Common Goals

Workforce Development | 1 May 2012 | Team EACPDS

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In some organizations that call on us for help, there is abundant frustration over the divisiveness that strangles the organization. These organizations are divided into fiefdoms and issues and problems that arise are considered from the perspective of what is best for one’s individual group. The point of view on an issue is just that, the view from a single point.

The Japanese have an interesting expression, Tama Mushi. A tama mushi is an iridescent beetle and this simple expression means that things look differently depending upon the angle from which you view them. In divisive organizations, rather than working to get a 360 degree understanding of a problem, individuals defend the position of their group, failing to consider, and even to hear the legitimacy of the position of other stakeholders. Issues dissolve into internal win-lose competitions and energy goes into winning for one’s group rather than into understanding the actual problem.

An organization’s ability to manage in the face of this kind of political environment is critically hampered. Many companies go backwards, and in the interest of maintaining some level of peace they devolve into faux-consensus organizations. Faux-consensus organizations are characterized by an over commitment to get everyone on board with a plan before moving forward.  They often arrive at a situation known as the veto of one, where any member — a representative of a functional group with a ‘point of view’ — can stop a project in its tracks. Critical issues go unresolved as the stakeholders invest time wooing the veto holder onboard.

Even as organizations mature, the prospect of internal politics gumming up fluid and flexible execution hovers nearby.  This can be seen even in companies mature enough to use the 8D process to manage crisis situations.  At its simplest, 8D is divided into parts, the containment and the follow up corrective action. Those two parts reflect what Covey divides into the urgent — the crisis management of the containment phase, and the important — the corrective action which has root cause discovery followed by the execution of a resolving plan. In the containment action, a team deals with a critical customer-effecting flaw and rallies all hands to keep the problem in house and from negatively effecting customers further.  The clear goal and the crisis mentality focus the team on accomplishing this first step.

The second part of the process, the corrective action is vulnerable to political divisiveness. This phase starts with root cause discovery, and most commonly deploys the team that was formed to perform containment. Though the worst of the crisis has passed, the situation is usually still charged with stress. Having lost the focusing power of the crisis and with perhaps a growing sense of defensiveness to the stress generating messages coming into the team from outside, a splintering of the team into factions is a not unlikely outcome. Team based root-cause discovery gets subverted into fault finding and an unhealthy situation leads to a significantly sub-optimal solution.

Demonstrated by the proverbial horse designed by a committee, investigation and planning are activities best served as individual responsibilities. So in the case of the 8D process, we recommend an hourglass shape to the process. Deviating from common practice where the 8D team is formed early and kept intact until the conclusion of the process, we see it as more effective and less vulnerable to a flare up of politics if the containment team turns over root cause discovery and planning to a single responsible individual. And when the root cause is determined and a corrective plan is to be executed, an execution team is formed.

In general, teams operate best when project needs can be subdivided into individual responsibilities, or when a crisis situation helps to glue the team together. But to fully mature, an organization needs to develop the situation in which teams work well together, even outside of crisis mode. In fact they need teams to collaborate early to avoid as much as possible the creation of crises.

While siloes divide the horizontal landscape of a company, hierarchy separates the organization into layers.  This vertical segmentation of the company creates communication barriers between the strategic, managerial and individual contributor ranks of the company.

As organizations solve the communication problem between layers, they often discover the added benefit of the weakening of the silo culture. For this to happen, it is critically important that the communication apparatus have something vital to transmit.  And that vital transmission would be a clear articulation of what the company is trying to accomplish, the goals of the organization.

The number of organizations that operate without defining goals is astonishing.  And many organizations that have done the strategically difficult work of forming shared goals, fail to communicate them to and throughout the organization.  A shared understanding of goals can inform all the decisions being made and all the work being undertaken in the company, at all levels.  It enables teams to cooperate, without the necessity of a crisis gluing them together.  When everyone in the company is trying to put a man on the same moon, silos crumble and internal politics are reduced from disabling to merely annoying.

If your own organization is crippled by politically charged infighting and narrow view points, look to the creation of shared goals as a lever to lift the company out of the muck.  Getting to credible, agreed upon, vitally important goals is the first order of business for companies who seek to uproot the unhealthy politics that rob them of energy and profit.