Top critical review
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A compendium of established ideas that is more traditional than transformational
on August 22, 2010
Leading outside the lines from Jon Katzenbach and Zia Khan (K&K) provides a comprehensive guide to current thinking about the operational aspects of culture and informal systems. The book is based on Katzenbach and Khan's personal work and selected published research and case studies. It provides a well written overview of thoughts and practices for working the informal aspects of your organization.
Overall the book is good as it reflects the state of the practice, particularly thinking before 2005 and the advent of social media. The book is recommended for students of social and cultural subjects, so if you like to reach about change management, systems thinning (ala Senge) and the like, then this book would be a welcome addition to your reading. Corporate executives, HR professionals and people who study leadership will also find benefits from this book as it provides a helpful advice that is consistent with their understanding of the enterprise.
Unfortunately, readers looking to understand how to manage the informal systems of the future will find his book limited as it is based on the world prior to social media. That is the reason behind the three star reviews and ultimately why I believe that this book has greater applicability for niche groups rather than general managers.
The book provides clear advice and an explanation of informal systems. It is a practioner's view, rather than a sociologist's view, which is welcome.
The examples and case studies for each of the major points, which help the reader, understand the recommendations in action.
The openness to use research, insights and publications of others like Peter Drucker. This gives the book a solid research base and helps the reader understand the state of the practice.
The book does a good job of avoiding becoming a commercial for the author's consulting organization and practice.
Although published in 2010, the book discusses a world before the adoption and application of social media to informal structures. This limits the book's support for people looking to use informal/social technologies to support social systems. This is a significant challenge.
The book is repetitive about the differences between the formal and informal and a bit dogmatic regarding the weaknesses and limitations of formal organizations. It is understandable that the authors would downplay formal systems, but the treatment and sometime dismissal of formal systems limits the applicability of the advice in the book.
The examples and advice, while helpful, have an unusual bias - the proactive actions of leaders and their use of top-down authority to influence informal systems. The authors seem to imply, but never state that top-down activities - a formal system - can manage the informal system. This may be due in part of the term 'leadership' in the title, but their is a undercurrent throughout the book that informal systems are uninformed, lack direction and are just waiting to be led by someone in a position of authority.
Some of the advice is more common knowledge than interesting insight. The case examples involve insights such as asking for volunteers, clear communication, active participation, etc. These are things that leaders know and have traditionally associated with formal systems. So not much new news here.