The book How the Way We Talk Can Change the Way We Work by Robert Kegan and Lisa Laskow Lahey caught my interest recently. Chapter Six is about moving “From the Language of Rules and Policies to the Language of Public Agreement“. The table below outlines the differences between these languages and is a summary of page 118. There’s a fundamental difference between following rules and honoring agreements. The nuanced difference between rules and agreements sets them worlds apart for me. Rules are externally-focused. Agreements are internal because they are directly linked to will. Agreements become the glue that ties commitment to results. I think there’s a limit on how far you can go in trying to direct people’s behavior with rules. People withdraw their engagement when too many rules and regulations are used to keep them in check. I much prefer the language of agreements.
|Language of Rules & Policies||Language of Public Agreement|
|Intended to create order (from the top down, or the outside in)||Intended to create organizational integrity (institutional fairness, attentiveness, and competence from within)|
|Institutionalized in written manuals or through implicit norms||Shared understanding of their meaning and an experience of co-owning|
|Frequently discussed only after there is a violation||Created before violation to establish a shared understanding and reference point|
|Violations are ignored or treated privately and as a matter of adjudication for problem elimination||Violations are treatable publicly as a resource for personal and organizational learning|
|Multiple interpretations frequently exist||Common understanding of the agreements themselves and their purpose|
|Creates a social vehicle for leaders or authorities to correct boundary transgressions||Creates a social vehicle for peers to correct boundary transgressions|
|“Corrected” individuals experience the organization’s ability to control behavior||“Corrected” individuals experience the organization’s integrity|
|Non-transformational; shapes behavior, not new meanings||Transformational for both the individual and the organization|
Self-organization is the real operating system
Emergence is simply what life does
Empowerment is a red herring
Pre-conditions for self-organization
What is a policy?
What if the organization is a living system?
Facilitating an Open Space
How to enable and sustain self-organization
TEDxTalk on Open Space Technology