The Meaning of Models

I was asked to read a few articles for a dialog seminar with my friends at KnowIt in Göteborg.

The first one described the nine team roles of Belbin. It says some people behave like Shapers, or Resource Investigators, or Implementors, or Specialists, etc… I recognized myself in all of them, depending on the context. I sometimes have been a Monitor Evaluator and a Complete Finisher, but I can also be a Teamworker or a Co-ordinator. And on the terrible train ride to Göteborg yesterday I felt more like a Plant. Are these categories of behaviors supposed to mean anything for me? I can’t decide.

5dysfunctionsThe next document described the five dysfunctions of a team. It depicts a hierarchical model of organizational behaviors. At the bottom it all starts with Trust, followed by Conflict. On the way to the top we find Commitment and Accountability, ultimately culminating in Results. But I could agree to any order of these. Why does trust come before results? I trust people more after they deliver results. And why does accountability depend on commitment? I feel more committed when others have shown accountability. Am I living in an upside-down world? I don’t know.

There were several other documents with boxes and arrows, definitions and categories, quadrants and matrices, circles and pyramids, and they didn’t mean much to me.

I’m a bit tired of such models, I noticed.

I’ve probably seen too many.

ValvehandbookBut then I read Valve’s Handbook for New Employees. I liked this document much better! It had stories, illustrations, and metaphors. And humor! For me it made much more sense than any amount of boxes and arrows. The handbook perfectly illustrates what kinds of behaviors the people at Valve need from their employees, without putting them in boxes. It explains how trust and results go hand in hand. And no pyramids anywhere!

And the handbook was created by the people themselves.

I could see that it means a lot to them.


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  • Flavius Stef

    From what you describe, models actually helped. They helped you reason about teams. Obviously, as with all abstractions (“all is wrong but some is useful”, right?), they can only cover a small percentage of real life situations. Sometimes you do need to start with the results.
    The main benefit I see is that models structure discussions and provide a common frame of reference, thus improving clarity and efficiency. I loved the Valve concept, but in the end I did not have the patience to read it all. A simplified model would have helped me.

  • Lynn Ferguson-Pinet

    Models are just a starting point. They allow you to have a construct to work with, but as you pointed out it needs to be evaluated based on the situation. I do believe in the use of models but as thought starters not the definitive answer to anything.
    Thanks for the post.

  • Maxim Krizhanovsky

    The trust is in the bottom, because team can’t deliver results if the members do not trust each other. Of course, trust is builded with time, and delivering results helps improving trust. It’s a positive feedback loop. But accountability is after commitment because you can’t hold someone accountable to what he never commit. You’ll just won’t get results without commitment and accountability does not make sense. Again, it’s a positive feedback loop and holding someone accountable actually can improve the commitment, so I don’t see the 5 disfunction’s as a pyramid, but as a web with circular connections.
    But, as you’ve said a lot of times, all models are wrong, but some are useful. So don’t blame the authors for putting the disfunctions in a pyramid, they might be wrong, but the model can still be useful 🙂

  • Consultant erp

    What type of model you need to ask.

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