Wednesday, July 28, 2010

The Sky Is Falling!

“The sky is falling! If we don’t fix this problem immediately we’re doomed! Drop everything else you’re doing now! There’s simply no time to think, just to act!” Have you encountered people who find and react to problems in this way? Do they have credibility that causes people to respond quickly, or are they the company cranks who see every problem as a crisis?

We all encounter problems every day in our work lives (and for that matter in our personal lives). Some problems are simple. Some are complex. Some problems seem simple but are, in reality, quite complex. Some seem complex but are, in reality, quite simple. Some problems are emergencies and must be addressed immediately with whatever resources are required (the sky really is falling!). Some only seem that way or are made to seem that way (advertently or inadvertently). What matters is determining what the case is really, and then determining the best ways for such problems to be addressed and resolved.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Munchausen by Proxy in the Workplace

You’re the leader of a team working on some difficult ongoing problems when an even bigger problem suddenly presents itself out of the blue.  You’ve never encountered such a problem in the past and this particular problem wasn’t at all evident in all of the work leading up to the current state. One of your teammates suddenly swoops in with a solution to this vexing problem and quickly becomes the hero of the moment. All around him, bosses, peers, and people from other unrelated organizations stop by to congratulate him for his outstanding insights and technical expertise to so quickly recognize and come up with an elegant solution to such an unusual and potentially crushing problem. You join in the accolades, happy that a member of your team has the know-how to spot and fix such difficult problems.

But then you start to think about the situation a bit more deeply, and start to do some background investigation to understand where and how this problem arose, so you can be on the lookout for such outlier problems in the future to prevent them from arising in the first place. Only when you start to dig in to the problem you reluctantly begin to come to the conclusion that this difficult problem did not really come out of nowhere, but was purposely injected into the project by the very person who is now the hero of the moment. This person had actually caused potential harm to the project in order to become the hero who saved the day. Unbelievable!

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

The Office Whisperer

You’re in an organization that had been doing well, but you sense a bit of unraveling.  People are getting angry, sometimes for minor things. People are starting to get in each others’ faces and tear each other down rather than build each other up. People are talking past each other rather than to each other (see also What We’ve Got Here Is A Failure To Communicate! and When It’s “Us” vs. “Them”, Nobody Wins!). Blame is being placed, sometimes improperly, and pressure to deliver is fraying everyone’s nerves. Roles and responsibilities are unclear and adding to frustration levels. You see people and organizations in the company engaged in what you consider to be self-destructive behavior (see also Self-Destructive Behavior). You see decisions being made in haste that simply don’t make sense (see also The Sky Is Falling!).  You know you’re in a good organization with good people, but things that were working in the past are no longer working well. How does what is becoming a dysfunctional family (see also Dysfunctional Families) get the help it needs to become functional and thriving again? One way comes from within if your organization is fortunate enough to have a great Office Whisperer.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

To a Carpenter with a Hammer, Every Problem Looks Like a Nail

You’re part of a team working on a vexing problem. Every time you believe you’re starting to get some traction on the problem, one of your teammates drags the team away saying he has the solution, and it involves using something in his specialty area. So everyone stops what they’re doing and goes to his meeting so he can describe his breakthrough. Only it’s not a breakthrough. It’s a rehash of the same thing, or a slightly different variant, of what he has been diverting everyone to every step along the way. “You’ve got to stop now to see this wonderful approach I recently learned at a seminar I attended.”  Or, “I just found a new way to apply this breakthrough approach I just read about.”  Or, “A specialist I know in another company just published an article that I think can solve our problem.” Like a broken record, he halts real progress over and over again with diversions to his area of expertise that, while well-intentioned, simply don’t apply to the problem at hand.

There is an old saying,“To a carpenter with a hammer, every problem looks like a nail.” Your teammate is that “carpenter”, and every problem he sees is a “nail” that he believes can best be solved using his “hammer”. In extreme cases, they do all they can to prevent reasoned discussion and collaborative solutions (often not intentionally, believe it or not). They insist that their way is the only acceptable way to reach “the” solution.