Use Su-field Model to Manage People
Editor | On 02, Jun 2008
By Prakasan Kappoth and Harsha G. Goolya
There has been a paradigm shift from a traditional to a knowledge economy. With the manufacturing sector becoming less dominant, the knowledge economy has thrived. The greatest challenge in the knowledge industry is managing the knowledge worker and the dynamics that affect his role. A knowledge worker has the following attributes – young, independent, financially savvy, not intimidated by authority, diverse yet balanced (the job is not the first priority), well networked, connected, looking for fun and a communal workplace. With these attributes the worker is emotionally susceptible and their emotions can impact productivity, performance and overall teamwork. Emotional conflicts between stakeholders may lead to problems. In people management, understanding the situation and providing solutions depends on the manager’s experience dealing with teams and stakeholders and also his intuition.
Substance-field theory is a powerful analytical technique in the Theory of Inventive Problem Solving (TRIZ) framework describing the working of a technical system interaction. The analysis helps define a problem in detail and formulate solutions. This technique can be used in people management by modeling people related issues and substituting substances and fields with “people” and their “emotions.” The background of this research and application is based on the project management persona from the information technology service industry.
People Management – Issues and Challenges
When managing a knowledge worker it is important to have a strong, mature middle management layer – an able leadership team which, along with analytical and logical skills focuses on the inclusive and intuitive attributes. Middle management spearheads growth and leadership with emotional maturity and clear, insightful communication. They play a significant role reducing the bane of attrition and ensure there is a return on investment (ROI) on various training and development endeavors. A project manager must spend more time and effort understanding people and “people problems” than the technicalities of project execution and effective project deliverables. People problems can include inter- and intra-personal abilities, problems with the team, leadership, customers, the organization and might also include external factors – home, family and friends. These problems are a result of conceived emotions from environmental perceptions.
How Does a Manager Cope?
Consider the case of a project manager managing a project. His team is comprised of architects, engineers, testing professionals and business analysts. Along with influencing and impacting the immediate team, the project manager must manage client specific deliverables and senior management expectations. At every stage of the project, the manager must balance the aspirations of the team with the expectations and challenges of executing the project. Most managers achieve this balance through active listening and direct communication along with requisite skills. They use different initiatives and circumstances to build and develop team and group dynamics.
Often managers deal with people problems as they arise. Project managers tend to hold personal biases based on individual performance and may favor the better performers. A project manager may not understand the direct impact of emotional conflicts that arise at different times, as emotions are dynamic and uncontrollable. Especially when there is a disconnect between two individuals on a team – helping them connect may become time consuming, when the manager cannot identify the problem.
Weakness in the Current Approach
In project management, understanding the situation and providing solutions depends on the experience of a project manager; his past experiences dealing with teams and stakeholders (customer, subordinates and seniors). Often there is not enough emphasis on managing people, though the need for such management is discussed and acknowledged. Because the average age of individuals in the knowledge industry is lower than other industries, this also adds to the volatility of emotions related to knowledge workers. They openly question authority and consider symbolism as a threat; hence their perception of their project manager becomes key to the success in execution.
Emotional outbursts impact the entire team, and may result in long-term discontent and cynicism. Mistrust and professional insecurity may infiltrate the team and impact interaction and communication with related stakeholders. This could eventually impact the organizational level.
Emotion – People Problem Relationship
Emotions are cognitions with a certain kind of psychical quality. They are classified into intuitive, perceptual and conceptual.1 Every emotion is something more than mere cognition, with an intention to express through a physical action or an intentional thinking approach. The emotional intentions are known as emotional tone, and every emotional tone is directly related to the cognition – to fear X is to be cognizing X with fear, admiring X is to be cognizing X admiringly, etc. To be fearful of an individual’s progress is to recognize the individual fearfully as a potential competitor in a knowledge industry set-up.
When abstracting the classification of emotions in the corporate context it becomes apparent that they are context sensitive. It is difficult to foresee emotions in a certain context. A good manager, based on experience and intuition might develop an early warning system for managing people based on their emotions in the project. The human mind is a complex system however, and it is difficult to understand every individual’s emotions.2
Classification of Emotions
Emotions can be classified as positive and negative.2 Positive emotions are good, but negative emotions are disruptive. Negative emotions expressed by a single member can de-motivate the entire team and lower productivity. A cascading effect of negative emotions from an individual to an entire team is common in projects. The existence of an emotional contagion is often evident and obvious only after it has affected the entire team. It is important to note that positive emotions may not trigger the same affect. An individual’s happiness could become another’s pain depending on the context. If a peer receives accolades or individual recognition, the team may not be as happy as the individual. A manager may experience problems handling the effects of the recognition. The challenge is to balance the team’s aspirations with those of the individuals. Below is a broad scientifically studied classification of emotions.2
|Table 1:Classification of Emotions|
|Discrete||Discrete emotions are focused on a specific target or cause – generally realized and perceived emotion; relatively intense and very short lived. After sometime this emotion can transform into a mood||Love, anger, fear, jealousy, happiness, sadness, grief, rage, aggravation, ecstasy, affection, joy, envy, fright,etc.|
|Moods||Moods are diffusive, not focused on a specific cause, and often not realized by perceiver of the mood. Moods are positive and negative, often exist for a medium duration (from a few moments to a few weeks or more),||Feeling good, bad, negative, positive,cheerful, down, pleasant, irritable, etc.|
|Dispositional (Traits)||Overall personality tendency to respond to situations in stable, predictable ways.||He is always in a bad/good mood no matter what happens. He is always inso negative.|
Emotions are initially discrete, and based on the context can intensify into a mood. Moods can affect the traits of a person. As a project manager it is important to note the effects of a discrete emotion and ensure that it is not sustained in intensity or duration as it may directly impact team dynamics and affect the productivity and efficiency of the entire project. Considering the challenges, a manager’s role of understanding and effectively managing people by avoiding emotional conflict is a complex task. Even if one can spend time evaluating people and their emotions in detail, contextual dependence is a factor one cannot foresee.
Understanding the emotions that might affect the team allows a manager to better handle various situations. Another challenge is the solution itself. The emotions that translate as problems in one context may become a solution in another context. How well can a manager understand the emotions in an unforeseen context? Common people problems a project manager may face include:
- Understanding the emotions and their impact when dealing with a person involved in a problem context
- Identifying individual emotions based on the context and the stakeholders involved
- Removing or neutralizing negative or unpleasant emotions
- Introducing positive emotions to the system depending on the context
Solution Generation Framework
In the solution approach, the authors propose using the substance-field (su-field) theory of technical system interaction and substitute them with people and emotions. To understand this approach, it is important to understand the modeling of a technical system.
The substance-field theory is a modeling technique based on the concept that every natural and man-made system is a set of interactive elements, which interact with each other by means of fields generated by substances. Su-field theory was conceptualized by the “father” of TRIZ, Genrich Altshuller, and is a powerful technique in TRIZ methodology. The original theory was created for modeling how technical elements interact with each other over fields created by these technical elements. The term “substance” identified items – things, objects, etc. This classification is based on different levels of an objects hierarchy from a macro- to a micro-level.
The fields in the original su-field theory depict the interaction between substances. Unlike the fields defined in physics, the fields in su-field theory describe interactions between substances in a common sense perspective.6 In classical TRIZ, the groupings of possible interactions of a substance are grouped into six main fields.6
|Table 2:Fields of the Su-Field Theory|
|Mechanical||Gravitation, collisions, friction, direct contact, vibration, resonance, shocks, waves, gas/fluid dynamics, wind, compression, vacuum, mechanical treatment and processing, deformation, mixing, additives, explosion, etc.|
|Acoustic||Sound, ultrasound, infra-sound, cavitation|
|Thermal||Heating, cooling,insulation, thermal expansion, phase/state change, endo/exothermic reactions, fire, burning, heat radiation, convection|
|Chemical||Reactions, reactants, elements, compounds, catalysts, inhibitors, indicators (pH), etc.|
|Electric||Electrostatic charges, conductors, insulators, electric field, electric current, superconductivity, electrolysis, piezo electrics, ionization, electrical discharge, sparks|
|Magnetic||Magnetics filed, forces particles, induction electromagnetic waves (x-ray, microwave, etc.) optics, vision, color/translucence change, image|
The substance-field theory is explained below using an example of driving a nail into a piece of wood.
There are two substances – the nail S2 and the wood S1. The nail S2 plays the role of the substance-subject (tool) and the wood S1 represents the substance-object. The nail cannot be driven into the wood without a force; the force is the field F1.
What kind of force can be commonly applied to a nail to pierce through wood? The most common force is the pressure, a form of mechanical force. An expanded su-field with the source of mechanical field is shown below [Figure 2].
Figure 2 is a detailed model of a substance-field interaction between the working tool of a technical system and the product, which is being processed by this technical system. The hand (S4) is a main tool driving a product, based on the action of the tool upon another object, (product); during this action, the product is changed.
At the next step, the hammer (S3) becomes a tool and the nail (S2) is a product: the hammer acts (using a mechanical field, F3) upon the nail and pushes (F1) it into the wood (S1). The nail then becomes a tool and the wood is a product: the nails act (using F1 field) upon wood and the wood is deformed as a result of this action. Its fibers are broken or separated from each other under applied force. Figure 3 shows the consequence or chain of su-field models and is a standard case in multiple interactions’ analysis.
In su-field, the physical elements (substances) in a technical system are categorized generally as in Table 3. This category only works as a baseline in representing the working elements. As seen in the above example, the object, tool relationship can change.
|Table 3: The Physical Elements of a Su-field|
|Object||Any physical element that is to becontrolled or managed||Nail|
|Main Tool||Since the object cannot control itself, a main tool is needed for function execution||Hammer|
|Auxiliary Tool||Another tool which helps the main toolexecute the function||Hand|
As described above, the categorization of object/main tool/auxiliary tool changes in accordance to the context can also be observed. The su-field theory provides a detailed explanation of how a technical system works in multiple dynamics and contexts. Now consider identifying potential problems in a working system like the above by drawing the entire interactions as in Figure 3. Simple technical systems like the mentioned example can model the problems associated with it and find areas of improvement. The nail can bend if the hammer (tool) applies extra force (excess field energy), because by the hammer’s action applied to the nail (product), was excessive and the nail was damaged.
Another problem is that the muscles gets tired after hammering for a continued period of time. The interactions between hand and hammer are classified below:
- Useful function is hammer moves the nail into the wood – the hammer is a tool and the nail is a product
- Harmful function is hammer bends the nail – the hammer is a tool and the nail is a product
- Hand muscles getting tired: useful function is muscles move hammer – the muscles are the tool and the hammer is a product
- Harmful function is hammer “processes” the muscles – the hammer is a tool and the muscles are a product
These are two oppositely directed functions. In this case the problem is to save the useful functions and eliminate the harmful ones. The substance-field theory applied on the above situation is depicted in the following diagram. The arrow between the substance and field in su-field theory explains the interactions as follows:
The initial model explained in Figure 2 can expand by identifying the harmful interaction between the substance and field using the arrow as in Figure 4.
Figure 5 shows a hammer S3 (product), which is excessively charged by the energy (mechanical field, F3) of muscles (S4). When the hammer acts on the nail, it becomes a tool, and passes its excessive energy to the nail (product). The nail then becomes a tool and moves into the wood with a higher speed than necessary to break or separate the fibers. The wood (now it is the tool that acts upon nail) starts to resist by applying an opposite force to the nail. The result is the momentum of two opposite forces, which act along the nail rod; this momentum bends the nail. As shown in Figure 6 a hand (S4) generates insufficient energy (mechanical force) on the hammer (S3) and the entire working system fails to achieve the desired function.
Such accurate analysis helps identify unseen interactions and describe hidden functions. As a result, the analyst obtains an appropriate description of the situation inside its system; such a description helps formulate and solve the right problems.
The substance-field theory is a natural way to explain the working elements in a technical system. The working elements of the hammer-nail technical system can be expanded. In this situation the brain manages the hand using electrical fields (neurons), controlled by nerves, and the wood is placed on a surface where gravity (a mechanical field) works to keep it in a stable position. The flexibility of the su-field theory is wide enough to design a complex technical system as interactions of substances over fields, and can be restructured to fit the scope of this case study.
Translating Substance-field Theory in People Management
The above example of substance-field theory explains to us the working elements in a system and its dynamics – changing the way each element interacts with the other. The product becomes the tool and vice-versa; the interaction between the tool and the product generates new fields; an “excessive” field may damage the product and sometimes the tool is insufficient for achieving the desired effect.
The dynamics that exist in the context of relationships, whether among team members or between managers and team, or personal lives between husband, wife or friends, is a clear and evident mismatch in perceptual triggers which may impact the nature of relationship between them. Emotions such as happiness, sadness and jealousy could trigger similar emotions and act as the tool to a resultant product of discontent in the relationship.
The workings of a physical system cannot capture the complexity involved in the workings of human emotions especially when contextual triggers are involved. It is possible, however, to recognize a pattern in these two distinct scenarios. The emotions when equated to the fields (like the mechanical fields) impact the outcome of a person-to-person relationship. Excessive emotions (positive or negative) may cause imbalance in a relationship and insufficient or missing emotions (positive emotions only in this case) may impact the positive outcome expected from people relationships.
Understanding people and emotional relationships is not as easy as in a physical system. As described earlier, a qualified project manager managing people acts mostly on the basis of her perceptions of the scenario. At times, they must spend considerable time understanding the problem and trying to define the problem. The approach proposed in this framework is effective for a project manager to defining the intensity of the emotion from a problem definition space and also helps arrive at indicators to probable solutions. The following section of this paper illustrates the application of this framework in two distinct cases of people problems faced by a project manager.
Case Study – One
The following description captures the interaction between people as individuals and models their emotions to achieve a structured specific collective emotion. The individual objects are categorized into a, b and c:
a.The technical lead of a highly demanding, technically competent customer with huge pressure to fulfill market expectations
b.A new engineer joining the project after three months of training
c.An experienced engineer working on the project for more than an year and interacting with customer tech lead
The goal was to train and assimilate the new engineer in the customer project, technology and customer interactions. The project manager expected the experienced engineer to help include the new team member into the system immediately. Problems started surfacing in the team after introducing the new engineer:
- The experienced engineer wanted to quit the team.
- The technical lead at the customer side expressed dissatisfaction with the team.
In this situation, the project manager can assume various causes for the problems based on his perceptions.
Using people-emotion modeling, the manager can analyze the situation as follows:
|Table 4:People-Emotion Interaction Model|
|Individual Object||Discrete Emotions Displayed||Moods Displayed||Dispositional|
|Customer-Tech Lead||Action oriented, passionate, disciplined (expects deadlines to be met)||Impatient, tends to get angry whenpeople don’t understand what they are told||Enthusiastic||Discontent||Sharing||Authoritative and condescending|
|Fresher||Happy, eager, curious||Fear because he is relatively new to the team||Jovial||Pleasant in interactions||Vulnerable|
After identifying the people and emotions, model the interactions between them using the basic people-emotion interaction model. The model is a preliminary model of emotions that could affect people interactions in a team. The below diagram is constructed for understanding the desired outcome:
The experienced engineer must train and assimilate the new engineer effectively using positive emotions – this enables the new engineer to use positive emotions to keep the experienced engineer positively influencing the team and the customer. Considering the customer technical lead, a desired outcome diagram can be formulated.
Figure 8 defines how to use customer leads positive emotions to further educate the experienced engineer and in turn receive more information about the work, and learn more about the customer. These interaction diagrams can be expanded to model all desired outcomes a project manager might want to focus on in the situation.
Relationship Between People and Negative Emotions
The desired outcome model helps managers understand the influence of positive emotions and how they can strengthen the current situation. Introducing the negative emotions into the model allows a manager to understand the impacts of these negative emotions in the situation.
Figure 9 shows a probable conflict model between the experienced engineer and the new engineer. A negative emotion possessed by the experienced engineer, jealousy, may cause a harmful interaction between him and the new engineer.
By modeling all known negative emotional interactions between the stakeholders, managers can understand the problem in greater detail. This modeling approach can also project possible future issues that can arise due to emotional conflicts.
Case Study Two – A Project Manager’s Diary
Alex has been a reliable member of my team from the beginning of my career in this organization. His friendliness and cheerful demeanor have always helped him connect with people around him and he’s able to meaningfully steer his own career alongside people around him.
Mike on the other hand has been one of the most successful and meteoric performers. He has risen faster than normal and has been able to introduce processes and innovations rapidly. His ability to understand client expectations and deliver has been consistently impressive.
Together Alex and Mike complement each other in their managerial styles and can contribute to a faster and effective execution of the project. However, I fail to understand why this synergy has not been achieved.I have noticed that both of them usually maintain a distance between each other, do not interact or collaborate but are usually polite in their interactions. Mike seems restless and unable to motivate or connect with his team. Alex on the other hand connects with Mike’s team, but not with Mike. Both of them seem to take the client calls alternately but never together. Is there a need to be concerned?
Applying the Framework
Step 1 – Classifying stakeholders emotions
|Table 5:Modeling Emotional Interactions|
|People||Discrete Emotions Displayed||Moods Displayed||Dispositional|
|Alex||Happy, eager, curious, empathetic||Skeptical, doesn’t like when he can’t connect with peers||Enthusiastic||Discontent||Sharingpleasant in interactions|
|Mike||Diligent, disciplined, expects to meet deadlines||Fear, (he doesn’t understand why Alex is popular among his teammates) impatient –tends to get angry when people don’t understand what they are told)||Jovial||Egoistic, angry||Passionate, idealistic||Authoritative and condescending. Insecure when he feels he has no control.|
From the project manager’s perspective, the desired outcome of any emotional relationship between the two stakeholders, Alex and Mike, is to create a harmonious relationship by leveraging their positive emotions effectively and achieving the results of efficient and timely execution of the project and deliverables to the customer. The following diagram depicts this desired outcome of people-emotional interactions.
Ideally, the project manager would like Alex to use all his positive emotions: cheerfulness, pleasant interactions, sharing, happiness, etc., to work with Mike and increase the collaboration with his team along with his own, which will result in utilizing their capabilities effectively for better project execution. Simultaneously, Mike would use his positive emotions: passion, jovial, diligence to work with his team and Alex to increase the synergy between both for proper knowledge sharing and to increase overall team harmony in a process centric approach.
This harmonious situation does not exist due to emotional conflicts between Mike and Alex that directly impact the overall team productivity and output.
Modeling Current Problem
A manager can use the desired outcome model to depict the current problem between the leads.
Figure 11 illustrates a possible problem model between Mike, Alex and Mike’s team. Mike’s, with his positive emotions (discrete, trait and dispositional) is pleasant in interactions, happy and connects well with Mike’s team. Mike’s creates a perceptional change the way Mike’s team connects Mike’s Alex. There may even be a notion they create that “Alex is a good team leader, and I want to move into his team.” This is an excessive and collective emotional attachment, which will eventually turn into a “harmful” relationship. This was demonstrated in the su-field explanation – the tool becomes the product and vice versa.
This positive interaction between Alex and Mike’s team could Mike’s create a fluctuating harmful relationship of “discontent” toward Mike, such as “he just doesn’t seem to doesn’t it. His team is friendlier with me.”
Mike, with his negative emotions will look at Alex as a threat and create a perception that “Alex just blabbers. I do the actual work.” He may then disconnect himself from Alex and establish a harmful relationship. Although Alex uses his positive emotions on Mike’s team, Mike’s is clearly unable to connect with Mike and is contributing to another collective emotion that he does not listen. Mike may be “disconnecting” from Alex. Mike also uses his negative emotion of fear and ego by interpreting their interactions with Alex as “my team connects with Alex better.” This causes discontentment between Mike and his team. Then he stops using positive emotions toward them.
Contrasting the earlier problem description from ambiguous and cluttering thoughts, this modeling framework of relationships between people and emotions has provided a better understanding of the situation. Figure 10 shows several possible emotional conflicts between the stakeholders, and using the model can also assist the manager in anticipating future problems.
Solution Generation Approach
Both case studies have only a few stakeholders and are simple. More complex issues are common, however, when more stakeholders are involved. Often a project manager must spend time understanding an issue by talking to people and relying on his own perceptions and intuition as well as what others perceive and share with him. Transitioning from one project to another is common in this context; a project manager may have difficulty understanding people problems in a new team. Providing solutions without realizing the real issue can cause attrition, poor performance, reduced productivity, etc.
After modeling all possible emotional interactions as in Figure 9 and Table 5, a manager can then look at:
- Harmful emotional relationships – causes that result in emotional conflicts
- Missing emotional relationships, i.e., not using positive emotions for the benefit of the team or the person
- Excessive emotional relationships – the new engineer excessively jovial and deviates from the work at hand, impacting productivity
- Incomplete emotional relationship – a positive emotion such as “enthusiasm” from the customer technical lead. Adding a positive emotion can help the new engineer and the experienced engineer interact freely and share knowledge
Strengthening People-Emotional Relationship
Assuming the desired outcome model is achieved, the project manager can extend the applicability by introducing other positive emotions within the identified list, or another emotion from outside which will enhance the existing positive emotions to strengthen the productivity, performance, etc.
The following table explains possible strengthening emotions for Case Study 1.
|Table6:Possible Strengthening Emotions|
|People||Available Positive Emotions||From Outside to Enhance the Available Emotions||Strengthening Relationship|
|New Engineer||Happy,curious, pleasant in interactions, jovial||Motivation|
• Add him to the loop of customer interactions– Pleasant in interactions and will change the customer outlook to the team
|Customer Tech Lead||Sharing||Appreciation||• Appreciate for the job he is doing, rewarding him for the technical knowledge|
|Experienced Engineer||Empathy, passion||Happy, motivation, joy|
• Give more technical responsibility in understanding new technical area
Applying Solution Standards
A manager can also create and use a generic framework of standards after modeling the emotional conflicts for solutions. The standards are abstract in nature, but the manager could identify specific actionable solutions. These standards were derived from the ARIZ framework.
The application of standards in this context is hypothetical. The following are interpretations of a few standards from the ARIZ world. This may or may not resemble the real standard described in ARIZ, however, the standards are to enhance one’s thinking skills one’s easy solution generation.
a.If there is a relationship that is difficult to change, and if there are limitations on adding external additives (emotions/people) into the given relationship, the problem can be solved by a permanent or temporary transition to an external compound field.
Case Study 2 Example: With respect to dealing with team dynamics in a knowledge environment, when client negotiations occur the external agent that managers sometimes bring in to achieve the purpose or end result of the negotiation is to either use a consultant having worked with the same client or deploying a team member exposed to the client in a different scenario, maybe through personal contacts to change or bend the state of discussion.
b.If a minimal (optimal) action is required that is difficult or impossible to carry out within the constraints of the problem, then the most intense action should be used, and its success should be removed.
Case Study 2 Example: Often team outings or out bound interventions are undertaken as a measure to help connect individuals in a team setup. The probable outcome of the same is uncertain, however, as its effectiveness cannot be measured or if measured would be relative.
c.A harmful emotional relationship between two or more people can be solved by removing the harmful element from the conflict chain or by manipulating existing positive emotions of object or tool.2
Case Study 1 Example: Remove the “jealous” from the conflict chain or use the “passion” emotion from the experienced engineer to do effective training and assimilating.
d.Adding an “external” positive emotion can solve a harmful emotional relationship between two or more people.
Case Study 1 Example: Add motivation, such as rewarding the experienced engineer for his passion in the technical area, and also for his willingness to teach the new engineer.
e.Adding a new “person” in to the system for introducing positive emotions can solve a harmful emotional relationship between two or more people.
Case Study 1 Example: – the senior vice president of an organization has lunch with the new engineer and the experienced engineer in an attempt to eliminate their negative emotions.
The standard framework can include either a “missing” emotional relationship, an “excessive” emotional relationship or an “incomplete” emotional relationship.
This is an experimental attempt to apply a powerful modeling technique, the substance-field theory, to people management issues. People management problems are discussed and talked about in multiple contexts in various dimensions – among team, families, communities, etc. Solutions to these problems may be arrived at through careful observation or simple interpretation of various scenarios. The corporate setup in the knowledge industry, however, camouflages the actual problem, and may result in a solution that is not economically viable and does not resolve the problem. Through this paper the authors hope to encourage TRIZ thinking beyond technical systems. TRIZ as a powerful thinking technique has techniques one can apply beyond what is described, just by extracting the concept.
The case studies used to describe this problem were real issues encountered regularly in the knowledge environment. The solution space for problems such as this does exist without application of this framework, however, using the framework helps maximize the scope of the solution generation.
Alex Zakarov, TRIZ expert, for reviewing the substance-field explanation.
V. J Sathish, for editing.
Note: This paper was originally presented at The Altshuller Institute’s TRIZCON2008.
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