The Four Flawed Mental Models Of Organizations: Mental Model #3
Derek & Laura Cabrera
Derek Cabrera (Ph.D., Cornell) is an internationally known systems scientist and serves on the faculty of Cornell University where he teaches systems thinking, systems leadership, and systems mapping and is Program Director for the Graduate Certification Program in Systems Thinking, Modeling, and Leadership (STML). He is a senior scientist at Cabrera Research Lab. Laura Cabrera (B.S., M.P.A, & PhD, Cornell) currently teaches Systems Thinking and Modeling and Systems Leadership at Cornell University at the Institute for Policy Affairs. She is also a senior researcher at the Cabrera Research Lab. Over the past decade, Cabrera has applied her expertise in research methods and translational research to increase public understanding, practical application, and dissemination of sophisticated systems science and systems thinking models.
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This post is an excerpt from Flock Not Clock: Chapter 1.
Flawed Mental Model 3: Control
Next (in the traditional model), we need a control structure. We need processes because we need to make sure that we understand every single step of a process that has not happened yet and that will constantly be changing.
The ideal structure for this doesn’t exist, so we will repurpose our favorite structure of all time: the org chart. Simply turn it on its side and voila—the flow chart. Excellent! An org chart is really just a “tree” network. It follows a pretty typical pattern of branching where there is a trunk (inverted) at the top (CEO) that leads to the main branches (VPs, directors, etc.), which in turn branch down into the next level of hierarchy, and so on.
Figure 1.11: Flow chart
We love tree-like charts because we love hierarchies. They make us feel safe. They make us feel like we are in control. They get us. We can’t quit them. We love our trees so much that when it comes time to get down to action steps, we head straight for our go-to diagram—the org chart. Org charts make us feel in command of the troops and flow charts make us feel in control of processes. We like to feel in control, even if we are not. Again, we should be clear that org charts or flowcharts are not the enemy. Our concern is with mental models that are out of alignment with reality. Our experience shows that org charts and flowcharts are two of the most popular ways that we incorporate faulty mental models into our organizations. We used a flow chart last week, and not too long ago we used an org chart. The difference was that it was an appropriate use. In the case of the process, it was a very simple, linear process that followed four sequential steps. That’s a perfect place for a tree-like flow chart. For simple linear processes, a linear process diagram is a perfectly fine choice.