13 September 2005

Tetrads for Managers, and Dysfunctional Teams

Yesterday I did a brief McLuhan for Managers seminar with a group visiting from the Netherlands, all members of the Master Course in Management and Innovation at the University of Rotterdam and Nijmegan. Because the session was limited to one morning, I focused on basic vocabulary – medium, message, figure, ground, and environment – and the Laws of Media tetrads. The set-up for applying the four media laws – extension/enhancement/enablement, reversal, obsolescence and retrieval – were scenarios to which almost anyone in a medium-to-large enterprise can relate:

  • Do you know of anyone in your organization who believes that ideas are mutually exclusive, that for my idea to be right, yours has to be wrong (also known as the “zero-sum gamer”)?

  • Do you know of anyone whose thinking is entirely formed by their beliefs, that if they don’t believe it, they don’t see it (also known as “Believing is seeing”)?

  • Have you ever been in a meeting with The Boss, in which the tacit (or even overt) presence of power limited the open exchange of ideas and alternatives?

  • Have you ever been part of a group that behaved like the proverbial deer caught in the headlights, in which there is a total and exclusive focus on what can obviously be seen, without consideration for what is happening at the periphery, or in a contextual ground?

  • Have you ever been in a situation precipitated by what some call “unintended consequences” that are better characterized as unanticipated because of bad planning, lack of foresight, or deliberate acts of ignore-ance?

As you might expect, there wasn’t a single person in the seminar who could not relate to each and every one of these situations. Such failings and dysfunction can happen in both tactical and strategic situations. It is often the case that some of these situations occur routinely in an organization, resulting not only in poor decisions, but even worse morale and motivation.

As a way of mitigating these ill effects, I introduced McLuhan’s Laws of Media tetrad as a combination analytic and facilitation tool. The dynamic of the tool is simple. Because it does not rely on dichotomous thinking (pro/con, advantage/disadvantage, upside/downside, etc.) no one feels the need to take a position and defend it. Moreover, because all ideas and observations can be place in the tetrad, everyone’s contribution is quickly acknowledged. Indeed, even the strongest proponent of a given position is encouraged to find situations in which the opposite position might occur. In short, each of the aforementioned dysfunctions can be easily addressed and constructively managed:

  • Territorial conflicts over ideas are eliminated, and the “need” to defend one’s position is obviated by its inclusion in one of the aspects. The action of the tetrad is to acknowledge apparent paradoxes in figure as a way of revealing multiple, concurrent grounds.

  • The dominance of preconception is also eliminated in favour of perception and observation.

  • Hidden grounds are revealed so that attention and focus is shifted away from what is already known.

  • The range of considered possibilities is significantly expanded, reducing the number of unanticipated outcomes. In fact, the tetrads are specifically designed to call out possibilities that no one had previously considered.

Using the Laws of Media tetrads as an analytic thinking frame is tremendously valuable for strategic planning, organization realignment, dealing with controversial issues, and tactical planning in almost any kind of organization. And, of course, you know who you can turn to should you need training or facilitation assistance!
[Technorati tags: | | | | | | ]

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Hello Mark,
Nice to read your impression en reflections about the brief seminar you did when we visited you.
Once again I like to thank you for your enthousiasme en inspiration and the way you maked ground figure to me.

Frits Peters
student MMI