Category Archives: Problem Solving

The Challenge of Multiple Purposes For Management Team Members

Recently, when talking with a client it became evident that when in Management Team meetings he was first a representative of his department, rather than first seeing himself as a leader of the whole organisation. Below is the dialogue from that conversation.

GR: “How do you believe the other members of the Management Team view their roles?”

Client: “Based on their behaviour, I’m one hundred percent confident that they would have the same perspective as me. None of them would see themselves as leaders of the company first.”

GR: “When there is a problem that exists within the business, how is that problem approached from a Management Team perspective?”.

Client: “Well if there was a problem with my area, for example, I would be asked what I was doing about fixing the problem.”

GR: “What if you didn’t know what to do?”

Client: “I’d have to work it out, or at least that would be the perspective that I would take.”

GR: “Being brutally honest, if your colleagues continued to question you about the problem but you didn’t have an answer, what would happen to your level of defensiveness?”

Client: “Oh, that’s easy. It would go through the roof!”

Gary Ryan, Organisations That Matter, Yes For Success, leaders, leadershipThis conversation highlights a dynamic that exists in far too many Management Teams. The team members see themselves and their colleagues as representatives of departments, not as leaders of the whole organisation first.

Such a view can lead to the following behaviours that can hinder an organisation from achieving high performance:

  • When problems arise they are to be solved from within the area from within which the problem arose
  • Team members wait for their turn to speak to the issues that relate to their department
  • Team members do not actively participate in attempting to solve problems that arise from departments that are external to their own
  • Avoidance of discussing issues that might reflect negatively on the performance of the managers themselves

Senior Managers need to be able to work from the perspective of dual purposes at the same time. While they are responsible for their department they are also responsible for the whole of the organisation as well, including the departments of which they are not directly responsible.

When Senior Managers are able to do this then they are able to genuinely inquire into and offer suggestions for problems that arise from departments outside of their own. In fact, they wouldn’t even see the problem as being, “…out of their area”. Rather, they would understand that due to the interactions and interdependence between departments that they would have an equal level of responsibility with their Management Team colleagues to solve these types of problems together.

This is not to say that Senior Management should abdicate responsibility for the problems within their own departments. Of course they need to be doing everything they can to solve them. At times, however, the problems will be of a type that require the assistance of their fellow Senior Team members if the problems are to be solved and/or effectively managed.

As Russell Ackoff used to say, it is not the efficiencies of the parts of a system that lead to high performance, rather it is the quality of the interactions between the parts of the system that matter the most. At a Management Team level this means that problems need to be addressed by the team as a whole, rather than being pushed back to being solved at the department level from which the problem was believed to have originated. The issue with the second approach is that just beacause a problem appears to have originated from a particular department, doesn’t mean that it actually originated from that department.

What capability does your Manatement Team have to manage the challenge of multiple purposes?

Are problems at the Management Team level in your business addressed as team problems, or are they addressed as problems for the respective departmental managers to solve?

Gary Ryan enables talented professionals, their teams and organisations to Move Beyond Being Good.
View a TedX Talk by Gary here.

Systems Thinking Explained by Dr Peter Senge

Peter Senge, Senior Lecturer at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), and Founding Director for the Society of Organisational Learning explains, in simple terms, what “Systems Thinking” is and how to use its principles for solving complex problems.

According to the Employability Skills for the Future report by the Australian Government (2002), Systems Thinking is considered a critical leadership skill. Yet it isn’t being taught to leaders.

Understanding this skill and developing it as one of your leadership capabilities is a high leverage activity that will enahnce your career. This short video is a terrific way to commence your understanding of this topic and you can also access other articles I have posted here.

Gary Ryan enables individuals, teams and organisations to matter.
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You’re not listening to me!

One of the greatest frustrations that you can experience in the workplace is the feeling that you aren’t being listened to or understood.

Many of us will respond to this situation by getting louder and possibly even angry.

The interesting fact is that when we feel that we aren’t being listened to or understood, most likely whoever we are speaking with feels exactly the same way!

Think about a time when someone indicated to you that they felt you weren’t listening. Chances are that you felt exactly the same way.

“What do you mean I’m not listening! You haven’t listened to a single word that I have said!”

There are five steps that you can follow to help you in such circumstances.

1. Recognise what is happening
To be able to do anything about this situation, first you have to recognise what is happening. The first sign will often be your own frustration or emotional response to not being ‘heard’.

2. Stop and listen
The first step above is your signal to stop and listen. Nothing more, nothing less. Focus on trying to understand what they are saying. This is your challenge – to develop an understanding. You don’t have to agree with them, just understand them.When the person finishes speaking move on to the next step. Remember. Just listen.

3. Say “Thank you”
This step can be very hard, but it is very powerful. When emotions are running high it can be difficult to control what you say, especially if the person you are speaking with has just given you a verbal barrage. No matter what is said to you, start with, “Thank you.”

Feedback is like a gift, and just like some gifts that we receive are not about us (like the play station I gave my wife for her 30th birthday many years ago!) the important issue with gifts is that we know to say, “Thank you” when we receive them. This tip is very powerful when it comes to knowing what words we are going to use first when it is our turn to respond in a heated conversation.

4. Ask, “Is there anything more that you would like to tell me?”
This question highlights that you are focused on them and not yourself. It is an indicator that you are really trying to listen to them, which is exactly what you are trying to do. It is also very powerful when people just want to be heard.

5. In as short a number of words as possible, check your understanding with them
Once they have finished speaking in step 4 above, succinctly tell them what you understand their perspective to be. Do not include your perspective or try to defend your perspective. Your job is to let them know that you really do understand where they are coming from.

Upon telling them your understanding of their perspective, ask them to correct any misunderstandings that you may have presented.

These five steps are very powerful and address the core issue of being heard. Once people feel heard, the emotion element lowers and you can move into the more productive problem solving mode.

What is your experience of trying to put these five steps into action?

Gary Ryan enables individuals, teams and organisations to matter.
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Russell Ackoff – Systems Thinker Passes Away Suddenly on October 29th

Professor Russell Ackoff, a prolific student and teacher of Systems Thinking, passed away suddenly on Thursday 29th October as a result of complications arising from hip replacement surgery. He was 90 years old.

If you would like to see some of Professor Ackoff’s work, watch his video.

A full obituary can be read from his website.

My own understanding of Systems Thinking was heavily influenced by a video presentation of his titled, “From Mechanistic to Social Systemic Thinking.” I have to admit that I only understood half of it when I first watched it, but I was entranced by the different perspective regarding how the world works that Professor Ackoff was presenting. Many years later his teaching has continued to strongly influence my own thinking.

One of my favourite quotes from Professor Ackoff is:

“All of our social problems arise out of doing the wrong thing righter. The more efficient you are at doing the wrong thing, the wronger you become. It is much better to do the right thing wronger than the wrong thing righter! If you do the right thing wrong and correct it, you get better.” Magnificent!

Professor Russell Ackoff, rest in peace.

Gary Ryan enables individuals, teams and organisations to matter.
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