, and other tools. None of it is “enough” on its own to be a successful coach.

They nearly all claim to be earth-shatteringly useful in altering organizational, team, or individual behavior. Unfortunately, we are often faced with complexity, complication, chaos, and simplicity all at the same time (CAS). It is pure human ingenuity, intuition, experience, and willpower that gets us through challenges to successful coaching.

OMEC Mental Models Interfaces_coachinfluence
Good coaching targets influence at the interface to produce robust connections, not the interactions

We often fall into the trap of coaching to the interactions rather than the interface.

As a coach working within teams (at any level) to affect positive cultural change, we have to target our influence on the right things. It could be teaching, mentoring, or facilitating learning about ways of thinking, feeling, or the mechanics and ways of working. We often fall into the trap of coaching to the interactions rather than the interface. It is important to change the underlying dynamics of the interface itself as the means of communication (building robust connections) rather than correcting the interactions where you will fail every time. If we only address the interactions then the mental model itself will never be influenced to change because it will retain its existing condition through self-preservation, ego, et cetera.

OMEC Mental Models Interfaces_veracity

The quality of the interface

As we create ways to influence mental models and change interfaces at the individual, team, and organizational levels we should understand there are some basic aspects that can affect our ability to be successful in changing the interface. The simple frequency of interaction can potentially positively or negatively affect the interface. If you put two people who hate each other in a room together every day for 15 minutes eventually human factors will drive them together (more likely) or further apart given no outside influence. It is our job as coaches to positively influence that interaction so that the interface moves toward a structured state.

Enterprise Scale Mental Models and their Interactions, Connections and Interfaces

OMEC Mental Models Interfaces_orgs
Organizations, just like individuals and teams, may have observable mental models

Since organizations, teams, and individuals may all have observable mental models we must target our coaching at all of those levels with the appropriate tools, methods, practices, processes – the ways of working, feeling, and thinking. This is where all the hoopla about scaling frameworks, this thing we call “Agile”, Scrum, Kanban, Lean, and all the others come into play.

It is critically important to understand the underlying problems surrounding the ways of thinking, feeling, and ways of working before we attempt to prescribe the medicine. The medicine is often more detrimental to the change process than just letting it be.

Closing

I hope that this interface and connections aspect of mental models and their interactions helps you further explore your potential as an Agile coach, enterprise coach, Scrum master, and servant leader. Please leave your thoughts in the comments as I find this space fascinating and relatively unexplored.

 

References:

OMEC: Important Focus Areas for an Enterprise Coach. (2018, April 06). Retrieved April 07, 2018, from http://orgmindset.com/2018/04/06/omec-important-focus-areas-for-an-enterprise-coach/

“User Interaction and User Interface Design.” User Interaction and User Interface Design – EduTech Wiki, edutechwiki.unige.ch/en/User_interaction_and_user_interface_design.

American Psychological Association, American Psychological Association, www.apa.org/ed/graduate/specialize/industrial.aspx.

“Human Factors and Ergonomics.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 28 July 2018, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Human_factors_and_ergonomics.

v0.2 29 JUL 2018

 

 

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