Cynefin Review Part 7 – Finding Your Place on the Framework

Welcome to the final part in my Cynefin Review series. Let’s explore finding your place on the framework.

Now we have defined the dynamics at a high level of detail, it is time to find out where you and your organisation sits on the model for the problems that you face daily,

There is a simple workshop to determine the current state. What is really good about the workshop is that the current state arises from the exercise and problems are placed in categories.

The workshop is called “Four Point Contextualisation.”


Four Point Contextualisation

Stuff you need:

  • Lots of hexagonal post-its
  • An area to map / stick the post-its
  • Sharpies to write on the post-its
  • String, thread, ribbon, or some sort of flexible way to divide the post-its. (not drawn)

Participants start by brainstorming the current aspects of the day to day work. Each aspect or problem area is written on a separate hexagonal post-it.

Why hexagonal post-its?

Hexagonal Post-its are used because experience has been shown that participants will move them around much more freely than square ones. I found hexagonal post-its to be harder to remove from the pack without curling, as the stick is in the centre and not along one edge. This is mildly frustrating but does not take away from the exercise.

Running the exercise

After a time-box, participants are instructed to place the most extreme problems into the four corners of area you are using as a space to place the post-its.

Once all four corners are placed, the participants place the rest of the post-its / problems relative to the four corners.

Note: They are placed relatively with no concept of the Cynefin domain model.

Let the teams place items where they want.
Once a period of stability has been reached with the post-its, you can ask the participants to group the post-its according to the patterns that have formed on the board.

What you may find is that some are grouped around the corners, and others all over the place. What you are looking for is to group now into the Cynefin model and there are likely to be many in the dis-order domain in the centre.

Ask the participants to work through these, breaking them down into smaller items if there is contention about which domain they fit in. Smaller stories have less contention.

Once all the stories are mapped into a domain, you have a group think complexity model of where each of the problems, or states your organisation faces right now are. This can lead onto providing the right types of process for each type of problem, but that is not part of the exercise.

The purpose of this exercise is to ‘make sense’ of the organisation right now. It is a learning exercise.


Real time monitoring and mapping

Knowing where the problem and processes sit in terms of complexity is very useful. The above exercise gives a snapshot at a high level.

Now we want to monitor the organisation in relative real-time to see the dynamics.

We know that any measurement rapidly becomes gamed (apparently most metrics become useless within 9 months), as people learn to play the system to get what they want.

The Sense-Making framework from Cognitive Edge, seeks to remove this bias and gaming by using a combination of narrative and series of 3-point contextualization placement exercises.

It works like this:


Designing the triangles

Designing a set of triangles is the art of the process. The example on the Cognitive Edge website for Culture-Scan uses 6 triangles.

Individuals are then asked to write a short narrative that should take no longer than 5 minutes.

The individual then places that narrative on each of the 6 triangles.

On its own the placing is not important, however, the aggregate placing of the narratives gives groupings of how the organisation is feeling.

When clusters of these groupings are identified, this can be indicative of certain behaviours mapped into the different complexity domains.

By automating the process, we can try to map the organisation on key elements to places in the framework and set up alerts to warn us when we are close to a domain boundary, or when we come off the red line.

If we need to drill down into the clusters to understand them more deeply, we can read the narratives and the strength of feeling given by each participant.

This can give clues to the corrective environmental changes we need to make if clusters start to show unhealthy patterns, such as those which indicate behaviours that are far from the red line in the domain models.

Replacing your targets with vector metrics

Improvement is not made using numbers, but by determining what actions are required to create an environment that will move clusters to a different place on the triangles.

These vectors are how we influence the system.


Building influence and change through social networks

Building the right structure, team and network dynamics are key to being able to influence the system.
There is no point in having processes, structures, team sizes and other constraints that work very well in one domain, operating in the other. This framework can help us to change these constraints to better fit the problem and solution complexity domain.

Dave and the framework recommends the following team sizes for the different domains:

Chaos: <5
Complex: <15
Complicated: <150
Obvious: Can be bigger

Building trust networks is another technique we discussed on the course. Its purpose is to take people from different areas of the business and put them together to solve a problem.

These individuals will work on this problem for a period of time and build bonds with the others on the new team.

After the team has completed its purpose, the individuals can go back to their part of the organisation. The bonds between these people will exist for a period of time and will be strengthened with further interaction.

Learning more

 More on Cynefin


Finally, many thanks

  • Thank you to Dave Snowden for giving permission to use the slides and for edits.
  • Thank you to Liz Keogh for videos and edits.
  • Thank you to Shaun Smith for improvement suggestions.
  • Thank you Charley and Heather for distribution and proof reading.
  • Thank you to Dave S and Tony Q for a great course.

2 thoughts on “Cynefin Review Part 7 – Finding Your Place on the Framework”

  1. Pingback: Two new tools and how I’m finding them useful |

  2. Pingback: OyoMy | 2 nouveaux outils et pourquoi je les trouve utiles

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *