Organization: Event’s Report

Moderator: Leonardo la Pietra
Date: April 16th 2011
Location: Operating Room at IEO
Illustrator: Goñi Montes (USA)
Storyteller: Luca Brunoni (Switzerland)
Photographer: Yalcin Sertkaya (Turkey)
Filmmaker: Daniel Grigore-Simion (Bulgaria)

Starting sentence by the moderator Leonardo la Pietra

At the workplace of the future will organization play a role or will we work alone? And how to organize oneself? Leonardo la Pietra – Organization Talk moderator asks himself and us. In his opinion “we should find a balance of different impulses: organization must add values that is not only merely economical but also personal and emotional. As the Chief Medical Officer of European Institute of Oncology he thinks of hospital “as a highly-organized structure that looks like a theater where the actors should coordinate and play together in order to make a good performance – be it an economic deal or a surgical operation”. And a balance is not always easy to find; a lot of factors play their role and sometimes “the rules of the society go versus the creativity of the team; we should reflect upon this too in order to better organize our future”.

Development of the City Talk

“The devastating crisis we are going through nowadays is an opportunity to make our personal values as well as company’s ones grow and develop. The dynamics are changing, though – on the good and on the bad side. The big enemy of this stage is fear. We must try to think and act positively. The focus on the person is one of the characteristic of the work in the future”. The man who works has to confront with targets”.  This was the most peculiar and suggestive location among the 5 sessions; Leonardo led participants through an extraordinary way of coming together, living the experience of a surgical team work. In this way, it was easier for participants to empathize with the concept of the talk (also because they are going to wear the surgical gown used by the real medical staff). The feelings of the talk were emphasized by the use of video images at the beginning and at the end of the session, besides specific keywords that communicate the emotions associated with the surgical room.

Report, by Luca Brunoni

Organizzation_2Mystery talk. The least you could say about today’s talk is that it’s a bit of a mystery. It’ll take place in an hi-tech operation room, and word is the participants will have to be dressed from head to toe in surgeon scrubs.  Well, at least I’ll know what I’d look like had I pursued the noble art of medicine instead of legal/literary studies. An utopia, by the way: the image of a scalpel cutting through skin is enough to send me TKO. These are my thoughts as I leave the tangenziale ovest circling outside Milan and drive through Via Giuseppe Ripamonti. My navigator confirms: destination reached. And I’m not late! It’s a sunny day, the sky blue and clear, a slight breeze blowing through my window. The IEO (Milan’s European Institute of Oncology) appears on the right; it looks exactly as in the pictures: two red brick buildings with huge windows, roof tiles, well-kept lawns and lots of green. Half an hour later I am sitting in building nr. 2 fiddling greedily with my welcome package: a t-shirt, the mandatory chocolates, April’s issue of TWSM and, most important, the keywords of the talk, printed on a bundle of thin wood strips: quality, motivation, performance, culture, proactivity… The participants sit on the rows of colored chairs, getting to know each other, checking out their gifts, talking quietly as if to respect the customary silence of hospitals.  Sitting there reading, looking out the floor-to-ceiling windows, I get déjà-vu from airport waiting rooms. I almost expect a double beep and a warm voice calling my flight. Instead, a team of four surgeons pops out of the main corridor and walks towards us: gowns, plastic shoes, procedure masks, the works. “Welcome” one of them announces, “to Workstyle Talking.”

Briefing. Mirko and Leonardo introduce us to Victor and Laura, who also work at IEO and who will accompany us during today’s adventure. Mirko, wearing a red surgeon bandana with white hippos, gives us an overview of the previous days’ talks. He also answers the one question that has been bouncing around our heads since receiving TWSM’s invitation for today. Why on earth an operation room? “Today’s discussion will be about organization in the workplace” says Mirko, “and the operation room is the one place where you’re not allowed to make mistakes – meaning that everything, from an organizational point of view, must function perfectly.” He then adds: “The present period of crisis must be seen as a great opening to re-evaluate the internal values of organizations. In a time of radical changes, we must fight back fear and instead recognize and seize the opportunities that arise.” We are then led down a long corridor, and I find myself plunged back into hospital atmosphere: the silence, the shiny floor, the smell of disinfectant.  “In order to enter the operation room” Leonardo explains, “you will have to follow the rules of staff. For starters, you will have to change into surgical scrubs and wear caps and masks. This is the first step professionals take to ensure an antiseptic environment when they operate.”

Scrubs. Leonardo opens a large, anonymous door and leads us into a sort of antechamber; through a glass wall, we can catch glimpses of the operation room. But Leonardo points in another direction. “Here are the changing rooms” he says. “Boys on the right, girls on the left.”  The room is tiny and claustrophobic, with narrow lockers bearing the names of the official staff. We squeeze in with difficulty. Victor looks at us and smiles. “Not much space, I know. That’s typical in these places.” Then he points at the scrubs, neatly folded and arranged in a built-in closet. He shows us the black cord of his pants. “Red stitching is XL, black is L, brown is M. I suggest you go for a size up.” Somebody asks: “Can we wear our t-shirts under the scrubs?” “No” says Victor, still smiling. “We wear those a pelle.” Eventually we are all turned into green clones marching towards the operation room. The scrubs are light and comfortable and, most important, they represent a new experience. Some of us take the time to pull out their IPhone and get their picture taken. As Leonardo explained during the briefing, none of the participants comes from the medical field. “We have architects, consultants, HR managers, academics, marketing experts. I am sure these different backgrounds will combine nicely and generate lots of insights during our talk.”


The room. The operation room looks like the cockpit of a spaceship. Octagonal, about thirty-five square meters, plasma screens everywhere. “In this room” Victor whispers in my ear, “we operate with a robot. Thanks to the screens team members can always see what’s happening.” The room is packed now, and all twenty plus participants sit in a circle around Leonardo like schoolchildren. Yalcin, the talk’s photographer, snaps a series of pictures as big white boards covered with sheets of paper are being passed around. “On these boards” Leonardo explains, “you can write, draw, and sketch everything that passes through your head during the talk.” The temperature is set at a nice 18-20 degrees, and the constant hum of the ventilation system gives me the impression we’re actually suspended in the air (or is it all just part of my airplane/spaceship trip?). To kick-start the talk, Leonardo offers us some in-flight entertainment. The lights go out, and the plasma screens come alive simultaneously.

The box. The film is bizarre and experimental: a group of scary puppets are living on an unstable platform suspended in the void, and kept in balance thanks to a focused group effort. But when they fish a mysterious music box out of the emptiness, the dynamics change; instead of picking a new strategy in order to share the box and at the same time maintain the platform’s balance, a fight ensues for its possession – and one of the puppets eliminates its peers by kicking them off one by one. When the lights come on again everybody looks puzzled. Maybe they, as I, expected a film full of surgeons and operation tables and futuristic procedures. But the connections between the film and the keywords we received slowly surface, and the first smiles appear. Some participants begin to draw and write. Goni, the illustrator of the talk, is also at work, drawing on a large vertical board. Leonardo stands in the middle of the room and claps his hands. His own bandana is blue with Nemo-like fishes. “As you may have noticed” he says, “in the film we shift from a situation of balance to one of imbalance, both literally and metaphorically. Let’s try to identify the factors that caused the shift, thinking in terms of organization and teamwork.”“The introduction of a change upset the balance” Silvio says. “In the workplace” Fabrizio adds, “you should always be able to deal with changes efficiently, even when those are sudden and unexpected.” Interesting concepts emerge. In an organization where a shared motivation exists, a change can have both positive and negative effects – such as the awaking of personal aims clashing with the common goal. This in turn can harm the sense of team and community. Moreover, since changes often implicate new objectives, it’s important that these do not obscure the priorities of the team: in the film balance, which was the number one priority because it meant survival, was partly forgotten once the music box came into play.“The film” Manuela suggests, “also shows that a complete lack of hierarchy and rules can be harmful.”“But in real life some kind of hierarchy always emerges” Goni says, “especially in situations of crisis.”“In my opinion” Fabrizio says, “communication is central when changes are introduced. That’s where most problems start: lack of communication.”We then discuss hierarchy and leaders, distinguishing between positive and negative figures, and the difference between following orders and moving together in one direction. But this part of the Talk was just a warm-up – something to jump-start our brains, still dealing with being stuffed in an operation room dressed as Dr. House’s assistants.


Game Theory. Leonardo plays another short clip to introduce game theory concepts and their possible application to organization in the workplace. In particular we discuss dominant strategies, Nash equilibrium and the principles of collaboration vs. competition in the context of team dynamics. For those of you who fell asleep during A Beautiful Mind, the Russell Crowe flick based on the life of Nobel prize winner and famed mathematician John Forbes Nash, here is a brief survey of Nash equilibrium (which, by the way, tells you much more than the movie does). Nash equilibrium takes into account a situation where two or more persons (players) must choose an individual strategy, and where the outcome of their decisions affects each of them. Picture this: you and I have a box of candies in front of us, and we must decide whether to A) give the other person two candies or B) take one candy for ourselves.  If I go for A and give you two candies, the risk is that you’ve picked B: I end up with zero and you with three. So It’s not smart for either of us to pick A: if I choose B at least I’m sure to end up with one candy (and at best I get three). B is therefore the dominant strategy of the two. A “B” choice by both of us represents an equilibrium because even if I were informed of your strategy (B) I would not change mine. Were we allowed to cooperate, we might decide to both pick A and get two candies each instead of one. But then, you would have to trust me! I could betray you, choose B, pocket my three candies and leave you empty handed: so we’re back to the equilibrium as the smartest choice. These concepts are helpful because they illustrate human behavior in situations of interaction where individual interests come into play. As we discuss the implications Leonardo insists on the importance, within an organization, of cooperation, transparency, rules of conduct, and, of course, an effective system of communication. While this goes on Daniel moves stealthily around the room, capturing everything with his video camera. He is a tall man, long black hair and matching beard, and the camera – a new model looking like a professional photo camera – looks tiny and light in his hands. Leonardo then wraps up this part of the talk, and the keywords – the same wooden strips included in the welcome package – are passed around. And since it’s already one o’clock, bowls of chocolates appear so we can fight back sugar lows. There are also candies, but luckily, no games are being played.

Organizzation_1Keywords. “Each of you” Leonardo says, “will chose a keyword and introduce it to us according to your thoughts and experience. Also, try to apply it to organization in an hypothetical ‘workplace of the future’”. The first keyword that pops up is Purpose. “There is no organization without purpose” Manuela says. “The common assumption is that purpose is all about the triad what, why, and how – but in the future, we should shift our attention more on the why.” We agree that this, moreover, may contribute to the evolution towards the mythical state of sustainability everybody is talking about these days.” “And once again” Cristina suggests, “the key for establishing purpose is Communication. People today are so overwhelmed by the constant flow of information that they often switch off, even unconsciously. This leads to problems in the workplace. One viable solution could be a reeducation aimed at learning to communicate more efficiently as a team.” By now everybody has chosen their keyword and is eager to contribute, and Leonardo is cast in the role of a busy talk-show host. “You choose Change” he says to Fabrizio. “That is connected with what we saw in the movie, right?” “Right. An organization evolves mainly through its people, meaning that people must be open to accept changes as a challenge. In the future we will see the number and frequency of these changes increase, and a new mindset must be adopted in order to keep up.” Michele has picked Culture. It’s an important keyword because it relates to many facets of an organization: the culture behind work ethic and objectives, that of the place where the organization is based, and that of the single members of the team – because in our age of mobility, the workplace often becomes a fascinating melting pot. Understanding the role and implications of all cultural aspects can become a major asset in building a focused, tight structure. When we discuss Motivation (the keyword chosen by Simone) and the modern techniques employed in order to stimulate co-workers, a debate arises about incentives – which seem to involve more and more Big Brother tactics aimed at controlling Productivity. “Before determining the incentives” Goni says, “one should get to know the people and differentiate between real motivation and the chasing of a few more euro.” We reach the conclusion that, ideally, in the future incentives should be more tailor made and be discussed thoroughly with the employees. “And moreover” Antonino says, “we should think about empowering people a bit more. This will lead to more responsibility, but also to an heightened sense of importance, to more self-fulfillment, and to more purpose; this way, motivation will build up in an organic way.”“One way to do that within a team is to introduce a mobile concept of Leadership, where leaders are designated in connection to single objectives and projects.”When the keyword Lean is introduced, Leonardo’s face lights up. It’s obviously one of his favorites. “In a lean organization” he says, “simplify is the operative word: that means no Muda.”He takes a second to look at our baffled faces, then explains: “Muda is a Japanese world, and indicates all efforts or activities that lead nowhere, and are therefore unnecessary. This includes wastes of time, resources, and energy. In a modern organization, we will have to think of ways of reducing Muda to the minimum.”“But at the same time” I reply, “we live in a society and economy that thrives on producing, selling, buying, and consuming Muda. So maybe the philosophy should be extended, so that we won’t end up reducing waste in organization only to generate more as a goal.”Nevertheless, we all agree that in the workplace of the future we will have to limit the production of Muda – both physical and abstract. Leonardo now looks at his watch. In the meantime, Goni has filled his board with many suggestive drawings. Leonardo, as an apt conclusion to the talk, asks him to explain his ideas to us.And then, in the blink of an eye, we’re back to the real word, where a refreshment awaits us.

Change. The most important keyword of today’s talk was change, and the unfamiliar territory of the operation room was the perfect environment to prompt the participants and help them focus on the issue. The process of re-thinking organization is already in motion, and theories and ideas diverge enormously. Whereas most new trends seems to be dominated by the usual corporate prerogatives of maximized productivity and profits, it is clear that other innovators are working towards re-incorporating the human element in their teams and workforce. As Mirko mentioned in the briefing, windows of opportunity are opening to implement breakthrough ideas and strategies. It is important, however, that we evaluate the long-term impact of the changes we introduce and are honest about their real objectives, and that we keep in mind the scope of our responsibility and be not afraid of swimming against the current.

Creativity perspective

Collection of the impressions of Goni Montes (illustrator) and Yalcin Sertkaya (photographer).

“Maximize the probability of a job well done;” in Goni Montes’ words this is the purpose and the motif that underlies the concept of hierarchy. He was immediately struck by the location that allowed each of the people who took part in the meeting to understand what is at stake in such a workplace, thus empathizing with the topic: “Once I walked in and caught a healthy glance of this operation room I no longer thought it was clever – this was the best for this discussion. In no other room will hang a human life on a thread composed of an order that both the room and the people inside of it can grasp.” The keyword was definitely order. Photographer Yalcin Sertkaya recalls the difficult of moving in such a small place: “It was a uneasy and tense environment for everybody, for me, staff, participants to make our job. It became possible with a successful management of the moderator.” The objects too played a fundamental role and actively interacted with the space: “The room was noit filled, but packed with objects of the highest technology. Their meticulous yet necessary arrangement dictated that everything is and must remain in its right place” Goni underlines. Since organization is the best way for us “to harness our own capabilities and that of our resources” – he goes on – I wanted my artwork to reflect all this. Every element in the illustration is a contemplation of both the location and the discussion that took place. With this in mind I portrayed a convoluted balance that can be held only through order.”

On the other hand, Yalcin’s focus was more on human landscapes, since his expert area mostly deals with panorama and views; the challenge was to put his techniques and skills to a complete different setting: “I did not focus on individuals, I preferred to take into viewfinder as much as people and equipments as I do in landscapes. For the photographs with people it is more interesting for me to shoot the interaction between people instead of personal portraits.”

On a more personal level both the artists expressed their enthusiasm for the Talk; it was a rare opportunity to work in an unexpected and challenging way: “Forming part of a group of such professionals was very enriching. On top of that to be given the opportunity of participated in a talk in which I can draw is as exciting as it is comforting. My expectations were high and not only were they met, but surpassed. Yalcin too agrees on this opinion, looking forward to taking part in next events: “It was an innovative way of extracting new ideas with its every aspects, selection place, selection of subject, working style with the keywords. I hope new ones will we organized in the future.”