Organizations, by definition, require people to coordinate their actions. So when we are called in to a situation where there is a breakdown—external or internal customers not satisfied, high or key staff turnover, inefficiencies—we start by looking at how people in the organization coordinate their efforts.
The tendency in organizations is to treat breakdowns as issues of process, policy, and rules. But work gets done through agreements and cooperation, not orders and process, and sustainable productivity is driven by people caring, not by systems.
What we often find, when we assess an organization, are missing conversations. Does that sound counter-intuitive? Try this: Think about your organization. Are people having the difficult conversations that are inevitable in any workplace? Are they dealing with performance issues and broken commitments? Is speaking up and being honest seen as risky? Are people comfortable asking for help?
If your organization isn’t firing on all cylinders, odds are, the conversations that are needed are either not happening or not being handled skillfully. Missing conversations are at the root of organizational cultures defined by overcommitment, exhaustion, inefficiency, excuses and blame. And if not addressed, no amount of team building, innovation training or culture change will stick.
When we work with an organization, our mission is to make its people more capable in terms of communication, coordination, and honest negotiations. We do skills training, particularly in the core areas of requests, offers and promises and the management of commitment breakdowns. “But everyone knows how to do that!” we hear you protest. To which we say, No… no they don’t. If they did, we promise you, life would be way easier!
Depending on the circumstances, we may also facilitate a series of additional conversations: To bring closure to old issues blocking the path to progress and innovation, to align leadership around shared commitments, to generate a willingness to cooperate and share in each other’s success.
Packing on the process and systems? More often that not, this just generates more complexity and stress. Taking care of missing conversations? It’s been proven again and again: The impact is huge. And profound.