The essence of organising – relationships or boots?

September 19, 2022



Imagine two people carrying out lifting operations – one of them is not wearing safety boots. How would you approach them as a leader? Listen to this podcast to understand the essence of an organisation and why relationships matter more than systems and processes at work.

Further information



Nippin Anand, Pedro Ferreira


Nippin Anand  00:00

Hello, and welcome to another episode of embracing differences with me Nippin Anand, imagine two people carrying out lifting operations, and one of them is not wearing safety boots. How would you approach them? If you were a business leader, or leader? Last week, I posted a video to say why we should focus on people and the relationship between them, and not the safety shoes as a start. I received some really insightful comments from a lot of people. So thank you for contributing. And this morning, I sat down to reflect upon those comments and questions with my friend, Pedro Ferreira. And together, we made an attempt to engage with those questions in this podcast. I would love to hear your thoughts. And as always, please disagree, because there is no better way to learn. I hope you enjoy it. And more importantly, reflect upon it. Hello, Pedro? I don’t think has Thanks, Greg. Good. Had a busy morning. But all good fun. Well, it’s good to be busy. We were just, I was just looking earlier today that there’s been quite a bit of interaction around what you posted a couple of days ago. Relating to the lifting operation. And the fact that one of the so there were two people involved in that lifting operation and one of them was wearing the mandatory safety boots, and the other one wasn’t. And the general question was, how would you approach these two people? So would you like to start with that, but what are your views on that? Yeah, I mean, it’s quite likely that there are people who haven’t seen that video, but just just set the background for this. So it just so happened that on Tuesday, I think was a Tuesday, I posted a video on LinkedIn, which was basically to say that there is a lifting operation. And for those of you not familiar, is the crane operation, which is lifting some kind of heavy equipment on a site. And there are two people conducting that lifting operation, one of whom is not wearing safety boots. And you as an auditor or a site visitor or business leader happened to be in that space, and how you would approach those two people in that situation. So I think that that really was the context. And it was absolutely intriguing to see how, how many different points of view emerge from that discussion. I think it was a fascinating thing. I really enjoyed it, actually, to see what, what people make of this. It was an open question, actually. So So yeah, that was the scene. I think a lot of people were, it came as a surprise to many people, when I said that you would probably focus on the relationship between those two people what’s going on between them, rather than fixating yourself on the safety boots. And the reason why I said that was that I think if you take a step back, what is an organisation? Right? And organisation is a place where people come together, they organise for a purpose. Like, they come together and they organise for a purpose. And so relationship and communication is the key to organising. Yes, you need systems, you need processes, you need controls in place to achieve the purpose, but the essence of the organisation is communication and relationships. And it was fascinating. In fact, if you if you look at Carl week’s kind of literature, and I will read it out, it’s right in front of me. Organising is a conceptually validated grammar for reducing equivocal ality which is confusion by means of sensible interlocked behaviours. Now this is very abstract, but let me explain this in very simple words. It in very simple words. This means that if you don’t make an attempt to understand me, I’m not part of this organising activity and I’m certainly not part of this organisation. So here we are trying to understand or trying to understand what is This activity, and our starting point is to understand the relationship between those two people. And that’s precisely what I meant. What’s going on between the two people? So, by asking that question, I’m aware of my trajectory, which is, where’s this going? If you see two people coming to work together, and one of them, if you have a buddy who’s working with you, and he or she is not wearing the right safety shoes, it’s, it’s the starting point is to have a conversation with them to say, are you okay? What is it that that allows you to come to this place without safety boots, you know, how can I help you and grounded in that assumption is a relationship grounded in that assumption is the idea that if there was a problem with safety boots, maybe not getting the right size, not not not getting purchased, though not not being able to purchase safety boots are not good quality boots, or poor quality boots that that hurt the toe will come out. But if you start from the assumption of relationship, something else might come out, which is there was a lot of pressure. Right? There was a lot of pressure, because this was a this was this was a job that came at the last minute and we had to get the job done. Something like that. So your your your your PPE and your safety comes secondary to getting the job done. So you can see how opening up a question like this can lead us to a much more mature trajectory, where we have an insight into the subculture of the organisation 111 aspect of the culture, one culture in the organisation, which you will never get, if you started your discussion with objects with PPE, which is personal protective equipment, or safety boots, the most you might get is the quality of the boots. The the purchasing of the boots. The the hierarchy of controls, the idea of, you know, how do you why should you trust PPE? And and why should How can we become more clever by failing safely, and stuff like that, but we will never come to the core of organising, which is relationships, and people. So that was the idea. That gives you a much better insight than focusing on objects, and systems and controls and processes. So that’s the reason why I started off with relationships. Great, great. Great. That’s that’s that’s sad. Is that is that a perspective that goes so far from what we normally see. And what I’m asking in my mind is, how come we never see something like that emerging in? So many of these scenarios that happen on a daily basis across every organisation? Why are we so far away? Why do we always click on the same buttons? Even though we come to realise and feel frustrated that the outcome is always the same? What is actually missing out there? Federal we are locked in our worldview. When you start from the assumption, you see, we all know that we work for a company, right? But we are so locked in the metaphor of system that we come to work in a system which has processes and controls. We never think that we come to work in an organisation and we are organising and organising is an activity that requires communication in relationships. So we are locked in our metaphor, we are locked in with a worldview. And we hence we are not able to see. And this is fascinating because a lot of senior people in safety and risk took that trajectory took that direction, and it was so hard for them to understand the other side of it. Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m not suggesting for a minute that systems and controls are not important. They are there waiting for us to get org to organise. But the core purpose of an organisation is organising. And that seems to have lost in the metaphor of systems and controls and processes, and hierarchies and so on. But, but I’m just thinking back of something that you you, you you mentioned on a frequent basis, about when you point the finger. Keep in mind that there is at least another finger pointing in your direction. And in this case, I guess that As a for applies in the sense that I can easily picture any safety officer or safety supervisor approaching these two people and straight on pointing their finger at the one not wearing the safety boots. And just thinking how, perhaps judging that person even for being so lazy as to not wear their safety boots. But in fact, the safety supervisor would actually be the lazy one, for not taking the slightest effort to look beyond that pasture. The hardest thing in life, is that the case I don’t know bedre what the hardest thing in life is to look at your own self. And honestly, when I went through those comments, I also had a moment of realisation that how much I took for granted when I use the word relationship. And maybe I should have explained it better to say it’s not just the relationship between just those two people, but also an entire set of relationships, which works in the background, which is so important to understand. And we get to none of that if we go straight into systems. Yeah, yeah. Great. Great. I think that’s a really great punch line. Something for both of us. And keep in mind, and hopefully we can get this across better. Next time. Absolutely. There’s so much to think about from that video is. And yet, it was such a simple one. That’s right. Yes. minute and a half. And I thought I was done. But I wasn’t. It was just the beginning of something. Something much more insightful. Yes. Yeah. Thank you, Nippin. Sure. There’s lots to talk about. And we will get to a few other questions step by step. Sorry, Pedro, there was a few other questions. Would you like to look at them? I would, I would really like to answer those questions. So what I think in some way, we addressed that that’s why I jumped on, you seem to be saying that we should try to understand what is going on between so not stop at them for not being just the safety shoes? My we should look beyond that. Yeah, I mean, there was one other one was precisely the lazy assumption. Yes. And I think there was another another ethnocentric view there. If I’m not wrong, which was that? Which world do you live in? This never happens. In this country, for example, in the UK, or Europe or elsewhere, we never have this situation where people tend to work without personal protective equipment. And to an extent I can understand that. And if you really asked me, that was not the the purpose of what I was trying to say. It does not matter whether it’s it is somebody turning to work with missing protecting equipment, or somebody coming to work in a different set of clothes than you would expect, or working with a completely different set of tools than you think they should be working with. It is really about how we approach people who have a different set of ideology than us who have who believe in different myths and symbols, and metaphors, then us and how do you engage with them? So clearly, there are two people here, one of them who believes that no matter what we should always wear PPE, personal protective equipment, another person who believes that it’s situational. And let’s just forget about PPE for a minute, which is very difficult for many people and just try and concentrate on two different subcultures that are operating within that culture. And what can we learn about those differences by taking a relational approach rather than treating them as objects, treating just looking at their safety boots. So your starting point, if you are if you are working in an organisation, and looking at how people organise, the starting point is not to treat them as objects, but to look at their relationships. And I think we are repeating ourselves but I think sometimes repetition is needed to get the point to make the point because those questions kept coming back in one form or the other. And I want to able to just just have a moment to think, what is the essence of an organisation? Why do we organise? And what does it take to organise? I think it takes communication conversations and understanding and a common purpose. Especially more important when we’re starting to work in silos, when your goals and targets are different from mine, it’s very, very easy to get into that mindset of processes, controls and systems and forget the real essence of an organisation. Good point and Nippin i i think that touches upon the the puzzling elements behind all of those Commons is that it was all about the technical and the missing technical element. Whereas it could, could have been the boots or any and so many other things, which in fact, happen every day. And yet, we tend to approach them as on the same basis of assumptions and biases. Yeah, and I would just like to, by saying that, sorry, he was saying something. Go ahead, go ahead, go ahead. At the end of the day, it’s how we understand and embrace differences, which is what we what we always insist upon, is that, at the starting point, when you see something that is that is completely different from your worldview, is to engage with it, and not to try and control it. Engage with it, to understand it, because that realisation that you get from there from that those differences is the first step towards learning that you have after the conversation, you have come out to learn something you have learned something that you did not know before you started the conversation. But if you have already made up your mind that the problem is with the safety boots, then objects and system that needs to be controlled, then you’re getting nowhere at all. So that realisation is so important. When you spot differences, if you want to learn and progress. As an organisation, it’s good for business, it’s good for safety, it’s actually makes you much more risk, mature and culturally intelligent, better. I am Nippin, the founder of novellus. And you were listening to my podcast embracing differences. If I’ve made you think I have achieved my purpose, and I would love to hear your thoughts, especially if you don’t agree with me. There is no better way to learn than understanding and embracing our differences. If you do so in a respectful manner. My work is mainly focused on helping leaders becoming a little bit less sure about themselves a bit more curious, and organisations achieve cultural transformation. We at novellus facilitate a series of leadership and cultural programmes both online and in person on a weekly basis. If you want to learn more about my work, please visit our website novelist dot solutions. If you enjoyed this podcast and you want to learn more about our work at novellas you can also write to me at Nippin Anand at novellas dot solutions. Thank you for wanting to learn more than you knew yesterday. I wish you all the best