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Insights and Learnings offered by Dr. Joel and Michelle Levey, InnerWork Technologies, Inc., Seattle

The following notes are adapted from a presentation a "Systems Thinking in Action" Conference, San Francisco


The intent of this poster session is to offer both insights and data distilled from three major projects to develop corporate cultures in which organizational learning would flourish. These projects took place at:

Information Systems Division, The Travelers Insurance

Microwave Instrument Division (MID), Hewlett-Packard Company

Business LaserJet Division (BLD), Hewlett-Packard Company

For over twenty years the staff of Seattle based InnerWork Technologies, Inc. has integrated the five disciplines into our work with over 100 leading organizations around the globe. Our work has focused on building synergy between:

Though our approach to this work is customized for each organization, there are a number of factors common across all three of these unique projects:

  • Working closely with inspired, committed leaders and internal change champions.
  • Focus groups to hear the voice and wisdom of the people.
  • High leveraged team development (2, 3, or 5 day sessions).
  • Integration of "the 5 disciplines".
  • Synergy of personal mastery, team development, and organizational development, to address real time business issues.
  • Creative collaboration and synergy of internal and external resource people.
  • Utilization of "change strategy teams" or "learning councils" to track learnings and make recommendations for continued learning.
  • Ongoing learning opportunities: dialogue, training, coaching, coffee talks, etc.
  • A spirit of genuine caring for the people

"What has been your company's major insight or "lesson learned"?

  • That significant and lasting organizational learning:
  • Can be accomplished.
  • Can be sustained.
  • There is a dynamic synergy between personal, team, and organizational learning and transformation.
  • Systems thinking within large organizations is enhanced by individuals learning to view and manage themselves and their teams as dynamic whole systems.

"How would other practitioners benefit from hearing your story?"

  • From past experience presenting this data and anecdotes to our colleagues, clients, and other practitioners will:
  • Gain insight into opportunities to build more synergy between the 5 disciplines in their own work, especially personal mastery and systems thinking.
  • Strengthen confidence and faith in knowing that these approaches can produce both impressive measurable changes and meaningful enhancements in the quality of life and work for people and their communities.

Three Inspiring Examples

"Vision Project" Information Systems Division, The Travelers

In October of 1991, ISD President Larry Bacon and his staff posed a challenge to the entire ISD team. Their newly published Vision and Mission Statement called for a radically different approach to achieving world-class information technology. It called for developing a culture of high-performance teamwork, effective responses to managing change, and constant innovation and risk-taking. Talking to his team of 3,500 people, Larry said the challenge will require "each and every one of you to become a bit of a visionary to make this Vision a reality." Nobody took him more seriously than ISD Second Vice-President Suzanne Mamet and her visionary Data Administration team. Suzanne and her team worked closely with InnerWork Technologies, Inc. to design and launch the "ISD Vision Project", a high participation project to develop the new learning culture within the department. Word of the project's success quickly spread and other departments within Travelers launched similar projects to develop more learningful, high performing cultures.

MID: Building Team Learning Culture and Community at Work

In the summer of 1993 MID was still reeling from the impact of a major re-organization over a year earlier. It had left the workforce polarized between members of two very different organizational cultures who were brought together to form the new MID. After nearly twelve months, morale was low, frustrations high, and there was still a prevailing attitude of "us" and "them". Though the work was getting done, considerable time and effort was being wasted not by breakdowns in technology or structure, but by breakdowns and polarization in working relationships. People were ready for a change, but lacked the "human technology" necessary to make a shift to a more cohesive, unified, and aligned common culture. Mario Narduzzi, the MID Sales Manager, contacted InnerWork Technologies, to design and deliver a program to make the shift to a healthier, high performing MID culture. Starting with a pilot project for the sales team, the work quickly expanded to the whole Marketing Department with the goal of developing a culture, teams, and individuals equipped with the knowledge, skills, vision, and commitment necessary to resolve lingering conflicts and build more high performing teams, and develop a supportive sense of community at work. The success of the project continues to influence their work to this day.

The BLD Learning Journey

Following a major reorganization, we were chartered to help develop the new Functional Staff leadership team and launch an initiative to foster a highly participatory and aligned divisional culture. Working closely with the divisions senior leaders, we helped to design and guide the "The BLD Learning Journey". The "Learning Journey" focused on:

  • Developing a cohesive, supportive, and align new senior management team.
  • Development of selected "high-leverage functional and cross functional teams".
  • "Cascading" involvement of all division members in developing vision and values: "Get everyone's fingerprints on the vision".
  • Feedback on divisional progress and learning via quarterly "Learning Councils"; "Leadership Forums"; coffee talks; MBWA; frequent informal "pulse-checks;" and on-going dialogue.
  • Developing stronger alliances with key partners.
  • A "People of Color Learning Council" was also convened to gather insights and make recommendations for all the divisions on site.


Findings from Independent Research and Evaluation

Measurement of organizational learning and corporate culture change initiatives is a challenging task. In an attempt to gather relevant data, we discovered Dr. Richard Wagner, professor in the School of Business and Economics, at the University of Wisconsin, who has spent years measuring the effectiveness of corporate change programs. As part of his continuing research, Dr. Wagner was invited to independently evaluate the success of two InnerWork Technologies' corporate learning culture projects: the Travelers' "Vision Project"; and the MID "High Performance Teamwork" project.

Multiple question five point scale surveys were filled out by most team members and analyzed at various stages in the projects: pre-program baseline; post team building sessions; and then at three, six, and nine months post training intervals. Significant and lasting benefits were shown to last well beyond the expected "post-training euphoria" stage and were documented up to nine months into the project. Both clients still report that the benefits and learnings of this work have continued to inspire them and their people even now, up to five years later, despite numerous reorganizations and changes within their businesses.


Dr. Wagner's study of the program showed statistically significant and lasting improvements to both clients as a direct result of their participation in these programs. The following measures show significant improvements resulting from this work. In reading them keep in mind that the smaller the "p-value", the more significant is the improvement The instrument used to measure the two organizations were slightly different, thus some measures are not reflected in both columns. Significant improvements included:

Trust in peers  .016  .000
Task effectiveness  .012   ---
Feedback received  .000  .002
Interpersonal communications  .000   ---
Shift in locus of control  .073  .007
Honesty level  .002  .000
Support given and received  .000  .002
Effort exerted on the job  .010   ---
Sense of empowerment  .000  .002
Working as a high performing team  .001   ---
Team cohesiveness  .000  .001
Job satisfaction  .048  ---
Fun at work  .000  .006
Sense of bonding with team  .023  .000
Clarity of vision of work setting  .002  .009
Mastery of stress  .019  .000
Mental fitness  .017  .000
Problem solving, accepting new ideas   ---  .040
Sense of empowerment on the job   ---  .002
 * the "p-value" indicates the probability that the behavior would occur by accident, i.e. without the facilitated work/intervention. For example, .001 means there is a 1 in 1000 chance of such a change happening by chance. Therefore, the smaller the 'p-value', the more significant the change.

Dr. Wagner also noted that two indicators, "Risk-Taking" and "Locus of Control" (i.e. "I control my own success at work") both showed significant improvement. These indicate that inwardly individuals felt more confident and genuinely empowered, and that outwardly they felt more trusting and safe to make contributions and raise difficult issues. Neither of these measures had ever shown any change in post-program surveys in any of the many other change projects that Dr. Wagner has studied.

Qualitative Results:

Reports from people throughout the organizations we've worked with, and from many of their families, show consistent trends in significant improvements that have both personal and business implications. These include:

  • Improved cross-team and cross-functional collaboration.
  • Increase contact with and trust in management.
  • Greater sense of community synergy and support at work.
  • No more "us and them".
  • Atmosphere of increased trust and openness.
  • Multiple process improvements.
  • Accelerated movement through transition to new organization.
  • Enhanced organization design and redesign efforts,
  • Improved morale and more positive attitude toward work & team.
  • Improved leadership skills.
  • Improved personal energy management practices.
  • Improved interpersonal and communication skills.
  • Increased effectiveness in dealing with conflict and managing stress
  • Improved personal, team, and department change resilience.
  • Increased individual empowerment & sense of ownership.
  • Dramatically improved relationships: with coworkers, customers, partners, family, etc.
  • Accelerated formation of strong, cohesive new teams.
  • Accelerated formation and identity as new divisional cultures.
  • Accelerated "high-leverage team formation and development".
  • Improving teamwork with partners.
  • Continued market dominance, exceeding sales quotas.
  • Increased understanding and valuing of "organizational learning".
  • Many previously unaddressed concerns and issues are surfaced and resolved.
  • Creating corporate cultures with greater optimism, appreciation, and mutual support.
  • Expanding beneficial influence on communities as learning organization principles and skills reach out to families, schools, houses of prayer, medical centers, civic groups, etc.
  • Creation of "a great place to work!"

Unusual and Lasting Results

The comments below are excerpted from interviews and reports from Dr. Richard Wagner, professor in the School of Business and Economics, at the University of Wisconsin, who has spent years measuring the effectiveness of corporate change programs. As part of his continuing research, Dr. Wagner was invited to independently evaluate the success of the InnerWork Technologies, Inc.'s programs for The Travelers and for Hewlett-Packard.

"Was the InnerWork Technologies program successful? All of the data would suggest that it was a very successful program, especially in the long-run. Compared to other similar programs we have analyzed, this program clearly ranks as a very successful one. The number of significant changes in both the short-run and the long-run was approximately twice the number normally found in programs similar to this one. In addition, the magnitude of the changes was generally greater than the changes we have found in similar programs. We would suggest that programs similar to this be integrated into future training programs whenever possible. The overall impact on team work appears to be a major positive to programs of this type and this one appears to have been particularly effective."

"The InnerWork Technologies program was unique from the start. First of all, few management teams even bother to measure their change efforts. Secondly, I've never seen a project seek to make such fundamental improvements in both people and the work environment. The post-test measurements we took for this program are like nothing we've seen in looking at over 20,000 change program participants. In this case nearly every one of the 22 measures went up in statistically significant ways. The post-test measurements we took as the Travelers project evolved are like nothing we've seen in looking at over 20,000 change program participants. Nearly every measure went up in statistically significant ways. What's even more impressive is that these measures remain as high or higher, even after six months."

"The depth of this project has the earmarks of a pioneering effort, not only for HP, but for American business. We were grateful that the Hewlett-Packard team asked us to be involved in yet another successful InnerWork Project."

People First At Hewlett-Packard!

"In the spirit of "whole systems organizational learning" we helped to network and arrange a meeting between members of the senior management team of the Hewlett-Packard Business LaserJet Division and senior members of one of the large airplane manufacturing companies that we work with. The following comments, excerpted from the report by the airplane manufacturer, offers a unique perspective of some of the key learnings from the Hewlett-Packard "Learning Journey":

"This meeting was initiated as part of our team's cultural strategy to "learn" and "benchmark" what other firms have done to improve their culture, technical and business operations, and especially their approach to people. This is documented below as one case study in the success that Hewlett-Packard had in applying some creative new approaches with which they have had both business success and extra-ordinarily good feedback from their people.

"As is common in many reorganizations, there was a prevailing sense of us and them and the perception that one division was taking over the other division with a concern that their successful ways of working would be overridden by the larger more dominant division. People of both divisions had been very successful, as measured by both technical and business factors of their laserjet products, yet the culture was not strong on acknowledging or celebrating successes and people did not feel the positive sense of what they had accomplished. To increase efficiency and commonality, HP upper management decided to combine the two divisions and reorganize.

"As part of a large reorganization, the new General Manager of HP's Business Laserjet Division, stressed people/teaming issues as the first, and the continually most important, aspect of the new organization. He and his senior management team came to agreement between themselves and then involved people at all levels of the new organization in co-creating the divisional vision and values. The senior staff worked together with their departments and teams to generate trust and quality working relationships among their people as a foundation for developing work plans, schedules, visions and structural changes.

"Once these new working relationships were established, the total organization developed buy-in for the vision, plans and restructuring since they participated in and helped steer the decisions. The restructuring itself ended up to be better and more customer focused as a result of the involvement of the people! The organization's structure changed from vertically oriented one of top down "direction' into a horizontal one of processes organized into a "value chain" in which each group treats the next group as their "internal customer". The people are more "energized" and took a strong sense of personal ownership, and showed a willingness to take risks necessary to maintain their dominant market position. HP is obtaining more commonality and a "product line" focus rather than the singular focus of individual products. The General Manager's view is that the focus on people resulted in a major business "breakthrough" in organizational efficiency, functioning, and increased customer satisfaction, while simultaneously greatly increasing employee satisfaction and commitment.

"In the reorganization, the new General Manager wanted to create a new organization, a new set of working relationships and a new culture rather than just adjust the combination of the two organizations into a new structure... He stressed getting the people involved as the first step as opposed to first developing plans or even a new vision. He said he wanted to "focus on first things first, and that was the people." He wanted to "get the environment correct so that decisions didn't have to be remade three or four times. Two business focuses, or "Hoshins", drove their principles and priorities:

#1 People: "Create an environment in which personal development can take place and where we have exceptional relationships with each other, our partners, and our customers."

#2 Business: "Bring compelling products/solutions to worldwide markets first."

"These Hoshins are quite inverted relative to most US corporate cultures. It has some of the characteristics of the Japanese approach combined with some of the thoughts of Margaret Wheatley stirred up in a uniquely American way."

"The question was, 'How did they accomplish these results in BLD, especially the high morale?' Their keys were: involve everyone, build trust, establish relationships.' The GM stressed the following sequence of steps and priorities: relationships first; values, purpose and visions second; plans third. He first got his own direct reports working together through off site meetings and developing "working-together" relationships. These were facilitated by an outside consultant team (InnerWork Technologies) who stressed the people relationships.

"At first the HP employees were suspicious of this entire approach: they believed that it would be another fad. They were also surprised that anyone in management asked about and cared about their opinion. However, as they were allowed to participate directly in the evolving vision, plans and structure of the new organization, as they were allowed to express their ideas without threat, and as they saw their feedback actually incorporated into the divisions direction, their attitudes began to change."

"The result of this "people first" policy was that teamwork began to improve dramatically. One of the specific outcomes of the involvement of the people in the overall planning was that the employees pushed management to have a much greater focus on the external customers."

"Another interesting action was the encouragement and celebration of risk taking. Rather than criticize the maker of a decision that didn't work out, their policy is to encourage learning from it and rewarding the individuals for taking the risk. ... Their new approach (encouraged by changed management behavior) is to: Trust the individual first, seek to understand what is being said second, and challenge the ideas (NOT the person) only after these first two steps."

"HP's experience is an interesting case study with similarities and differences from our own. They are doing what many in the management field are discussing ... and with which companies are having success. Particularly, our desire to move toward a flatter, horizontal structure focused on value chain and processes may find some thought in their success by focusing on people first. They have embodied by action much of what our leaders have continually discussed for a long time... as well as our desire to move toward processes. They appear to have implemented at least some of the major aspects of our top management's stated goals for people, especially the creation of "an environment where all employees can contribute to their full potential." There are lessons here worth considering for adaptation to our own situation."


Perspective: Before:

"Our management team knew last year that meeting the challenge of the ISD Vision would not happen without some calculated risk-taking and experimentation. We needed to create a far better model for how we should live and work as people and Travelers employees. Like most areas, our people are under tremendous pressures. These pressures have been calling forth from us very different responses, different skill-sets, new values and attitudes. We also needed to find ways to create a work environment that supports us in taking much better care of ourselves and each other. We have been and are experiencing constant change. We had real barriers and fears that needed to be broken down if our productivity and quality was going to improve. Technically, we were pretty strong. The issue was: How do you find ways to develop much higher levels of trust, communication, honesty and support?"

— Jean Downing, Manager, The Travelers

"The transformation required was nothing less than going from being a group of technical experts to becoming a real team of learners being able to both respond quickly to change and make effective change happen. We needed to rewrite the book."

— Art Files, Manager, The Travelers

"By late 1991, we had already reorganized into a work-team structure, but that didn't mean we had created empowered, self-directing teams. If we were serious at all about self-direction, it was time to put the oars in the water. We saw this project as a way to breakthrough and build the commitment to the new structure."

— Bob Caneschi, Manager, The Travelers

Perspective: After

"I think what's really exciting is that we are building a sense of community as we serve our customers. It's a feeling of belonging, and our people are unwilling to think, speak, and act like victims anymore. I think each of us is discovering how much power and control we really do have to make a difference."

— Bob Caneschi, Manager, Travelers

"The principles we are applying, when understood and taken together, give us a picture of a new way we can live and work. It's an inside-out approach to change. If managers ask: How do you get your work done more efficiently with a better end product, I'd tell them that, along with improving the work process, go out and build trust, communicate honestly, support each team member, and find ways to drive out the fear and relearn the idea that it's important for everyone to seek balance and wholeness in and through our work. When this catches fire, an epidemic of sanity-even love- can spread."

— Bill Carrol, Team Leader, The Travelers

"We've made some big strides towards making the Vision a reality this year. But our people know this is really a journey of self-discovery that we are on, and that it never really ends. Our work here is about constantly renewing ourselves, our team, and renewing Travelers-one day at a time."

— Suzanne Mamet, Vice President, The Travelers

Accelerating the Formation of New Corporate Culture:
Rebounding After Reorganization

"I've never seen a team at HP go through a reorganization so quickly and with such a positive attitude. The last major reorganization that we went through appeared to go swiftly at a structural level, but the breakdowns at the level of working relationships lingered for months or years. The work we did with InnerWork Technologies really prepared our team to do some very important work on the front end.

"The results are clear and multiple. In essence, people have gone through the turbulence of a major reorganization with a positive attitude. Though some of the structural changes took longer, they were handled more wisely than has been our norm in the past. And in a very short time we are up and running with new teams and with people that are on board with a positive attitude and ready to own their part in defining the CPI (Continuous Process Improvement) initiative and building the new organization. We have communicated effectively and honestly, and maintained participation and avoided the backlash so common in a reorganization. I and other managers have been able to have some really tough conversations with people and still maintain a positive attitude and working relationships."

— Mario Narduzzi, Sales Manager, MID, Hewlett-Packard

"Since our project with InnerWork Tech, we see the value of helping individuals and teams become more successful by improving our processes and realigning and reinventing roles and responsibilities so that they can become more effective. This has been very exciting, and people have energy for tackling what have been chronic problems. People feel a new level of commitment and management's support for making permanent changes for the better".

— Team Member, MID, Hewlett-Packard

The Voice of the Client

Forrest Whitt, Quality Manager for BLD, Hewlett-Packard offers the following insights regarding systems thinking and large organization change from the BLD Learning Journey:

"Today we are faced with incredibly complex systems and organizations to manage, influence and understand. In order to create an environment where trust and relationships will allow individuals and teams to succeed, it is critical that organizations tackle some of the issues around authentic leadership, integrity and personal mastery.

We have a fairly mature business and organization. We have needed to find ways to increase the organizations ability to change more rapidly. We have also evolved from a product focused business to a solutions focused business. We have focus in two areas, the culture/identify of the division and the business itself. The work we have been doing with InnerWork Technologies, has helped us succeed as follows:

1. Building trust and commitment is a core need for a team to be effective. We learned that by building understanding and an open environment, our communication improved dramatically. We have a much stronger sense of operation as a team as opposed to a group of individuals.

2. Co-creating of a vision and a culture has been a very powerful learning and delivered results that have allowed us to move very quickly beyond the original issues we faced as an organization.

3. Systems Thinking and mental models are critical to understand and optimize the value chain. It is critical that we evolve from a culture of control of our piece of the value chain to a culture that allows us to influence a large portion of the value chain. The work we have done in the areas of Personal Mastery have helped us to seek to understand at a higher level. The work we have done to build stronger teams which extend beyond BLD has helped us understand and reach farther in our influence of the value chain."

Insights Regarding Organizational Learning


Developing an organizational culture in which learning, high performance, and quality work life can flourish presents many challenges/opportunities. These include:

Mindshift - this work is not about events, but upon an ongoing commitment to learning.

Diffusing of "organizational learning" mindset to partners.

Making the time. ("Pay now, or pay later. If you are serious about business success you must invest in your people!" HR Manager at HP.)

Getting and keeping commitment of leaders.

Vision, values, vitality need to "cascade down through all levels of organization."

Understanding and addressing conflicts in values .

Employee evaluation systems.

Learnings need to be harvested and be made visible or they can easily go by unseen.

Life-work balance issues.

Building on learnings through successive waves of organizational change.

Developing and maintaining trust and a "safe environment" for open, honest communication.

Working through difficult issues with skill & mutual respect.

Recognizing and celebrating successes, pursue a path of life-long learning.

Key Learnings & Insights

The following insights sum up many of our key learnings for developing and sustaining organizational learning cultures:

  • Inspired, committed, caring, and business wise leadership are essential to success.
  • Starting at the top is ideal, yet, under the right conditions wise work will diffuse throughout the system.
  • Link the business hoshin with the people hoshin.
  • Learning and change come from the inside out. Establish a foundation in basic "personal mastery"/ "innerwork" knowledge and skills as seamlessly interdependent with the other four disciplines.
  • Leaders and resource people must be involved and walk the talk.
  • This work is about ongoing culture development, not just events. It takes time.
  • Involve everyone, value their contributions and make their inputs visible.
  • Be explicit about identifying and communicating learning, then fine tune strategies and processes.
  • Leverage the synergy of internal and external change champions.
  • Network leaders and "change champions" from different organizations who may learn from and inspire each other.
  • Increased surfacing of previously ignored "elephants/mooses" are likely signs of progress indicating that there is more trust and confidence among people. With mutual respect, apply skills to address issues and move forward. Stay focused where you can "get leverage".
  • Provide opportunities for people who work together to build relationships, self-organize, and design their ways of working together. Keep in mind a "systems view" that considers impacts on other teams.
  • Increased validation for core human values - family, health, spiritual, community, altruism, creativity, freedom, etc.—at work and at home.
  • Systems thinking is really about living and working in a way that discovers and honors wholeness. As individuals and organizations become more mindful of the dynamics of whole systems, the natural response will naturally be to live and work with both greater wisdom, effectiveness, and compassion. The benefits will echo throughout the larger system.

Concluding Systems Thoughts:

The wisdom of whole systems thinking-living is essential to the quality of our work and our lives. The key to the enduring potency of this work is in acknowledging that systems thinking and organizational learning at its core really has to do with wholeness, wisdom, love, and honoring the creative human spirit at work. As Peter Senge has reminded many of us:

"All this systems thinking stuff has no meaning without understanding that we're part of something larger than ourselves."

Knowing that we are all part of the web of life, a larger, sacred reality gives our lives and work a sense of deeper roots and meaning. Systems thinking reminds us to keep looking deeper, and to discover, understand, and respect the myriad of exquisite and complex dimensions and forces so essential to our lives and work. Given the challenges-opportunities encountered as we bring systems thinking into our organizations, is it any wonder that more timid leaders or organizations are slow to become involved in or stay the course with this work? Yet as many of us keep learning, any description of our world, be it modern or ancient, religious, mythological or scientific, will provide us with only a partial and incomplete 'story' or set of assumptions about reality. Our search for a greater sense of belonging, core values, wise and meaningful work, and community is a participation in redefining the role of business in shaping our world. This truly is real time, real work of vital importance to the quality of our lives and to the sustainability of our business success.

Postscript: In preparation for this session we talked to Suzanne Mamet, VP at The Travelers-Aetna, whom we worked with in 1991–1992. She commented, "It's amazing to see that the work we did together on the Vision Project is still paying off- even after all these years, and all the major changes that the Travelers has gone through. We've really used our learnings to work help us through some rough times and I hope that others can draw some inspiration from our success!"

May the insights you have gained from reading this, and talking with us, leave you inspired and with clearer direction for guiding the people you serve along a wise path of organizational learning.

New Leader's Work at Intuit * Travelers Insurance * Ultimate Warrior Training

CONTACT US by phone at (206) 632-3551, by email at

or write us at InnerWork Technologies, Inc.
5536 Woodlawn Ave. N., Seattle, WA 98103