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Organizational Tangles

Marcia Ruben has over 25 years as an experienced organization development and executive leadership consultant.  Clients call Ruben Consulting Group when they have tough, messy challenges that involve unproductive human dynamics. In 2001, she began to notice that the challenges were getting more complex and messier. Even though she read extensively, continually took courses, went to conferences, and was certified in a number of business consulting methodologies, Marcia realized that these leadership theories and practices were not enough. She decided to go back to school and do her own original research.

Research Results

Marcia's research focused on unspoken or hidden challenges that lurk in the belly of every organization. She was able to deconstruct a complex, messy business challenge and identify distinct phases. She also discovered the leadership capabilities needed to influence a notable business turnaround. Her results help researchers and leaders understand how leaders, middle managers, and employees interpret complex, volatile situations and what is needed to move from "us versus them" to "we" thinking and behavior.

What is an Organizational Tangle?

As an outgrowth of this research, Dr. Marcia Ruben created the term organizational tanglesTM to describe a class of hidden human and organizational forces that threaten successful achievement of an organization's expressed goals. Organizations, as they grow, become complex webs of interconnected relationships, subject to internal and external stresses. These stresses often result in the formation of organizational knots, or tangles.

Tangles fall into a variety of distinct patterns depending on the particular combination of misalignments in leadership, culture, structure, interpersonal relationships, and communication. Some tangles include all of these elements. Others contain a smaller subset. The large number of possible combinations makes identifying and resolving performance and productivity challenges difficult.  Dr. Ruben has identified more than a dozen distinct organizational tangles.

Symptoms of Tangles

Tangles manifest as unproductive working relationships, snarled lines of communication, and fuzzy lines of authority. As they tighten their grip on individual leaders, teams, and the organization itself, their presence is signaled by heightened emotions, conflict, blame, and “us versus them” thinking and behavior. Ignored, tangles fester and grow, and may ultimately destroy the organization. Tangles are particularly dangerous because they have a quality, unique among organizational challenges, of not being recognizable by those caught in their grip.

How can a Tangle Doctor Help?

Organizations not plagued by tangles enjoy a high sense of trust and collaboration. Decisions get made and stick. Accountabilities are clear. Leaders seek out and address tough issues.  Productivity and profits soar. A Tangle Doctor can quickly diagnose the threads that are causing the particular tangle and recommend and implement pragmatic solutions that result in an accountable, high performing organization.