All 3 entries tagged Organisational Behaviour

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October 24, 2012

N levels of 'Why?'

In organisational behaviour studies the case analysis approach is often used to assess problems that organisations face. This approach typically breaks the assessment into a problem description, analysis of the causes, a recommended solution and some alternative solutions. Multiple perspectives, organisational behaviour tools or varying frames of reference are used to try and identify as many of the likely causes as possible. It is this activity that relates closely to root cause analysis (RCA).

RCA is a technique used in various industries, from IT administration troubleshooting to identifying reasons for breakdowns on a washing powder production line.

The idea of RCA is very straight-forward - just keep asking why. For example, in the washing powder production line scenario:

  • Why is the breakdown taking place?

Because boxes on the production line are getting stuck.

  • Why are they getting stuck?

Because some of the boxes are getting too much glue and it is seeping down the side of the boxes.

  • Why are the boxes getting too much glue?

You get the idea.

Although the concept is simple, it is rarely executed in full. Organisations face problems daily that seem miniscule or that appear to have a very simple solution. In many cases, only one or two levels of why are being explored. In this situation you are more likely treating the symptom and not treating the cause. The problem will only surface again in the future.

How many levels of why are enough?

How many levels would it take to find out that an ingredient in the glue mixture caused lumps in the hot glue, which caused blockage and irregular flow to the glueing station on the washing powder production line?

In some situations experience will compensate for the addition levels. If the box breakdown happened again we would know where to look first. This may increase efficiency in troubleshooting but is this the only likely cause? If we don't conduct thorough RCA we may have overlooked other potential causes. For example, one alternative reason for the breakdowns could be that completed boxes were not being cleared at a suitable rate. Performing several levels of why in this case may lead you down a completely different path - to realise that your logistics department is having issues with overutilisation of delivery trucks that should be collecting these boxes.

How many levels of why are enough? The key is to not have an upper limit. Keep asking. Once RCA helps you to solve the problems it will then lead you to the next phase, which is continuous improvement. Fix issues first and then look to optimise the way you work. As in organisational behaviour studies, the same problem investigated at two different points in time can have very different outcomes.

September 13, 2012

Work Life Balance – Is it a myth?

What exactly is work? Is it my day job in the office or my night job at home? Applying principles of Organisational Behaviour studies, I first need to establish the role I am referring to - employee, author, husband or father?

Let's assume work is work as most of us interpret it and life is, well, anything other than work. How does that balance? In my book, life then needs to be split into more categories - education, family, health, hobbies, entertainment, religion, rest and socialising.

Even with some of these categories occupying fixed time slots per week, I still don't see how it's supposed to balance.

  • 8-9 hours per day of work,
  • 1-4 hours per day of travel (which, in London, is definitely not socialising but more like work or competitive sport),
  • 2-3 hours of family time getting kids to bed,
  • 1-2 hours of health (sport and hygiene),
  • 1-2 hours of education (sometimes learning through osmosis after falling asleep on MBA textbooks),
  • 30 minutes to 2 hours of socialising on Skype or Facebook,
  • up to 1 hour of dedicated religion,
  • 1 hour for hobbies, and
  • 1-3 hours for entertainment.

That leaves you with -3 hours for sleep.

Then there's a 2 day period of chaos, filled with housework, laundry, sport/activities/play dates for the kids.

How on earth should this balance?

July 07, 2012

Group development at play

While taking part in our second MBA study group meeting today I was reminded of the four stages of team or group development - Forming, Storming, Norming and Performing.

We've been thrown together to form a primary support group, with the aim of getting through the next semester and possibly many more after that. It's no different to the office environment - we have meetings, we have roles within the team, we have expectations, we have (lots of) questions, there are unknowns, there are deliverables, and we need to figure out how all of it is going to be executed to precision.

After reflecting on today's call, I picked up my copy of the organisation behaviour textbook (Organizational Behaviour, David A. Buchanan & Andrzej A. Huczynski) and jumped to Chapter 10 - Tuckman and Jensen's theory of group development (Page 317). I was surprised to find a 5th stage of group development - Adjourning. Here's a brief summary of each stage, based on our study group's current and future interaction.


It's been 6 days since we first met as a group. Because a couple of members were missing on that day, we're still in the process of introducing ourselves and identifying individual strengths and expertise within the group. We're asking lots of questions but we're fortunate that the MBA programme office is answering a lot of those by sharing information with the entire cohort. A chairperson has been nominated for month 1, some templates for agendas and meeting minutes are being drawn up, and we're starting to suggest objectives for each future meeting.


Once we've assigned some responsibilities within the group, we'll look to crack on with the lessons in each of this semester's modules. The storming stage is all about conflict - not getting along, not wanting to volunteer for activities, not agreeing with someone's style of work or ideas, or aggravation due to individuals covering coursework too quickly or too slowly for the rest of the group. In our virtual operation we also have some external factors that contribute to conflict - time zone differences, working week differences, distribution issues affecting text book delivery to all group members, and lack of attendance at meetings due to personal and work committments. A big part of storming is also being uncertain about how each of us is meant to fit in within the group.


At some stage we'll figure out the best way to work together. Awareness of personal traits and behaviour within the group will set us at ease and give us the opportunity to start contributing in a more productive manner. Figuring out how to work together could include simple things like developing a preferred communication channels for questions, admin issues, and project work. The group needs to learn to work together, which relies on individuals learning how to work with one another. The one challenge I forsee here is that much of the norming stage is brought on by interaction and interpretation of body language. Because we interact mostly online via web calls, email and collaboration rooms, this may affect our progress in getting to this stage.


I'm looking forward to this stage. Usually it comes by without a great Eureka moment, which means the group has organically evolved in a positive way. The performing stage comes when the group dynamic and individuals' understanding of one another are at a point where different working methods have been tried and tested and the group is productive. Group deliverables are produced - ideally on time, accurate and complete.


This fifth stage is a logical one, but only caught my attention as a formal stage today. Not all groups last forever. In fact, not all groups are designed to last or work together forever. Our study group will end in 2,5 years. Before then, we may lose a member or gain a member due to elective courses chosen or restructuring of course syllabi. When this happens, our group either cedes working together or starts the entire cycle again. A new group member means new ideas, a new way of working, a spanner in the works. There is no option but to start the cycle again, although usually the storming stage kicks off a lot sooner in this case.

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