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What Are You Trying to Accomplish Here?
What Are You Trying to Accomplish Here?

What Are You Trying to Accomplish Here?

jtpedersen_Fires_consulting_facilitatingThis is a question I have to ask myself, when invited in to an organization to help put out fires.  Why are there fires to be put out, in the first place?

Fires typically result from friction between intra-company groups.  They can also breakout between the company and its key customers, particularly in the B2B (business-to-business) environment, where a company and its customers are more partner-like than transaction based (as with B2C).

The larger the organization, the more individual parties are involved, the more likely collective friction will grind overall performance down significantly. jtpedersen_road trip_Longboard Girls Crew Page If you’re over 13 years old, you’ve probably already noticed this.  If your parents have conflicting guidance (rushing to pack the car for a trip?), the overall progress can just halt.  Odd, that as we get older, nothing changes it seems…

The challenge in many cases, is that the individual teams working toward a (supposedly) common goal, each have their own objectives.

Use the example of an automotive supplier trying to solve a major challenge with its service at a major automotive company (OEM).  The supplier will have a Quality group that may be at odds with the Engineering team, which is itself at odds with Manufacturing.  Finally, as a result of internal friction, the supplier itself it working to address challenges within the OEM and it’s own internal groups.

The Quality group isn’t satisfied that the parts meet the latest specifications.  Engineering is grappling with the OEM’s demands for urgent change (the OEM itself struggling to put out ‘its’ own fires).  And, of course, Manufacturing feeling caught in the middle—Engineering making changes that are hard to accommodate, while getting pushback from Quality as well.

This discussion, while set in business context, is equally applicable to our personal lives.  As Alan E. Shelton points out in Awakened Leadership, even though we tend to act as though we lead two separate lives, they’re really one in the same.  The more we resist that fact, the more stress we have overall (anyone fighting a life|work balance? Anyone?).

These kinds of friction abound everywhere. They’re incredibly common. Even the best-run organizations encounter them from time to time, or perhaps by nature of their own business markets.  The drive to minimize these issues contributes to the popularity of Agile in the software world.

There are a range of reasons these fires are allowed to continue.  One common reason stems from a lack of effective over-arching leadership, someone able to stay atop it all, helping shepherd everyone toward a common goal.

[pullquote align=”left”]Quite often, putting out fires, simply comes down to strong, broad and positive—effective—communication amongst all involved.[/pullquote]If everyone becomes to myopic, focused on their own day-to-day demands, it is easy to forget the big picture needs to have over-arching priority.  What are you trying to accomplish here?  For instance, the goal of a Quality Assurance group (an example, not picking on any one group) is not to ensure statistical process control numbers are met.  That’s just a method to their madness;).

No, the goal is to help ensure the organization, as a whole, delivers products and services to the customer as expected, preventing unpleasant surprises.

jtpedersen_stylish sun_credit to dnahtigalQuite often, putting out fires, simply comes down to strong, broad and positive—effective—communication amongst all involved.  I have referred to the process as herding cats, each with different objectives, toward a common goal.

What are we here for? What are we trying to accomplish here?  If you can’t answer in a sentence or two, odds are you don’t really know, and need to figure it out.

image credits:
Stylish Sun
Longboard Girl’s Crew


  1. JT, you uncover a great point. I observe that some companies thrive on this negative environment, and the chaos it creates. for the savvy consultant, there’s plenty of money to be made helping these misled organizations. And it’s like selling drugs to addicts; they are not addressing the root cause, and therefore some consultants that can stand working for these kinds of leaders, can make a lifetime career out of it.

    The obvious question then, is to ask if consultants can help fix the deeper systemic problem? Sadly, not very often. Broken organizations rarely know they are broken in this way, and their boards rarely are involved deeply enough to force change.

  2. Excellent point. And it is only going to get worse. For example, in marketing there are now so many subsections (social media, content management, etc in addition to all the traditional parts of a marketing program) that too many people are making “strategy.” The whole concept has been lost. More and more we have parts of the tail thinking they are wagging the dog. And the concept of management is being morphed into “leadership” with one consequence being that too many C suite executives don’t actually know the areas they are supposedly leading as well as they should. But corporate politics being what it is, everyone still wants more turf. More turf, more turf wars. More fires.

  3. Tim Wefler

    Thanks for the topic and the article, JT! The real root of the problem is that we spend almost 100% of our time thinking about ourselves- can’t help it!! This means that we spend most of our time thinking about our own personal goals, yet most of us try to give the appearance that we’re team players. When our personal goals come into conflict with corporate goals (i.e., the need to change something, which means a disruption in our personal sphere of control), then the corporate goals will only win after the individuals are sold on the fact that the corporate goals are in allignment with their individual personal goals!

  4. Andrew Stein used a key word that W. Edwards Deming (root cause analysis, Ishikawa, systems/process) and the late Kathie Dannemiller (Whole Scale Change, systems thinking) have used successfully to deal with such ills. These processes are about capturing yearnings for doing good work, assuming, per Tim, that those on the bus want to be there working for said company.

    I’m a bit more optimistic than Andrew in that if a decent consultant is ASKED to help and there IS a sincere desire to change, usually fueled by strife, failure, mistrust of leadership, high churn and other mayhem – as JT describes, you then have the raw material (deep dissatisfaction) for moving the needle on the change-o-meter. Add 5 committed people in the org. who will see this through and NOT waffle, and you may have a change to make a difference. That’s what reading blogs of this are about, aren’t they. :-)

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