What lies behind discouraging team work?

I have yet to meet a CEO or C level manager who claims not  espousing team work among his staff and between various disciplines or functions.

As a matter of fact, improving  teamwork serves has often served as a prime motivator for commissioning the services of an OD consultant.

Yet the very same senior managers who verbally espouse teamwork often sabotage it, willingly and unwillingly. They do so by using measurement systems which maximize sub systems, encouraging escalation of problems far too early in order to expedite speed of decision making,  and/or put up with and/or don’t terminate very poor team players who happen to perform well in their roles.

The reasons for verbally espousing teamwork whilst simultaneously discouraging it are many. I will point out the reasons that I encounter most frequently.

  1. The senior manager believes that teamwork may form a coalition that serve as an opposition to his\her power.
  2. The senior manager  believes that teamwork is ‘great ‘ as long as it does not slow things down.
  3. The senior manager believes that teamwork may compromise outputs of sub units by creating too much synergy-driven compromise.
  4. The senior  executive believes that high performance is more important that interpersonal teamwork skills, and can be compromised when all is said and done.

My advice to eager beaver young consultants who peddle teamwork seminars (perhaps using a model for which they have a licence to pedal ‘solutions’) is that the best medicine is confronting senior managers with the gap between what they say and what they do. Because in the end, when organizational\managerial behaviour as well as  systems support teamwork, teamwork actually happens.

 

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Unsolvable organizational problems

This post will not surprise anyone from the Middle East . So if you live in my neck of the woods  (where the locals know than most problems do not have a solution), then don’t waste your time reading. Now, for the rest of you folks…..

Although the  almighty positive western mindset tends to relate to problems as “solvable” or “manageable”, this is not  always the case. There are both personal problems, political conflicts as well as  organizational problems which are unsolvable.. The most salient political problem that comes to my mind is the Syrian conflict and its ramifications. For unsolvable math questions, click here.

This brief post relates to how organization development practitioners  can deal with insolvable organizational issues, instead of taking the wild toro (bull)  by its horns.

Let’s take a few examples of unsolvable organizational problems.

  1. CEO Lex and his family own and manage  a chain of 18 hotels. One of the hotels is managed by the least talented of Lex’s sons, on the insistence of the mother, whose family provided the initial capital for Lex to start the business. The son has no management skills whatsoever, and boozes heavily on the job.
  2. Gary is the CEO of a small start up selling hundreds of millions of dollars of products to South East Asia, where there are a lot of under the table dealings. A huge public firm has just purchased Gary’s company; due to compliance issues, all the under the table dealings must now be made transparent. This move will kill Gary’s Asian business, a fact overlooked by a sloppy due diligence team.
  3. Dr Frank worked his way up from engineer to Chairman of the Board. Dr  Frank was and is a most brilliant engineer, and he still meddles daily  in Engineering’s priorities. Every consultant hired to work on this issue has been dismissed by a very intolerant Dr. Frank. However 4 Engineering managers have also quit in the last 5 years due to Frank’s meddling.

A western “yes we can” mindset would look at possible solutions to the above problems. Perhaps Dr Frank would get yet another coach. Or Lex’s bum of a son would be sent to AA, or Lex’s mom would get some feedback and move her naughty son out of the role.

I do not share this mindset. First, I believe in “first do no harm” in situations like this; second, I believe that organization development lacks the tools to deal with such situations. So, as a famous Russian said, “what is to be done?”

Here are a few guidelines on dealing with unsolvable problems so as to prevent consultants acting as yet another set of folks off to solve the Syrian conflict or “liberate” Mosul from “extremists”.

  • Define what you believe in insolvable and leave it alone; you can probably only make it worse. For example, if Dr Frank leaves, the business may well  crumble.
  • Work around the problem. Keeping Lex’s son in the job yet keeping him on the road burdened with many business development corporate tasks may be the structure of a reasonable by pass.
  • Focus on what can be done by admitting defeat. For example, it probably is a good time to get Gary’s business more active in the less corrupt parts of world. Or perhaps having Gary work with due diligence teams are the next acquisitions.

For those interested in a short satiric parody about making all problems solvable, click here.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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UP Flight 2372

This post documents UP (El Al owned subsidiary) flight 2372 from Berlin to Tel Aviv on May 23, 2017.

Take off time was scheduled for 10.50 am Tuesday. The pilot announced a technical difficulty which would be addressed by local technical staff. We then waited in the plane for two hours, part of the time with no electricity or air conditioning.

Following the lack of spare parts, we were released from the plane at 1330 and told to wait until there is a further announcement.

At 1600 we were told that the plane might take off at 1800. We started boarding at 1700, only to be told that there was to be “no flight today”.

We were told to take our luggage and wait for an UP- EL AL representative. We were not told where to wait. Passengers scattered all over and there was total chaos. Old people and children were crying from despair. At 1800 we were told to wait outside terminal B for a bus that would be take us to a hotel. Then we were told to wait outside another terminal D. No one knew what to do.

Two minivans showed up with 12 places each which shuttled all the many passengers back and forth to the local Holiday Inn. No local UP-El Al ground staff was at the hotel. A sign was posted that supper was served  until 2200 and breakfast was to be at 0700 the next day, May 24th.

Passengers went to sleep. At 2200 however, we were called to go the airport because “we are  flying back at midnight”. Again 2 vans  with 12 places transported all the many passengers back to the airport, where we underwent security checks for yet another time. (We underwent security cross examination six times in one day)

The midnight departure was delayed by yet another two hours and we took off at 0200 am.

No UP-El Al representative was ever present at the airport or hotel,yet the  cabin crew claimed that “we took good care of you, didn’t we”. I received a questionnaire upon landing about satisfaction about the way that the flight delay was managed.

Beware of UP. It appears to me to be a dysfunctional, arrogant and incompetent airline.

 

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How to be an effective consultant to a micromanager

I do believe that some Western cultures are critical of micromanagement because of the value placed on empowering the individual. Many Eastern cultures allow the leader to manage as s/he wants, because its his/her job to be strong and protect us.

I do not personally hold micro managers in disdain.I have experienced many “high level” US based managers managing abroad who have been screwed royally because they don’t get the details.

This having been said, I have worked with several micro managers who wanted to be “cured” . In this short post, I shall share the strategy I chose in three cases in which I was successful.

British born and US based Ralph approached me because 5 of his 8 direct reports rated him on a company survey very poorly, adding that he was a chronic micro-manager. I interviewed all Ralph’s staff and confirmed the diagnosis. Luckily for me as a consultant, many of Ralph’s direct reports were Dutch and Israeli, who have no problem confronting Ralph’s authority. I told Ralph that every three months for two years, we would meet for a two day offsite during which there would be only one subject-“examples where Ralph has micromanaged”. After three offsites, there was vast improvement, as reported by Ralph’s direct reports.

Farid , an Arab Israeli managing 3 Jewish Israelis and 3 Brits, approached me via his sister who had been in one of my lectures. As is the case in many minority managers, Farid is very very smart and even more ambitious. Yet his top people kept quitting because “he thinks he knows everyone’s job better than they do.” . My guess was that for many reasons, Farid and his direct reports would not engage in open dialogue. So I gave each of his direct reports three red flags. Each flag meant “butt out and let me do my job” (תתעופף ותן  לי לעבוד). Three flags a week (to be given to Farid personally)  were allotted to each direct report. . No dialogue was allowed, just the flag. The change that took place was astounding.

Harry approached me because the CEO told him that he would never get to be CEO because no one liked working for him. “Harry, you are a fucking control freak, get help”. Harry, a very cerebral type, responded well to my intervention which was based on insight. Harry needed to  understand that due to his micromanagement, he has lost control. Once Harry cognitively understood that gaining control by letting go was the counter intuitive path to take, his behaviour slowly changed.

I think it is important for me to disclose that many of micro-managers with whom have worked with have been exceptionally good managers who have achieved stunning results over time.

I also want to disclose that personally I am not only a very bad manager because I am VERY impatient, but I am a chronic incurable micro manager. But I have insight as to why! 🙂

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George swallows a fishing hook

On a fishing expedition

It was warm and sunny; a perfect Tel Aviv spring day last Saturday. George and I went to the beach where he was unleashed and allowed to run free for two hours

As we walked on our 12 kilometer walk, I listened to Radio Swiss Classic and George played with other dogs, took an unauthorized dip in the cold Mediterranean and feasted on pitta, kebab, steak bones and what have you left behind by the night crowd before the cleaning squads had arrived.

After two hours, George and I headed home. At the first stop light, I noticed a fishing line hanging from his mouth. I thought it was just stuck in his teeth so I opened his mouth and saw it was not attached to his teeth. I gave a pull and nothing happened. George felt no pain at all; he was wagging his tail and licking my hand.

I was worried sick however. I drove to  the vet, Dr Yuval, whose clinic is open  and fully staffed on Saturdays. Dr Yael, the duty veterinarian, made several efforts to extract the line and when that failed, she took an X-ray. “It’s not good. He needs urgent surgery. I will call Dr Yuval to come in to operate. It will take time. He is up north”.

Dr Yuval was tending to his vineyard in Zichron, which is an hours drive from the clinic. Within 40 minutes, Yuval ran in, and George was put under the knife to extract the fishing hook from the muscle where his esophagus meets his intestine. The surgery took a long time. And I watched it on a monitor, feeling that I just cannot let him go though this without me being as close as I can.

Under the knife-George’s stomach

I was terribly  upset before during and after this incident. I also felt guilty for unleashing George and trying to pull out the fishing line.I told myself  that I wish that  this was happening to me and not to George.

“Go home and come back at 9 pm (in 7 hours)”, I was told.

Take me home

As directed I returned to the clinic, shaking like a leaf. George pulled himself to his feet, although he was certainly not wagging his tail. That’s for sure.

After a course of antibiotics, tender loving care, half a chicken a day and a few pain killers, George has fully recovered, playing Frisbee, having great sex with his favourite  pillow and begging me to replace his dog food with yet another roasted chicken.

Thanks to Dr Yuval and Dr Yael.

אין כמוכם

Back to normal

 

 

 

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“Communication” problems often lead you down a rat hole

Jacques told me in our initial intake  the he had invested a “shit load amount of money” into a startup which was going belly up because of “communication problems”.

Yves called me in because his CFO and Marketing Manager had “communication from hell”.

And Hans asked me to do some work because with introduction of the new ERP, communication between various functions had broken down.

In all three cases, the client self diagnosed incorrectly.

Indeed all three companies had communication issues, but  communication  was either a symptom or a clue that something else was wrong.

In Jacques’ case, the head of development and the head of product marketing did not agree as to product requirements and the CEO could’t decide because he was a bean counter and idiot.

Yves turned out to be playing his marketing manager and CFO against one another and he himself was the problem.

In Hans organization, the ERP was too rigid for the flexible nature of the organization. As a result, the ERP did not work very well; lo and behold people needed to use their common sense. (should unit 1 or 2 pay for staff expert Tom’s flight).

The moral of the story is the early bird gets the worm. No, just joking.

The moral of the story is that self diagnosis of communication problems is highly unreliable in many cases, often masking other issues which are more deep rooted.

 

 

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Dealing with a client’s wrath

Illustrative case-

I confronted CEO James that unless he replaced his buddy Serge as focal point for the Thai/Singapore/Indonesian office, there would be massive churn of key sales people. James turn livid and told me that “I didn’t hire you to replace Serge, but rather to align the South Asian offices to our culture. So, if you cannot do that job, maybe I need to replace you. You cost me a lot of money, and you don’t deliver.”

Comments-

Speaking truth to power means, “when necessary confront the powers that be about what they are doing wrong without fear.” Speaking truth to power was a cornerstone of organizational development.

I am aware that the “speak truth to power” generation of OD professionals has either retired or died…or perhaps (like me), they are still in the game albeit towards the final “laps”.

I am aware that the newer generation of OD consultants strives to “please” clients,  creating a “wow” outcome, or what Reddin called “apparent effectiveness”.

I have never been reticent of confronting my clients, It is a central tenant of my practice. As a matter of fact, this is one of the reasons that I am still hired.

In the course of my career, I have incurred a huge amount of initial wrath from clients upon confronting them with unpleasant truths. While it helps that I am personable and have a good sense of humour, there is something unpleasant when the client lashes back.

Here are a few things that keep me afloat when under attack.

  1. It is natural for clients to respond this way.
  2. The client is apparently very involved, which is very positive.
  3. I must check the content of what the client is saying, because I may be wrong.
  4. I did what I did because I am doing my job. I am also being paid a high fee to take the heat.
  5. This type of interaction will make me into a better consultant and the build the clients’ trust.

And when it gets really hard-one minute at a time.

 

 

 

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Consulting people who know one another too well

Peace keepers have been coming to the Middle East for decades, trying to bridge differences between nations which are assumed not to know one another well enough to cut a deal. The truth is that a deal hasn’t been cut  is because people know one another far too well!

Consultants often make a similar error; the goal of this post is to spell out how best to consult with people who know one another too well.

Let’s take an example. Rob and Tyler have been working together for 16 years, and will work together until they retire.

  • Rob believes that Tyler under-promises in order to minimize risk taking. Rob “does not believe a word” that Tyler says.
  • Tyler believes that Rob will do anything to “look good” at Tyler’s expense. Tyler feels that Rob would “sell his own mother” to get promoted.

Rob and Tyler have lunch together every day. They discuss sports and their shared hobby, running. Rob and Tyler joke with another quite a bit and appear to be jovial in one another’s presence. The formal meetings between them produce fuzzy decisions which are undone the moment they leave the room.

Recently Tyler and Rob have just had shared a major failure. Due to miscommunication and excessive ambiguity, a very faulty product was delivered to a key customer resulting in the loss of the client. The CEO has asked an OD consultant to work together with Rob and Tyler “to improve things without rocking the boat”.

Clearly, Rob and Tyler have learnt a pattern to cope with one another that it is almost impossible to change without rocking the boat and exposing the shit that lies beneath the surface.

I would suggest 3 DOs and 3 DON’Ts in such situations.

Do

  • Focus on very, very specific issues, not on “trust” or “communication”
  • Use a written problem statement issued by a senior manager
  • Act as a “go-between” focusing on building agreement and zeroing in  on disagreement.

Don’t

  • Don’t try to break most of  their entire coping patterns; focus on changing very small things.
  • Don’t focus on what happened, rather focus on what should happen in the future.
  • Don’t drag things out; rather work quickly before they learn to adapt themselves to you.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The blaming culture-root causes and what can be done

A Story

When the “Ogen” software release hit the market, the shit hit the fan. 550 clients had to close down their electrical grid as software bugs caused many “early warning” systems to alert that a disaster was impending.

The CEO, inundated with angry calls, convened a management meeting and ripped his entire team over the coals. The Head of Sales complained that “Engineering will ruin my reputation”. The Head of Software Engineering blamed the “Deployment Unit” for not understanding how to install the software. The Deployment Unit claimed the software was a piece of horse shit. Finance blamed Sales for the fact that “we will face a huge revenue shortage next year.”

Definition-a blaming culture is characterized by shirking of responsibility by shifting it down to the next level, up to the next level, over to a peer, or on to a different unit..

The blaming culture is a mega epidemic, especially since 2008 when jobs become very scarce. Root causes for the blaming culture include-

  1. Parking the blame for unrealistic goals
  2. Maximization of the goals of each sub-unit
  3. Fear of being dismissed
  4. Email mail/chatting technology
  5. Lack of personal contact between staff
  6. Overdose of matrices
  7. Compromising seen as not worthwhile
  8. Overdose of “yes-we-can ism” coupled with lack of resources
  9. Leadership  Machiavellian-ism
  10. “Dumbing” of the workforce due to IT systems replacing common sense

The ONLY way to go about eliminating the culture of blaming is to deal with manifestation of blaming at the top of the organization. Nothing else works. Once the blaming issue is solved at the top, it trickles down to the rank and file within a few years.

In the case above, the CEO knew that the software release was faulty, but gave a “go ahead” because”we can always fix things on fly. None of clients will throw us out because  their CTO’s career is dependant on our success”.

For those who are interested on how blame is managed, click here.

 

 

 

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Interviewing people with poor English language skills

Allon asks-“tell me about the type of input you would like to get from HQ”. Answer- “Me no hap no sahlale inkalez lohne tahm, lah.”

Yes, interviewing people whose native language is not English is hard for for the interviewer! In the above case, it took me about 5 more minutes to understand that this Thai engineer had not had a salary increase for a long time, which did not even address my question as I had asked it!

Interviewing people whose level of English is poor presents a cultural as well as linguistic challenge. In many of my posts, I have provided tips on how to deal with cultural differences in an interview. In this post I will deal with the linguistics of interviewing someone whose English is substandard,.

  1. Prepare simply worded questions and pluck out all the tough words. Utilize becomes use; sinister becomes bad, harass becomes bother.
  2. Ask each question several times and in several ways. Please explain how Som deals with customers? Do customers annoy Som? How does Som solve customer problems? If you get very different answers, then try again, since many interviewees feign understanding.
  3. When there is a really hard concept to convey in a question, it makes sense to put the question in writing in the interviewees native language. One case I remember is asking “is there is an emphasis on the individual doing everything possible to get the job done”. This was really tough to convey to various populations.
  4. Some words don’t translate and you need to prepare a “work around”. For example there is no such word as “expedient” in Hebrew or teamwork in Chinese. So instead of asking if Dov solves problems expediently, you can ask if Dov is capable of functional compromise.
  5. Never assume you are understood. It is much better to assume that you are going to be misunderstood unless proven differently.
  6. Triple the time you allot for an interview.
  7. Take breaks frequently because in some cases, the interview process can be brutal. I remember one very painful migraine after interviewing one particular person in Seoul.
  8. Enjoy the ride. There are funny moments that can be enjoyed. Like when I asked how to pronounce someone’s name and it took me 15 minutes to get it right. Or when some asked me “you chew”, meaning “are you Jewish”?

 

 

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