Manhattan Bridge under construction-1909

Talking about Teaming: The 7 Languages of Action

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As I try to get “team” better defined, one of the biggest problems I have — and one shared by Requisite Agility as a whole — is that people use words differently to talk about decisions about action. Teams, as I have started defining them, are all about doing something together, working to a purpose. How we talk about decisions about action — our action language determines how we talk about teams.

This was pretty evident in discussions at the RA unSymposium in 2019 February in New York. Different people, all experts, would argue, politely, not so much about what to do but about how to decide what to do. They couldn’t come to terms very easily because they seemed to be coming at the issue differently.

Luckily, Warren Kinston and Jimmy Algie can help us see things clearly.

I had the good fortune to work with Dr. Kinston in 2007 and 2008 on his startup to produce psycho-social tools using the Taxonomy of the Human Element in Endeavour (THEE). Unfortunately, this was 2007 and 2008, and while we were warned exactly how the financial collapse would happen by a couple of VC we met with in London during the run on Northern Rock, it became Warren’s only failed startup.

Warren is a polymath. He is a board-certified psychiatrist, founded two successful biotech firms in Australia, authored one of the important psychoanalytical articles on “Shame”, founded a successful consulting firm that worked with reorganizing the UK National Health Service, worked at BIOSS in Brunel University with Elliott Jaques and Ralph Rowbottom, and is generally the smartest person I’ve ever spoken with.

And I worked at Fermilab and two think tanks at the University of Chicago.

In a 1989 article in Systems Research (back when Systems Theory was transdisciplinary rather than its more mundane but profitable life today), Warren and Algie argued that there were seven distinct ways that people talked about deciding to act. They were building on Algie’s earlier work (1976) which had 6 modes, and Kinston’s ideas about purpose, and the ideas building out of BIOSS about the 7 levels of work. Both Kinston (in Strengthening the Management Culture) and Bernard Gotein & E.U. Bond (in “Modes of Effective Managerial Decision Making: Assessment of a Typology“) would separately build out the ideas, which Kinston would take even farther in THEE Online.

They believed that most of us had one dominant way of using words to talk about deciding and that these modes constrained us, even to the point that often it feels like the mode of deciding is talking rather than a person. You may also be able to handle two or three others, but some of them will simply feel unnatural. If you are strongly dominant in just one, the others will seem at best short-sighted but most of the time seem simply evil.

Over the next seven posts, I’ll show how each of the 7 decision making languages affect how we see teams, how we talk about them, and how we see their purpose.

Kinston, Warren and Jimmy Algie. 1989. “Seven Distinctive Paths of Decision and Action.” Systems Research, 6(2): 117-132.

Image credit: Manhattan Bridge under construction-1909. Library of Congress. Public Domain.

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