The Map is not the Territory

30 May 2013

2E2A770B-D6F6-4344-9C97-C8DAC83CDC4CThe map of an organisation is surface material. In this article, Kevin Hardy looks at how to delve deeper into the territory of an organisation to diagnose its flaws and identify its true decision makers, who may not always be who you would expect.

In Neuro Linguistic Programming one of the key points made is that “the map is not the territory”. A map of a country is just that. It does not give you the detail. It is a representation of something like an organisational structure, strategic plan or position description. Whilst useful  it is not the “territory” that reflects the real organisational pressure points, peaks and troughs, risks and opportunities, the underground streams of support, threat and energy flow, the soft and hard ground upon which we stand, the rewards and sanctions that may not be articulated but which represent the culture, power distribution, alliances, priorities and politics in action.

I have always been fascinated when talking to people about organisations. There is the public expression of its direction/vision, its intended outcomes, its culture and perhaps its espoused sense of values and corporate responsibility. But there is also the hidden organisation represented by a far more complex system that tells you who and what powers the system, where the potential challenges are, how the parts interelate and react to each other, the shifting alliances and short and longer term coalitions of interest, the politics that decides who has to be influenced to get your outcome and what helps or hinders organisational performance and image, and who are the real decision makers who are influential and in ascendancy, and, they may not be the espoused leaders in the organisation! They may not be a CEO but they can hold inordinate sway about direction, operational priorities and environment.

It seems to me that listening and divining the territory is the real skill in organisational diagnosis. This demands the ability to hear meaning in conversations and the organisational “non verbals”. It also challenges us to be able to test our interpretations and ask questions or a sequence of questions, to judge what buttons to press and how hard to press them. The ability to read nuance and meaning is what makes a successful change leader because they strategise several moves ahead but with clear intent about their outcome. They are the chess masters and key people to find in organisations.

I would be fascinated to hear from others. This is a personal view and others may have a far more sophisticated and elegant take on all of this. Let’s share thoughts and build a coterie of people to share views, opinions and experiences. Perhaps we will build a real way to diagnose organisations that gets beneath the surface!