Have you ever gotten in your car, driven to work, found a parking spot, sat at your desk, and wondered: How did I get here? If you ever experienced this, you were probably on automatic pilot, unconscious of what you were doing because you do it so often. Now let’s say you got in your car, started to drive, and suddenly a detour took you far out of your way. What happened then? Perhaps you began to worry about missing an important morning meeting. Probably, you drove with heightened awareness, your grip tightening on the steering wheel. And maybe you arrived at the office grouchy, immediately complaining to your co-workers about those so-and-sos who messed up traffic during rush hour.
I’ve always studied teams. The youngest of three boys, as a kid I was mostly a bystander to my family’s tumultuous interactions. While my teenaged brothers and parents sparred in cycles of argument, cooling off and reconciliation, I stayed under the radar, vigilant to any verbal shrapnel that might fly my way. My friends’ families were even more interesting to observe. Some were yellers; some were quiet and civil, yet each seemed more exotic than my own, “normal” family. How, I wondered, could these families be so bizarre and still stay together? More formal education enriched my study of teams, and I’ve worked over the past twenty-five years supporting teams to get better results. But my curiosity has never diminished. Why do some teams flourish while others struggle? A few years ago I came across a body of work that greatly influenced my practice. I recently adapted this system for a senior executive team that was rife with conflict, which led to breakthrough results in their performance. And it was fun…
You buy a kitchen table from Ikea and haul it home. You spread the contents of the box on the floor. You glance at the instructions and start screwing pieces together. You stop reading the instructions altogether and quickly attach table legs to tabletop. You are done. You gaze tenderly at your work. You sit down and notice the angles are a little off. The table shakes just a bit. It doesn’t matter. You love your table. You assembled it yourself. A table expert drops by. He assesses your handiwork as just so-so. You silently fume and then vigorously defend your work against his insults. He leaves thinking you are nuts for so adoring your wobbly table. This is the Ikea Effect: The tendency to over-value that which we ourselves create. Even if objective standards say otherwise, we prefer our own creation over someone else’s. And as you can imagine, the Ikea effect in organizations leads to all kinds of impacts, some useful, others not. Let Them Bake Cake Michael Norton of the Harvard Business School coined the term after researching peoples’ attachment to things they construct themselves. In his research he described the introduction of instant cake mix in
By now the benefits of collaborating across organizational departments are pretty obvious. Cross-functional teamwork is viewed as the elixir that enhances innovation, productivity and employee engagement. No wonder companies embrace any structure or strategy that reduces organizational ‘silos.’ What is less obvious but more insidious is the downside: When we too tightly embrace the ideology of the ‘boundary-less organization’ we unwittingly sow confusion and ambiguity.
A great candidate for the dustbin of discarded business jargon is the term ‘transformation.’ Correctly used by caterpillars transforming into butterflies or by dictatorships into democracies, the word has been appropriated by executives and consultants to signal ‘BIG CHANGE.’ Yet most of the time the change in question is not even close to transformative. Reducing cycle time in a factory or making more customer-centric decisions are not transformative regardless of how expensive or tricky these changes might be. This came to mind recently when I was invited by the senior managers of a thriving regional insurance company to advise them about ‘transforming’ the culture of their underwriting function. The 100-year-old conservative company was enormously successful even in these uncertain times. Their success was based on strict underwriting standards and by acquiring and quickly integrating smaller insurers into what they called ‘the mother ship.’ At the time I met with them, the company was experiencing growing pains. They had gotten so large through acquisitions that their regional underwriting structure had become overly costly and was seen as a limitation to growth. Their larger customers were growing too. They expected to be treated more as national accounts than as regional customers, with
Linda, the CEO of a technology oriented firm, told me her company’s pending merger with a logistics company was a ‘match made in heaven.’ The two companies were complementary, not identical, so it wasn’t about cutting cost (or jobs); it was more about synergy and growth. She said that Dave, the CEO of the smaller logistics company, was a great guy who agreed it was best for him to report to her in the combined company as COO, with Linda as CEO. After all, Dave had less experience with Boards and raising capital, but had lots of experience making complex operational strategies succeed. Linda and Dave were planning the first off-site meeting for both of their executive teams, and asked me to facilitate. I was surprised that in the months of planning the merger that their teams had not gotten together sooner. Dave told me that some team members had interacted in one-on-one meetings, but the teams hadn’t yet had a chance to connect. When I interviewed the team members to prepare for the off-site, I was struck by their differences. But I was more taken by how they resembled two unique and interesting families. Linda’s team was comprised of
Fast Company recently featured CEOs from major corporations like 3M, Pepsico, Starbucks, and others sharing lessons from 2012 and describing how these lessons will apply in the coming year. While we don’t roll in the same company as these folks, we still learned a lot from our clients this year, and have some exciting ideas for the year ahead. We asked journalist Corrie Lisk-Hurst to help ‘organize our insights.’ Here are some highlights from our conversation… Corrie: What are the biggest challenges and changes your clients faced this past year? (David) Today, technological change has created many situations where young professionals who are masters at emerging technologies are being put into senior roles with really broad scope. So, on the one hand you’ve got more tenured people whose technical expertise may be less than cutting edge, and on the other you’ve got younger people with technical expertise but with less maturity, wisdom, and people management skills. This creates both tension and opportunity that many of our clients are trying to manage. [Rob] And this year we’re still seeing the lasting impact of the recession. Our clients have always asked themselves how to best invest in their people. But
When I wasn’t quaking in my waterproof shoes walking across a swaying footbridge high above a lush rainforest in Costa Rica, I was listening intently as our guide described the complex eco-system of the forest. Jose told incredible stories about how plants, animals and even the atmosphere compete and cooperate to sustain the delicate balance of life in the forest. One story in particular stood out, perhaps because of its sobering relevance to my own practice as a facilitator of organizational change. When the Hanging Bridges tour was opened, well-meaning guides were motivated to provide visitors with a memorable experience. Specifically, people wanted to see wildlife and especially, monkeys. Yet a rainforest is not a zoo. Monkeys and other fauna are not just hanging around waiting to entertain us; they have other priorities. So in order to satisfy tourists’ desire to see wildlife, guides inconspicuously dropped banana pieces on the trail, which monkeys found irresistible (just to be clear, bananas are not a natural food for monkeys regardless of how many Curious George books you have read). Here is what happened when pregnant monkeys ate the bananas – the high level of potassium in the bananas led their fetuses to