Four Ways of Working™ as Generic Cultural Norms

Michael Hammer states that, “Most companies today – no matter what business they are in, how technologically sophisticated their product or service, or what their national origin – can trace their work styles and organizational roots back to the prototypical pin factory that Adam Smith described in The Wealth of Nations, published in 1776.” This new way of working was based on the principle of dividing an enterprise-wide business process of making pins into specialized workers who each performed a single step in the pin-making process. This kind of division of labor (fragmentation of work) into separate tasks increased the productivity of pin makers by a factor of hundreds. Over time, work was broken into smaller and smaller pieces, with groups of people who performed similar functions. Not surprisingly, workers who were successful at performing a given function were natural drawn to these tasks because they had the skills, preferences, and natural talents needed to perform that kind of work. The success created by Adam Smith’s insight powerfully shaped and reinforced this way of doing work in companies, and the roles of individual workers in accomplishing that work. Functional groupings have become collective ways of working that form the organizational design in most modern corporations. In fact, the practice of designing organizations around similar functions has been so engrained into our global culture that most people have never worked in an organization that wasn’t structured around functions. Consequently, many managers and staff members mistakenly believe that organizational structure and organizational functions are synonymous – but they’re not.

An organizationis a structure for grouping people and other resources to achieve a common purpose, goals, and objectives. A function is a field (a discipline or kind of work) that involves similar professional skills and tools. These functions are often concentrated into departments, e.g. the Research and Development department (R&D), Marketing and Sales (M&S), Production (Prod), Business Services (BS), and the Shipping and Receiving departments (S&R). These are pejoratively called, “functional silos” – vertically oriented structures through which business processes flow horizontally. Organizational functions have their own vocabulary and acronyms and often work-group members view themselves as members of that sub-group, not part of the overall organization, e.g. “I’m in the Accounting or Sales Department.” In some extreme cases, lines of communication between these different functions break down and people squander enormous amounts of time and energy on toxic interpersonal or inter-departmental conflicts rather than doing productive work. Over time, “we versus they” thinking solidifies as one organization optimizes its own performance at the expense of other functions and ultimately the overall organization.

Our modern concept of how work is done in 21st Century corporations is the result of: a) grouping similar kinds of work, professional skills, tools and disciplinary paradigms, and b) populating them with people that have similar cognitive preferences, work styles, interests, talents, and personality types. After more than 200 years, organizational functions have solidified into well-defined generic cultural norms that represent four different (contradictory) philosophies for how to accomplish work and to improve organizational performance. The Breckenridge Institute® calls them the Four Ways of Working™ which are defined below.

Type 1: Production (What Things Get Done)

Type 1 (Production) focuses on execution and what gets done in an organization. When an organization manifests the Type 1 (Production) way of working, they believe that decisive actions, practical solutions to problems, and a short-term focus on clear, tangible goals will result in improved performance. They have a take-charge attitude, are forceful and direct in getting things done, making decisions and get directly involved in day-to-day operations, focusing on implementing the organization’s goals and objectives through the teams and individuals in organizational units. They exhibit the following characteristics:

  • Top managers can make tough choices and have the determination and resolve to persevere in achieving the organization’s goals and objectives, even in the face of challenges and obstacles.
  • The number of approvals needed to make decisions is kept to a minimum to expedite the decision-making process and the number of managerial layers has been purposefully designed to achieve the organization’s goals and objectives.
  • Decisions have a bias toward action and producing practical solutions (issues don’t get “studied to death”), meetings are action-oriented and result in task assignments, due dates, milestones, deliverables, and follow-up. Managers only support decisions that implement or accelerate achieving the goals and objectives outlined in the organization’s strategic plan.

  • Work assignments and goals are clearly defined and communicated (milestones and deliverables are understood), lines of authority for reporting and decision-making are clearly defined and focus on achieving results. Roles, responsibilities, and authorities are clearly defined to eliminate confusion about who does what.
  • The communication style is open and direct (people go directly to others to discuss problems, rather than involving others and feeding the “grapevine”) and all employees are free to present the unvarnished truth about organizational matters without fear of retribution.

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Mark Bodnarczuk will be speaking at the 5th Convergence Conference presented by in March 6-8, 2008. Go to for details.
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Culture Corner

“Strategy is an important tool that executives use to make their world more manageable. It contains a core set of ideas about how to define the business and how to define success.”

Chris Argyris


Business Systems Integrator™ (BSI™)

Studies have shown that 85% or more of the root causes of performance problems are in a company’s structures, systems, and culture, so the seamless integration of business systems is a key element of organizational culture and change. Over time, IT systems, spreadsheets, business processes, documentation, and training become fragmented, disconnected and squander enormous amounts of time, energy, and resources. The Breckenridge Institute’s Business Systems Integrator™ (BSI™) helps identify overly complex systems that frustrate and undermine business performance and create an Invisible Bureaucracy™ of barriers between work-groups and functional units. Our unique approach to Change Management creates a high-performance culture by focusing on both the “hard” technical side of business systems integration, and the “soft” cultural side, using a simple three-step process of: a) identifying all business systems and evaluating their current level of performance, b) reconfiguring and seamlessly integrating them on an enterprise-wide platform, and c) migrating them back to autopilot operations that produce the desired results.

Because it can be used across an entire organization or in work-groups and functional units, the BSI™ can be used by top managers or middle managers to seamlessly integrate:

  • IT Systems (COTS and Shadow Systems)
  • Paper Systems (Spreadsheets)
  • Operating Plans, Goals, and Budgets
  • Customer Feedback
  • Enterprise-Wide Business Processes
  • Project Management and Work Flow
  • Document Library (Policies, Procedures)
  • Orientation and Training
  • Compliance Systems

Contact Elin Larson at for details.


What We’re Reading

Chris Argyris, Overcoming Organizational Defenses

You’ll know a consultant and the extent to which the advice they give you is flawed by the underlying theoretical models that their advice is based on. So argues Chris Argyris in his powerful and eye-opening book, Flawed Advice and the Management Trap.” Argyris analyzes representative examples of over 100 books and myriad articles published by the world’s most respected business gurus, and then uses his own theoretical model (theory of action) to evaluate the advice they give readers. His study includes the likes of Stephen Covey, John Kotter, Jon Katzenback, Peter Drucker and other business-literature experts. He concludes that much of the advice given by these authors is appealing and even compelling, but most of it is not actionable. In other words, even if a manager could fully implement the advice these business luminaries give them, the resulting corrective actions would not lead to the kind of positive change and sustainable improvement that the authors claim it would.

Argyris concludes that, “Since thoughtful and well-intentioned advice givers do not intentionally offer counsel that is full of gaps and inconsistencies, there must be something in the frameworks on which they rely that makes them unaware of these problems – as well as unaware that they are unaware.” Here are four criteria that the Breckenridge Institute® staff has distilled from this groundbreaking book that managers can use to evaluate and judge the degree to which corrective actions proposed by external consulting firms or internal consultants will actually lead to long-term, sustainable, positive change in their organizations.