The Capacity for a Good Diagnosis

Without doubt, one of the most crucial capacities when it comes to institutional intelligence is the ability to get a good read on an organization and understand – be able to assess – what it is that is keeping this outfit from its potential.   To be able to answer the question:  what is the problem?   To be able to distinguish between the symptoms and the heart of the matter.   To be able to do a good diagnosis.   All institutions are somewhere on a continuum between dysfunction and health.   And we know that if an organization is going to flourish – to fulfil its mission effectively – it will need to consistently be moving towards a greater level of health.   Institutional Intelligence speaks of the value of identifying the point of “organizational drag” (see the conclusion).   In the same vein, consider this:   just as a doctor might take notes of a role range of symptoms, her genius is not so much in identifying the symptoms as rather coming to a conclusion about the root problem or issue.   Similarly, can we do an audit on our organization – by audit I mean not just the finances, but the whole of the institution – and get a read on what is happening and what it means and what is keeping us from flourishing, from being effective or, even if we are effective, from achieving our potential? 

We will always have problems.   That is a given.   But, can we make a good diagnosis?  If we get this wrong we ending up spending time and energy and money strategizing about the wrong thing.   We focus energy where it does not need to be focused; we spend money trying to fix things and only in retrospect realize that that was a bit of a waste.   We were not addressing the root problem. 

Getting a good diagnosis requires two things – well, no doubt more than two, but two in particular:   (1) knowing what, truly, is our mission and can we distinguish between means and ends with the mission defined in terms of the ends so that we do not confuse the mode of fulfilling the mission with the mission itself?  And, (2)  system thinking, the capacity to see the whole and, more, the interconnectedness of the whole.  This is crucial because all too frequently we might try to fix something and not see the potential ripple effects of the action or actions that we have taken.  Rather than solving a problem we create another problem; the cure is sometimes worse than the disease!   And, we are not focused on what we need to attend to.

Institutional Intelligence is the capacity to work effectively within organizations.