What we do not see in organizations, nevertheless exists

The medical profession are experts in dismissing patients because they cannot see diagnose things which tests don’t pick up on.

Those of us who suffer from back pain have all heard from doctors that “I cannot see anything wrong”. I have a friend who suffers from very sharp pains in her small fingers which drive her to distraction; she has been assured by her MD that she “need not worry because there’s nothing wrong”.

In this post, I want to caution organization consultants about things we may not see when we diagnose an organization which causes us to misdiagnose or miss the point altogether.

Here are a few things I missed because of things I could not see.

  1. Illicit sexual relations between employees. Many years after I had worked with a chef and F&B manager who quarrelled endlessly for no apparent reason, I learnt that  lovers quarrels  were the cause of what I was observing.
  2. Spouse involvement. I worked with a very senior scientist who earned a huge salary. Suddenly he wanted a title that no one in the organization possessed, as well as a BMW. He negotiated himself into a corner and quit upon his requests being turned down. Years later, when we met at a gas station restaurant on the Tel Aviv to Haifa highway, he told me that his wife had been instrumental in his demands because “she thought they were taking advantage of me”.
  3. Mental Illness of a single individual.  Depression is often masked.   Masked depression can manifest itself as excessive conflict between teams due to one depressed individual,  lack of/excessive motivation and  substandard communication.
  4. A horrendous secret. I worked with a company whose product did not work. It was due to “go live” with another year of investment but the three founding scientists (an Indian, Israeli and American) knew that it would not work. The seemingly endless meaningless friction between them was all about how blame would be allocated. This I learnt only after the company disintegrated.

Years of experience have taught me that I don’t know what I don’t know, but I always assume that I don’t have a complete understanding, ever

And the morale of the story is: read Sherlock Holmes, and never strive to understand everything. Because if you try to get everything right, you “explain things away”.



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8 thoughts on “What we do not see in organizations, nevertheless exists

  1. Thanks Allon, for the reminder. I would add that these factors are very hard to pin down. Others collude with those involved, sometimes without realizing it. I think the best advice is to assume you do not know everything and to keep asking questions.

  2. I have experienced events of a similar nature. One of them involved a director’s wife who had an affair with a supervisor reporting to that same director. The nature of the work required that all three members coordinated their decision-making and problem-solving to facilitate a very high stake start-up. Throughout my career, I noticed that such occurrences are not rare when human beings are tasked with high stake challenges requiring an eminent level of excellence combined with a requirement for near unbroken closeness and high emotions (euphoria in successes achieved, shared deception in breakdowns).

    In this case, it was a matter of “rescuing the beloved”. The supervisor was convinced the woman needed him to achieve her portion of the contributions necessary for the project’s success. Interestingly, he began to loose interest as she became more independent in her decision-making.

  3. Allon, These unknowns are examples of what lies beneath the water line. They are unseen but they affect everything. In many cases, they are widely known by insiders but, because they are undiscussables, no one will address them. As an example, see the recent news stories about the fall of an American Roman Catholic cardinal whose history of preying on young seminarians was widely known, but was kept secret for decades.


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