Six Sigma and more:
An integral approach
The work of Ken Wilber provides the meta-framework for the work my wife, Carole, our friend, John Kesler, and our daughter, Lisa Connors, are doing with communities these days. As I thought about this month's column, I thought the broader perspective of an integral approach might provide some useful insights into our Six Sigma efforts.
Wilber's framework, among other things, organizes
"everything" (his somewhat tongue in cheek assessment of the scope
of his work) into four quadrants. If we were to use this framework
to look at an organization, the upper left quadrant would focus
on the internal dimensions of its individual members. The upper
right quadrant would focus on an external view or the physical dimensions
of the parts of the organization. Shorthand for that quadrant would
be assets. The lower left quadrant would focus on the internal dimensions
of the collective; we could use the shorthand of culture for this
one. The lower right quadrant would focus on the physical dimensions
of the collective. This final quadrant is the realm of systems and
systems approaches (e.g., Six Sigma).
Wilber believes that progress and balance along the developmental paths of these four quadrants lead to health, peace, wealth, knowledge, and all things good. Conversely, he believes that imbalance leads to dysfunction. Let's examine some of those developmental paths as they might apply to Six Sigma. Please note that the examples I am describing barely scratch the surface in terms of possibilities.
One path of progress in the upper left quadrant is Maslow's hierarchy. Another would be a path from "me first" to an embrace of all humanity or even all sentient beings. The upper right quadrant describes development along a path of employing ever more sophisticated equipment, tools, infrastructure, and methods.
One developmental path in the cultural quadrant describes how groups evolve from a win-lose, internally competitive orientation toward a shared set of common values among all stakeholders. The lower right quadrant describes systems, structures and processes (e.g., Six Sigma) or how organizations have evolved from foraging to informational and beyond. Next, let's discuss how this model might be helpful to your Six Sigma effort.
As I said earlier, dysfunction usually results from imbalance or lack of progression along the developmental paths in and among the four quadrants. For example, if the individuals in your organization have been accustomed to obeying the rules, and your Six Sigma effort requires creativity, innovation, and other "rule breaking" behavior, the innovation you want will be slow in coming unless you directly address the existing world view held by your employees. This will take more than a simple admonition to be creative.
If your organization's culture values and rewards internal win-lose competition, someone will lose, sub optimization will occur, and the results you desire will fall far short of what could be achieved with a culture of higher-order internal cooperation. Imbalance can also occur within the individual, external quadrant. If the physical hardware and software you use don't match the intent of your Six Sigma effort, dysfunction will result.
In the real world, of course, we don't live in quadrants.
Anything in life actually shows up in all quadrants. Take Dr. Deming's
admonition in his 14 Obligations of Management that we should drive
fear out of our organizations. Fear is, of course, an individual's
internal (upper left quadrant) response to real or perceived threat.
It often shows up, as we all know, in flight, fighting, or freezing
behaviors. Fear and its accompanying behaviors are often a result
of competitive cultures (lower left quadrant), and reinforced by
systems and structures (lower right quadrant), such as performance
Wilber also reminds us of two other real world considerations.
First, we, as human beings, find it difficult to move to a next
level of development. We frequently cannot even understand that
a next level of development exists without feeling real trauma from
being in our existing level of development. Therefore, seeking development
and balance is not easy work. Furthermore, individuals are spread
out all along any of the developmental paths. Dr. Deming called
that variation. As Six Sigma professionals, we know that intellectually.
We must acknowledge it and act as if it is true in practice.
As I hope you can see, Wilber's framework offers a way to more completely understand what is happening in your organization's Six Sigma effort and to identify where work needs to be done. Try it out with some issue you're currently facing in your workplace. If you want to know about Ken Wilber's view of "everything," just Google him. He has produced an amazing body of literature. Or just contact me, and we'll talk.
As always, I welcome your comments and questions.
I'm at email@example.com
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