Organizational Psychologist vs. Organizational Mechanic

When a team or company is not functioning as it should, two types of problem-solvers often emerge. The organizational psychologist tries to debug the culture. The organizational mechanic tries to debug the process.

The mechanic asks what meetings or what documentation is missing. Organizational mechanics love “reviews” (meetings that force decisions to be made). When it comes to communication, they look at the mechanics of what is said and when (how it is said is less relevant). Mechanics look at the structure and the connections. When all else fails, mechanics become surgeons. They “operate”. They pursue “reorgs” or just plain old lay-offs / firings.

Organizational psychologists are more about the human part of the equation. What incentives has the organization set up? How can those incentives be changed? What is rewarded and what is punished? When it comes to communication, they look at the how and the why.

Really good psychologists can dig in even deeper. They can particularly understand how the psychology of an organizations leaders amplifies and impacts the rest of the organization. Is the CEO a micromanager? Is the Head of HR/People generally a cynic who doesn’t trust people to do what’s right? Is the Head of Product uncomfortable with ambiguity or with quantitative analysis? What effects does that have down the chain-of-command?

Great leaders are able to put both the mechanics and the psychology together. They understand that teams are complex systems of humans. They understand that debugging is cyclic: the mechanics and the process affect the culture and the psychology, but the mechanics and the process are an output of an organizations culture and psychology. You need to look at both sides to solve most problems.

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