In the daily work in professional organisations, misunderstandings seem to happen constantly, leading to inefficiencies. Even though individual may be aware of this, it is rarely acted upon. With simple techniques, this can be addressed by anyone at any time, and with a moderate effort, this could be scaled and replicated across the organisation to impact culture positively, in a short time. The initial design of the solution that works, a management and leadership pactise to “Find Clarity”, requires effort. And even if the solution works well, it is still not a given that behavior will change, which leads to additional reflections about learning design, and consumption, and what it means to lead and manage during turbulent times.
We have seen overwhelming evidence of “misunderstandings” in organisations in our daily work as external consultants. These “misunderstandings” hampers employee engagement & derail critical business imperatives. Typical “misunderstandings” could be; different interpretations of key topics such as strategy or vision, different understanding of terminology (what does it mean to be “entrepreneurial”, or “Agile”), or different conclusions of how to implement imperatives, strategies, and decisions.
We have observed that there is some level of awareness of these misunderstanding, but they are most often not (successfully) addressed. We have developed practises to resolve these issues in our consulting engagements, allowing our clients to move forward with clarity, efficiency, and effectiveness. This works quite well.
It could however be a big opportunity for value creation if we could make the knowledge of how to resolve these issues easy to transfer and applied at scale.
This led to three questions:
- Do operational leaders experience “misunderstandings” similar to the ones we come across in our consulting engagements?
- Does our practise to Find Clarity work in settings different to our own consulting engagements?
- Can we simplify the complex theoretical concept that is underpinning the practise, so that it can be picked up intuitively in a short time by “anyone”.
If the answer would be yes to these questions, we may have a powerful way to improve efficiency and impact in business operations, as well as improving the quality of life at work.
6 senior leaders from a variety of industries & functions participated in the experiment. The experiment was done as follows:
- We did a short exercise trying to find a solution to a problem. The problem was: “We need to take action on the most pressing sustainability issues so that we save the planet in time.” The participants were tasked to come up with 3 ideas each to do this. The outcome was a set of diverse ideas: “Prepare for space colonisation” “Take night trains in Europe” “Increase sustainability budgets across the world” “Recycle instead of buying new” “Educate people about sustainability issues”. There was a feeling in the group that the answers were similar, there was a pattern in the responses, and ‘alignment’.
- We then found inspiration from the concept “Organisation in the Mind” by David Armstrong at 30.000 feet level, focusing on 2 key points:
- Individuals have complex representations of the world that is influenced by many factors.
- This is not only valid for individuals, but also for groups.
The goal of introducing this concept was to sensitize the participants that there is more to a briefly expressed idea than what meets the eye.
- After discussing the concept and principles mentioned above, we went back to our problem statement to take action on sustainability issues, but now we tried to find clarity instead of solutions. The task for the participants was to elaborate on their interpretation of the problem statement and pose clarifying questions about the statement. In a matter of minutes, the complexity and traps in the problem statement unfolded: “Who is the ‘We’” “When is ‘in time’” “What is ‘the most pressing issues’”. The conversation shifted rapidly towards gathering more information, qualifying statements to reach a common understanding, and learn more.
- Following this exercise, we had a general debrief about the approach. All participants could identify with and recognize the problem of misunderstandings in organisations. Everyone found it valuable to move from a Problem-solution approach to a problem-seek clarification-solution approach. And it was considered useful to understand the theoretical concept behind, even if it was at a very high level.
If you just apply the practise, with no intent to scale it, there is no need to share the “Organisation in the Mind” concept (step 2 above), and the exercise gets even more simple, and can be used by anyone anywhere.
To transfer the practise, it is highly useful to share the concept, perhaps necessary. This is not rocket-science either, it may require a bit of hands-on practise to make the whole approach “yours”.
Transferring the knowledge so others can use this approach as well would be the key to get an organisation wide impact that sticks. The potential value of the efficiency gain is probably enormous, and the cost is very low and in the matter of weeks, or months, there can be a visible shift in culture.
The participants felt capable and motivated to test this pactise back at work. Some already had very precise ideas of when, where, and how to do that. Others hesitated about the right situation. And there were expressed wishes to try it out and then regroup and share experiences and learnings.
It might seem obvious to introduce activities of clarification into work to find solutions to complex problems. Nevertheless, this seems to be omitted to a quite large extent in day-to-day business, even when we are aware of the issue. And it raises the question “why”? It would be interesting to dig deeper into the reasons behind the general absence of introducing activities of clarification. If we would understand these reasons better, we would be better equipped to engage in clarification.
We could speculate in many reasons for the why, which could be ground for new experimentation:
- We jump to conclusions – “others” are “stupid”, “malicious”, “political” -.
- We hear and see what we want to hear and see, wishful thinking.
- We do not believe that it is possible to address the issue in a constructive way.
- We actually do not mind the inefficiency; it prevents undesired change to happen.
- Many many more…
An inadequate framing of the problem and lack of clarity among individuals are source of inefficiencies, requirement further alignment at the expense of creativity. However, spending excessive time on clarification can be equally counterproductive, negatively impacting the motivation of the group during brainstorming sessions. This raises the question of what is the objective of clarification, is it to get everyone aligned, or to explore different perspectives to make the conversation richer? And how rich can it get before it explodes? It seems like the leader in charge is walking a tightrope between bringing complexity to everyone’s awareness, but not too much to overwhelm and paralyse the organisation. Between seeking alignment that allows the organisation to function well and be able to execute, but not too aligned, as it would kill creativity.
The pace of change for any organisation is brutal. The pressure to innovate, transform, adopt new technology, adapt to changing conditions is at an all time high. At the same time, the availability of new information, knowledge, inspiration, and influence has never been as high, and at such low cost as we see today. Both these dimensions create a perfect storm for misunderstandings, diverse interpretations, and emotional reactions. The predicament of Finding Clarity seems to be directly linked to how we lead and manage during times of change. And consequently, the answers on how to deal with the predicament lies not only in a technical practise as the one we described in this experiment, but it runs deep into how we lead and manage the business and the people in these turbulent times.
LEARNING DESIGN AND CONSUMPTION
It was of course nice to see that the approach and the experience using this approach resonated with the participants. It confirmed to some extent the hypothesis that there is a big potential to make work more efficient, and more pleasant.
In hindsight, there is another learning. It took a lot of time (20-30 hours) to design and prepare this experiment, that on the surface looks like a simple straightforward workshop. The very specific point I focused on was how to connect mutually with the participants on what the learning point was all about, in a way it was clear and relevant for them, in their world. Achieving this in a 90 min workshop is really difficult, a lot needs to happen and every word, every second of a 90 min session counts. This makes a difference to the “off the shelf” solutions, that might appear interesting and valuable at the surface, but without the deeper sense of relevance and contextualisation, the participants may not have the time and resources to figure out how to implement what they learned.
It might be worth thinking about, while designing, delivering, or consuming micro-learnings, team workshops, operational and strategic decision-making sessions, and any other group interaction at work. Is the participant experience designed for impact?
Our conclusion is put in quote marks. This was not (intended to be) academic research. It was a bunch of operational professionals getting together to exchange around observations from the daily life. If I would try to summarize a key takeaway from preparing, executing, and reflecting back on this experience, I am drawn to the following:
The topic felt very simple in the preparation. And as we, a small group of 7, worked on it and talked about it, it felt like it grew in complexity. It is amazing how many lines of thoughts, interesting remarks and ideas emerge. Curiosity is an amazing driver for value. There are no right or wrong, simple answers. To channel the curiosity and the insights, it all comes back to challenging ourselves, and each other of how to lead and manage during these turbulent times. No matter what topic we work on, there is a potential for infinite learnings and endless development, if we want to.
If this sounds interesting, we can help you find clarity
- We share a 1 page template showing how you can do this yourself at work. Free of Charge
- 3o minutes call where we explain in detail how this works, and explore together if it is relevant for you. Free of charge.
- A 2 hour immersive learning session for your and your team. For price and availability, schedule a discovery session.
We are a small group of professionals with very diverse profiles that meet on a monthly basis to explore and discover the topic of how to Lead & Manage Change. It is a forum on invitation only, and if you are interested in learning more, and perhaps join us, please read more about it here and send us a note in the contact field below for an evaluation of mutual fit.