Do Your Organizational Dynamics Determine Your Operational Success?

By Meredy DeBorde

Literally hundreds of books on as many topics line the shelves of the business management sections in your local bookstores and libraries. Boost Productivity! Increase Your Profit Margins! Manage Your Inventory! Eliminate Inefficiencies! So many topics command your attention; how do you choose where to begin in chipping away at the barriers preventing you from gaining a true competitive edge in your market?

In the October 2005 issue of The O&P EDGE we addressed the topic of "Leadership vs. Management," as defined by O&P practitioners and business owners. Ultimately it was determined that leadership provides a mission, a plan, or a pathway for those who follow; while management provides the structure, policies, and procedures by which to accomplish the mission. Although these definitive descriptions emerged, it must be duly noted that as with many things in life, sometimes the two find themselves sharing a common gray area.

We approached this next article in the business series with a focus on organizational dynamics (OD), recognizing that there are many factors that affect the dynamics of a group or organization, such as leadership and management styles, the number of employees, whether it is family-owned versus publicly traded, the geographic location as well as the employable population in the area, etc. Through the participation of a panel of industry professionals, we only begin to skim the surface by touching on a few major factors affecting organizational dynamics in the O&P industry.

Organizational Dynamics Defined

An organization is defined as a group of two or more individuals who work together to accomplish something that typically cannot be accomplished alone. OD is described as how people function together to accomplish a task. The level of operational success is said to be determined by the behavioral nature of organizations--individuals' roles, interpersonal relations, and group dynamics, and how they all react when brought together.

Today's businesses face perhaps some of the most difficult challenges with regard to social responsibility, economic fluctuation, government regulation, and global competition. Add to these the challenge of integrating the ever-changing personality of what is being called by business experts the most diverse workforce in our nation's history, and the picture of the future looks even more interesting. Segment the O&P industry from other businesses and you can begin to see an even greater number of complexities.

For example, when the question is posed to O&P marketers to define those who make up the O&P market, there is a plethora of varying responses. A clear-cut definition of the average practitioner seems to remain ever elusive, making hiring, managing, and retaining this individual as an employee a constant work in progress, not to mention the difficulties that exist in marketing to him. Understanding the dynamics of a group helps to achieve a successful outcome.

Leadership: A Social Function


1) The first dysfunction is an absence of trust among team members. Essentially, this stems from their unwillingness to be genuinely open with one another, making it impossible to build a foundation of trust.

2) This failure to build trust is damaging because it sets the tone for the second dysfunction: fear of conflict. Teams that lack trust are incapable of engaging in unfiltered passionate debate, resulting in guarded comments.

3) A lack of healthy conflict is a problem because it ensures the third dysfunction: lack of commitment. Without airing opinions in the course of open debate, team members rarely or never buy-in and commit to decisions.

4) This lack of buy-in creates an avoidance of accountability. If there is no commitment to a clear plan of action, even the most focused people will hesitate to call their peers on counterproductive behavior.

5) Failure to hold one another accountable creates an environment where the fifth dysfunction can thrive. Inattention to results occurs when team members put their individual or division needs above the collective goals of the organization.

And so, like a chain with just one link broken, teamwork deteriorates if even a single dysfunction is allowed to flourish.

* References taken from The 5 Dysfunctions of a Team--A Leadership Fable by Patrick Lencioni.

According to Peter F. Drucker, one of the most cited authors on the topics of leadership and management, the essence of leaders and managers is to motivate others toward productivity. In Drucker's words, "Management and leadership are social functions." You heard right: social functions.

To lead effectively in today's business environment means to understand your organizational dynamics (how your people get along); to understand your OD requires a little sociology, a little psychology, and a lot of talking. You need to be sociable; you need to find the people-person in you. For more info on assessing your organization's dynamics see the downloadable pdf provided.

One hundred percent of our panel of industry professionals responded that within their organizations, the ability to create a positive dynamic and manage change within the organization was dependent upon their ability to successfully deliver communication from the top down, as well as laterally.

Sounds simple enough, right? Not necessarily. Not every organization is successful in communicating its mission and objectives, and an organization with a flawless OD is most likely nonexistent.

Perception thus becomes the perceiver's reality. A business leader may well think he has successfully communicated a mission to his employees as they attentively nod along during a state-of-the-business address or strategic-planning meeting, but often what has actually happened is a reaction to legitimate power. Legitimate power, as defined in a number of management textbooks, is the influence one holds simply due to his official position of authority or rank.

It is important to remember that just simply holding a position of leadership doesn't make you a leader, any more than having the ability to speak makes you a good communicator.

Evaluate the Process

So, as a leader, how do you know if your organization truly comprehends your message or is simply responding as fearful subordinates? Ninety percent of the industry panel reported that they measure and evaluate successful leadership and communication by the ability of employees to interpret the communication and carry out the mission through productive teamwork.

Here is a tool you can use to test the functionality of your team as you observe your organization's dynamic in action. This test comes from a book titled The 5 Dysfunctions of a Team--A Leadership Fable by Patrick Lencioni, which addresses the five main dysfunctions of organizations today.

Does this leave you scratching your head and begging the answer to this next question, "I understand that these dysfunctions exist, but why? Where do they come from? Certainly leadership and the failure to successfully communicate are not the only culprits?"

Of course, leadership and communication styles are not the only determining factors for a dysfunctional team. But in order to address the dysfunction, you must understand all of the intricacies of the team, and realize that part of the responsibility for goal achievement falls on the shoulders of your employees to understand your objectives, have a willingness to work cohesively toward a common goal, and to accept change.

Identifying Change Agents

While technological advances and the needs of the end-user ultimately determine the pace of change in the O&P industry, many of our industry professionals acknowledged that they have witnessed a resistance to change in manufacturing and among practitioners. If change is truly inevitable, how do you manage it successfully? Bring on the Change Agents! If you employ them you are likely to stay on the cutting edge, if you market to them you are likely to gain the confidence of an influential buying group in your market, both of which gain you a competitive advantage.

According to Liz Nickels, author of The Change Agents--Decoding the New Workforce and the New Workplace, "The digital revolution has caused a bigger shift in society than the industrial revolution" which consequently resulted in a huge impact on organizational behavior. We are seeing greater numbers of transient employees. About this Nickels wrote, "The new-age employees in big business automatically expect that they will get top dollar, the latest technology, a beautiful office, their opinions will count as much as the bosses', and they will not take no' for an answer." She explains that because this generation was the first to grow up using an influx of inexpensive Japanese electronics, they embraced technology and change rather than fearing it.

Nickels continued, "These employees know they can get another job immediately, and they don't worry' about losing one. Even in a down market that has everyone else worried. They still don't worry. They know they can walk into just about anywhere and present a good value proposition for them to be working there, and they will be hired immediately."

That's just youthful arrogance, you say? According to experts on the subject, it goes much deeper than that.

Researchers suggest this group of new-age employees claims to have no mentors--in fact, Nickels says they wouldn't sit still for it. According to the Gen Y2K Study, published in Nickels' book, one quarter of 16-34 year-olds believe they could run a business tomorrow, a statistic that shows them as being twice as ambitious as 35-50 year-olds. Nickels dubbed these youngsters as the Change Agents, claiming that every generation or period in time has them--requires them, in fact.

Ask any marketer in O&P, and they will tell you about the importance of Change Agents. Change Agents are defined as being the early adopters--the first on the block to try what's new. Sociologists came up with these questions to help marketers segment the population psychographically, identifying early adopters:

  1. Do people come to you for advice on new products?
  2. Do you like to buy new things even if they aren't proven?
  3. Do you belong to two or more social groups (clubs, church, book discussion, sports, etc.)?
  4. Do you generally like new ideas?
  5. Are you flexible in your daily life?
  6. Are you comfortable giving opinions to others?
  7. Do you feel you have more friends than the average person?

If you answer "yes" to five or more questions, you qualify as an early adopter or Change Agent. Imagine using this questionnaire in a job interview to target the hiring of early adopters when teambuilding; or for you marketers, imagine using it in customer focus groups.

Nickels concluded by writing, "Change Agents are the water-testers, the temperature-takers for the rest of us--in hyperdrive. We watch while they surge at warp speed over the chasm to--what?--on the other side. And, when they make it, we're right behind them. Maybe a few paces back, but there."

And this brings up another burning question in your mind: "If these so-called Change Agents are driving my market and/or driving the diversity in my workforce, how do I know I can trust where these young guns are taking me?"

Managing Generational Diversification

Perhaps the most notable point to be made by everyone on the industry panel is that at the heart of everything in our organizations are the people. And, all respondents commented on the importance of finding value in a diverse workforce ranging from industry veterans to new college graduates brimming with youthful enthusiasm.

In the book titled, When Generations Collide, by Lynne C. Lancaster and David Stillman, they wrote, "Generational differences is one of the fundamental reasons American companies are experiencing hiring challenges, skyrocketing turnover rates, increasing communication conundrums, and plummeting morale. Clashes among Traditionalists, Baby Boomers, Generation Xers, and Millennials at work could take a direct toll on the bottom line."

The authors state that generation gaps at work are of perhaps the greatest strategic importance today for leaders to address, because we are seeing for the first time in US history four generations facing off across the conference room table.

Through the Bridge-Works Generations Survey, a large-scale web-based survey conducted in 2000-2001, Lancaster and Stillman acknowledge that each generation holds its own set of values, beliefs, experiences, and attitudes that shape their behaviors at work.

You say you still don't get why this matters? Let's take a closer look at what happens when generations collide at work.

According to Lancaster and Stillman's research, "The ramifications include everything from reduced profitability to the loss of valuable employees, higher payroll costs, poor customer service, derailed careers, wasted human potential, and even potentially serious health problems caused by stress. Corporate cultures are being shaken to the very core as the cost of human capital spirals ever upward." Lancaster and Stillman believe that employers and employees ignore the differences between generations as a factor that determines OD because we believe that regardless of our age we all face the same life stages. But the mistake is made in assuming that every generation handles the life stages in the same manner.

According to the authors, each generation has its own generational personality that is shaped by the events and conditions we experience in our formative years. This shared common history is what shapes how we see the world and how we relate to it. Icons are people, places, or things that become reference points for a generation, such as the assassination of a president, or the crashing of planes into the World Trade Center. Conditions are the forces at work in the environment as each generation comes of age, such as growing up in the breadlines during the Great Depression or being raised in a single-parent family.

Review this table of the four generations that make up our dynamic workforce today, as identified and defined by Lancaster and Stillman's research.

Traditionalist (1900-1945)
75 million

  • Grew up during two world wars
  • Learned to do without
  • Experienced the breadlines
  • Hardworking and patriotic
  • Learned to value teamwork
  • Military-style management
  • Chain-of-Command attitude
  • One-word description-Loyal

Baby Boomers (1946-1964)
80 million

  • Grew up during Watergate and Vietnam
  • Learned to distrust government
  • Experienced targeted consumerism
  • Competitive and idealistic
  • Learned to be the Me-generation
  • Interpersonal-style management
  • Change-of-Command attitude
  • One-word description-Optimistic

Generation Xers (1965-1980)
46 million

  • Grew up in triple divorce rates
  • Learned to count on themselves
  • Experienced tabloid exposure of heroes
  • Independent and resourceful
  • Learned to be self-reliant
  • Entrepreneurial management style (dot com)
  • Self-Command attitude
  • One-word description-Skeptical

Millennials (1981-1999)
76 million

  • Grew up during a technology boom
  • Learned to value wisdom from elders
  • Experienced violence in schools/streets
  • Positive, pragmatic, next Greatest Generation
  • Learned to accept diversity
  • Empowerment management style
  • Don't Command-Collaborate attitude
  • One-word description-Realistic

To this list of generations we must add a fifth category for consideration in our diverse workforce. Lancaster and Stillman call this group the Cuspers . The Cuspers are individuals who find themselves in between two generations. This group may often personally feel as though they don't belong, like they are drifters in the workplace. The research conducted by Lancaster and Stillman shows that Cuspers fill incredibly important roles and may well be one of the most important assets corporate America has access to today. "Because Cuspers find themselves standing in the gap between two sides, they become naturals at mediating, translating, and mentoring. Whether designing a career path, conducting a performance review, or giving day-to-day feedback, the innate understanding of more than one generation makes Cusper managers both efficient and effective." Workplaces need to embrace the abilities of Cuspers, as they are valuable in strategizing how to recruit and retain, as well as spotting marketplace and workplace trends that are going to explode in the next generation. Cuspers have an innate ability to understand things that others have to work hard to understand, which makes them easy to talk to and good listeners. According to Lancaster and Stillman, "They are the only ones who can wear the clothes and use the language of more than one generation and not look dumb!"

The results of the web-based survey are important to all business leaders today, but especially to business leaders in O&P as we look at changes within our industry, as we see new generations of practitioners, marketers, and amputees.


Having this fundamental understanding of leadership, power, communication, and the dynamics of your employee base may well help you apply strategies that not only prevent dysfunctional behavior and generational collisions in your organizations, but also allow you to become the best communicator and leader you can be. Forming a basis for understanding human behavior certainly contributes to successful implementation of goals and objectives, however uncomfortable it may be to practice a little psychology or sociology in viewing leadership as a social function. The ultimate driving force in OD among the professionals polled for this article was that we must always follow the Golden Rule, remembering back to when we were not the leaders and someone else was in charge: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. How could this not contribute favorably to your operational success and bottom line?

Notable Quotes on Organizational Dynamics

Jim Andreassen, president, OPGA, Waterloo, Iowa, on change: "We communicate the reason for change, the direction and goals...making sure everyone in the organization understands the vision of where the company is going and why. We make them a part of the plan so they assume ownership.We explain that change is necessary to remain competitive and be profitable. Meeting the demands placed upon people during change requires managing job pressure for yourself and others. Laugh a little. People who have fun at work are more productive and less anxious during change."

C. Rudolph Becker IV, vice president of sales and marketing, Becker Orthopedic, Troy, Michigan, on recruiting: "The thing that has the greatest impact on our corporate dynamic is the quality of people we hire and retain at Becker Orthopedic. We have great confidence in all levels of management and our workforce. We actively seek their opinions and feel the person doing a particular job, in most cases, knows the most about that particular job."

Craig MacKenzie, CP, RTP (c), owner, Velocity Labs Inc., Orlando, Florida, on inclusion: "It's my belief that if an organization is allowed to split up into smaller groups, the workplace can become an us against them' situation. I have been employed at places that have allowed that to happen. The wall between technical and clinical is not just physical at these companies. Technicians or manufacturing staff are referred to as the guys in the back.' A separation like this is never good. Manufacturing needs to understand the important roles of the people in other groups and vice versa. When everyone understands the importance of every position in the company, decisions made by any area are more readily adopted."

Maynard Carkhuff, president and COO, Freedom Innovations, Irvine, California, on individuality: "Internally, each team member has a unique competitive edge and innate need to excel in their personalities. These qualities press the company to continually reevaluate all that we do, so that we will be better next year in everything we do. Interestingly, these traits that make us want to do it all' create a dynamic tension in the organization as we must focus resources on the key issues. We understand that while we would still like to tackle other issues, for us to succeed, we must focus on the key critical success factors in our business-and our customer is always central to this concept."

Andrew Meyers, president and CEO, Langer Inc., Deer Park, New York, on culture: "The value of leadership is sometimes misunderstood and undervalued. People should spend more time thinking about it. Too many times people do not understand how leadership styles can impact a corporate culture. We all make mistakes-we have to take an introspective view and evaluate why something didn't work. In order to have successful leadership, leaders must earn respect, not demand it. They must also live the culture and values of the organization; if the employees see otherwise, you won't get the buy-in needed for success."

Meredy DeBorde holds a bachelors degree in organizational behavior and human resources from the McGregor School of Antioch University. She has worked in the industry since 1999 in public relations and advertising for a manufacturer, and now as the director of sales and marketing for The O&P EDGE.