The Issue

Extraordinary power to bring about needed change lies in the "Middle" of organizations. Middle managers, i.e., everyone from the supervisor to the director/associate vice-president level in organizations are connected with both more senior managers and with those who produce the good and deliver the services of organizations. They are the eyes and ears of more senior management and they are the representatives and coordinators of shop floor employees. They possess an enormous amount of data about the systems they live in, and they often have profound insight regarding what needs to happen to improve the functioning of organizations. They are particularly well-informed regarding operational issues concerning the doing of work. They know what is needed by workers of all sorts to do their job better and in a more satisfactory way. They are also frequently the members of an organization who are most connected to the day-to-day needs and challenges faced by the organization's users, customers, suppliers and regulators.

Unfortunately, because Middles are typically separated and segregated from each other functionally and geographically, organizations rarely derive anything like the full benefit that could come from the pooling of their knowledge and insights. In fact, because Middles are typically dispersed away from each other by organizational life, they become stuck in silos - running back and forth between people who are above and below them - and distant from each other. So, instead of combining, coordinating and/or distilling what they know together, Middles are frequently at each others' throats and/or fundamentally uninvolved with each other.

One result of this systemic dynamic is that Middles are often seen as the weak link in organizations. They strike others as confused, unhelpful and incompetent. They are easy targets when organizations reduce their forces in part because others cannot determine what their value is. Ironically, many organizations that cut middle management layers end up having either having to rehire the same people they laid off (or recreate their positions) or hire expensive consultants to do work that Middles used to do.

The Program

Middle Power is a set of workshops, conceptual inputs and coaching activities designed to take advantage of the power of the Middle "space" in systems.

Global Consultants, Inc., for example, is a one and a half day program that includes:

a richly textured organizational simulation that engages participants in an experience that illustrates how Middles become disconnected from each other
group "sculpture" that dramatically portrays the difficulty of creating linkages between successful functional and well-focused managers
a case study of a middle manager who is a functional success but a group outcast
a set of concepts that highlight patterns of relationships between Middles and higher level executives that interfere with the ability of Middles to realize the full potential of their systemic position
an introduction to the idea of "Middle Integration," an antidote to the natural distance between managers that is created by organic systemic forces
peer consultation around some issue of importance to each participant

Ashland Chemical is one company that was very satisfied with the impact of Global Consultants Inc. on the functioning of its middle managers.

Other structured workshop, such as The System Time Out Process, also provide forums for the exploration of Middle issues and Middle power.

Many Middles have used New Context's individualized coaching to delve more deeply into specific issues that they might be confronting in their organizations and their careers. While the Fast Track Change Process, The Idea Factory and Facilitation for Results' are structured approaches for integrating the insight of a large group of middle managers around focused issues, New Context also provides customized consultation and facilitation to groups of managers working together on issues of joint importance, such as reorganizing reporting relationships.

*Middle Power is a copyrighted program of Power and Systems Training