• David Stephenson

The Palace - A Story of Organisation

Once upon a time not that long ago and not that far away, there was a large palace…

The palace was ancient and large, having been built up over very many years, and experienced numerous modifications over its long history. Often those changes only served to make walls in the palace incredibly broad and strong. Over the years some of the fittings and décor had become ever more intricate and ornate, with thick layers of paint built up, which in many places entirely concealed the masonry.

Inside the palace on many different levels and floors were numerous rooms, so many in fact that when counts or audits took place there was a different total each time… there were also many passages and towers… and even a few dungeons here and there… whilst some parts of the palace were strictly no go areas !

Often there were so many different passageways that it was easy to get lost especially for those who hadn’t been living there very long … and it took an age to get from one part of the palace to another. On occasions one might open a door to find the entrance bricked up or go down a long passage to find it was a dead end. Many found it difficult to navigate along the corridors and one new resident, when asking and being shown the way, said it ‘felt like the blind leading the blind’. Consequently, over time, a number of secret passageways were created called ‘short cuts’ to save time, but these were not always widely known or consistently followed.

Some parts of the palace had gatekeepers or even guards at their entrance and the folks inside even had different standards, banners and tunics or wore different hats for different occasions.

Because it was such a large palace, different factions emerged, with barons being in charge of different sectors or wings of the palace and at times the inhabitants were more focussed on settling their scores with other barons than watching out for their common enemies outside the walls.

Over the years various rules evolved and, in turn, required an army of scribes to maintain this thing, which some called ‘bureaucracy’. Some inhabitants learnt that the best or quickest way to get real news was to go to the market or the local inn and listen to the gossip.

Sometimes when walls did fall into disrepair the inhabitants didn’t always help to work together to rebuild them or maintain them. Consequently, the enemy could easily infiltrate and find any weak spots.

Another problem was that in many places the palace had been built on shifting sands and so despite the thick walls giving some impression of strength, there was subsidence… and the whole palace wasn’t really very safe at all… the winds of change would blow in and the sands and foundations would literally shift.

In some places the walls were impregnable, with only small slits to see out from within. If and when people did look out from the battlements they might have seen their enemies camped outside often in Bedouin-like tents of various sizes and styles. If they’d been brave enough to sneak out one night to take a look they might have been surprised by how spacious and comfortable these tents actually were on the inside, despite seeming fairly simple from the outside. They carried all they needed with them and so could quickly and easily pack up and move, either from oasis to oasis, or wherever the resources or trade was … and they could easily ride out a sandstorm or move to the lee of a slope or dune. Some wise men even called them ‘fit for purpose’.

At dusk people from different tents would gather around fires and recount stories and share information, and so spread learning throughout their tribe.

Some in the palace realised they needed to rebuild and attempts were made over the years to renovate or even pull down parts of the palace or try coping with fewer, wider, less cluttered passageways.

Sometimes the King would make a proclamation that fewer people should live in the palace so that there would be more room for the remainder and more resources available.

However, most of the barons didn’t want their ranks thinned out, but after pressure some did sell off some slaves and there were even some volunteers, who became refugees in other lands, taking their craft and knowledge with them. Nevertheless, few of the barons really did have any appetite or enthusiasm to redecorate, let alone drive any major rebuild.

Inevitably major rebuilds were difficult to manage to time and budget, needed a lot of equipment to do it safely, and usually caused quite a bit of disruption or damage to other parts of the palace. Even when parts of the palace were dismantled, there was a tendency for people to gather up the loose rubble or material and start rebuilding again elsewhere, and in time a few shanty towns even appeared.

Occasionally the King or treasurer sent out some patrols or overseers to look for heads to cut, or slaves to sell, and some of the barons held back from revealing all their retinues so that they wouldn’t be counted in the census.

There was some success though, especially by some of the barons who actually talked and engaged with their people, and one year some 30 million shekels were saved for the King’s treasury by having 900 fewer mouths to feed.

Having fewer mouths to feed did help to some degree, especially as there were now less goods coming in from the various trading posts… however at the same time there were also now fewer troops to go out on forays or to plunder from the enemy… and also fewer farmers to plant and nurture the crops for the remaining inhabitants…so this became a dilemma that some called ‘catch 22’.

Some of the barons in the palace eventually agreed to meet in one of the banquet halls and hold a regular council where they could share intelligence on the enemy and plot tactics together and share resources. This collaborative ploy worked very well for a while and led to some successful raids on enemy lands and resources, and in turn also kept some of the trading routes open that were under threat. And so it was that the decreed ‘commercial council’ was born. Unfortunately, even this fell into disrepute after bickering between the barons.

A parchment scroll called ‘Group Architecture Touchstone Document’ was conjured at great expense by some wizards called McBain and O’Kinsey, decreeing how the barons should work together and share both information and resources across the palace and the fiefdoms and lands beyond. For a while the scroll was read and used, but it didn’t take long for it to start gathering dust in the archive library room.

Overall though, (and coming towards the end of this saga)… most people came to realise that modernisation was required, but felt just a little too comfortable with the status quo in the palace to initiate it themselves and hoped and prayed they would live happily ever after.


Three wise men went to see the King and each gave him a piece of advice :

The first wise manwas also the treasurer and he said to the King. ‘I have added up the cost of all these renovations and rebuilding works and attempts over the many years and the aggregate cost is too much even to count, so my advice is to sort the palace out once and for all, even if it does cost you some rubies and gold and disruption in the short term. I can feel the winds of change getting stronger and any major work will only get more difficult with time.’

The second wise manwas also the medicine man and court jester, and he said to the King. ‘The treasurer may be wise and perhaps right, but also remember that this palace that you love is really only bricks and mortar and it is people that trade goods and people that fight your battles for you, and what makes the most difference are the hearts and minds of your subjects within these walls’.

The third wise man, who was also the General of the Army said to the King. ‘In my experience in fighting many battles I have found that my warriors always fight harder when they know they are led well and are fighting for a good cause, and in the heat of the battle when my single clear banner is unfurled high I know that my men will rally around’.

David Stephenson is a Consulting Partner at Outvie and an expert in business and organisational change

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