The TCBO Model of Organizational Dynamics

Title - The TCBO Model of Organizational Dynamics

Team member names - Tim Kuehlhorn and Paul Miller

Short summary of your improvement idea

We are working on a model for evaluating the capability and performance of organizations by dividing their functionality along four domains:

  1. Thinking - Research, Ideation, and Learning
  2. Communicating - Internal and External communication
  3. Building - Creating new systems and outputs
  4. Operating - Delivering the value of the organization in a sustainable way

Organizations can use this model to identify specific areas of dysfunction or capability shortfalls that prevent them from reaching their full potential. Breaking down business tasks by their skill domain needs allows the team to focus more effort on the domains that have the most impact and scale back effort that is misapplied.

What is the existing target protocol you are hoping to improve or enhance?

Our primary targets are startups and technology project teams, but we see potential applications for other types of teams and individuals.

What is the core idea or insight about potential improvement you want to pursue?

We believe that organizations can be more conscious of the ways in which they apply their members’ skills to the challenges they face in executing on their purpose. We also see the potential for developing greater dialogue and transparency around organizational capability. Many complex problems within Startups can be reviewed according to this methodology. These core domains help to clarify problems and underscore critical aspects of resolving any problem in a Startup.

What is your discovery methodology for investigating the current state of the target protocol?

  • Workshops with startups, open-source projects, and other teams with a focus on domain-based problem resolution
  • Interviews of existing business coaching organizations to identify trends
  • Post-mortems of successful and unsuccessful projects

In what form will you prototype your improvement idea?

  • Definition of the organizational model
  • Workshop format for evaluating organization according to the model
  • Process for evaluating an organization from the outside, with limited knowledge

How will you field-test your improvement idea?

Evaluating the results of workshops after 1-2 months through interviews with organization members.

Who will be able to judge the quality of your output?

Startup founders, VCs, Project leads.

How will you publish and evangelize your improvement idea?

A chapbook and/or white paper and a course covering applications of the model.

What is the success vision for your idea?

The goal of producing a model like this is to create a language for discussing organizational capability internally as well as a lens for evaluating the function of startups and organizations.


Hi @tautology - I appreciate thinking of different ways to tackle organizational performance and have recently been thinking about the subject as it pertains to the startup space. So, your post quickly drew me in. Were there any other domains that came to mind before settling on TCBO?

While continuing to read through your post, I kept both organizational capability and organizational performance at the forefront of my mind. I’d say the former means to what extent organizations are suited to formulate and execute on their strategy. In contrast, I’d argue the latter focuses on achieving desired organizational results and impact. Thoughts?

Consider approaching the subject from an appreciative inquiry perspective - focusing on what organizations are doing well. This differs from centering your inquiry on identifying dysfunction. Depending on the organizational culture, an appreciative inquiry approach may work wonders for garnering buy-in from a wider variety of organizational stakeholders when proposing changes/improvements - especially if coming into a startup as potential “outsiders.” Looking forward to seeing where this goes.

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Thanks @Lenz, this is great feedback. I’m glad that people see this as an important topic, including the fact that one of this year’s focus areas is “Protocols for management and organization design”.

As we’ve been developing the model, the list of domains and other potential focus areas has grown and consolidated over time (mostly grown!). One discussion that has come up a few times is the role of learning in successful organizations and how to properly highlight that as ongoing improvement in all domains. Currently learning is part of the domain of Thinking, as it connects strongly with research, which is key Thinking work. At the moment I like learning there as it helps reinforce the interconnection between the domains. Another example of interconnection is that setting up a good Operating context for the team is a critical way to make space for the other domains to flourish, especially Thinking and internal Communication.

Another area that isn’t fully represented is emotional regulation, a Feeling domain that covers response to stress and response to incentives. Stress and conflict can be an existential risk for teams, so it’s definitely something worth investigating. One approach we’ve considered is adding a feeling dimension to each domain (where the current perspective would be more focused on doing the work of the domain). The quality of Communication on a team, for instance, is heavily dependent on the trust built within the team culture. I’d say Feeling and Trust are a couple proto-domains that are worth exploring how to best integrate.

I like your distinction between organizational capability and performance. That’s part of what we’re trying to capture in terms of matching your organizational design and potential to the level of challenges you foresee in each domain, and then optimizing your organizational process and policies to realize that potential and reach sustainable high performance. This also fits well within one of the core conceits of the model, which is finding points of separation to pinpoint issues. I see a benefit in discussing whether the team needs to increase capability or optimize performance to meet their goals.

As far as appreciative inquiry, that’s definitely something we’ve been thinking about as well. Currently the model has a bit of a “brass tacks” feeling that could make it more difficult for team members to engage openly. This is something we definitely want to explore through the workshop development and testing process, where establishing strong expectations around being solution-focused and looking at the team as a whole rather than assigning blame to individual members can help everyone embrace the process and engage constructively. We don’t want to lose the inquisitive spirit of the model and keep a strong focus on finding solutions and new ideas, but it’s important to also identify, preserve, and celebrate the strengths of the team.

Thanks again! Definitely interested in hearing more thoughts on the model.

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Hey @tautology , glad you found my thoughts helpful. As you continue to build out the model I can see it inevitably being a delicate balance between its growth versus elegance/simplicity. Learning is an interesting concept to try to grasp and get everyone on the same page about. Some questions for further consideration: When someone has learned, how will that be demonstrated? At what level(s) are we monitoring learning: individual, team/collective, organizational, all of the above?

Your call-out about emotional regulation and a feeling domain immediately brought Bloom’s Taxonomy to mind. Within this learning taxonomy, mention is made of the Affective Domain - which is the area of the taxonomy concerned with feelings & emotions. It may be worth a look to further expand your thinking on the matter. Your mention of trust takes things a step further in my mind, as now you’re headed into intra and inter-group dynamics.

Looking forward to hearing where you take this next.