An interesting telephone conversation this morning got me thinking that it might be a good thing to add some reality to my stupidly simple but effective model of
How Organizations Really Work
Many people have experienced a presentation using my Square Wheels One illustration, either something I have delivered or something from one of the purchasing users of my toolkits. The main anchor point is this illustration:
What we suggest is that the presenter show the illustration and then allow people to play on a worksheet that asks them for their ideas on how the illustration might represent how things work in most organizations. We use “most” to keep it arms-length, but many people will use the drawing as an inkblot test and project their ideas about it onto the worksheet. We allow individuals about a minute of “silent refection” prior to working and sharing their ideas with others at a table for 5 to 6 people.
It all seems really simple. But using it over the years, I will admit to being shocked and amazed at how well this works as a projective instrument to help diagnose organizational issues. The very nature of the group interaction also lets other people frame and reframe ideas until the collective work is nothing short of amazing.
What we generally suggest is to allow the tabletops to select on relevant Square Wheel and then work on generating 3 round wheel potential solutions for consideration, with the idea that we will force some additional considered alternatives rather than the first thing that comes to mind. Those ideas can then serve as the basis for a strategy for implementation.
How surprising are the ideas generated? Well, I actually collected about 300 different ideas about the above illustration before it became impossible to sort the list; my guess is that I have heard 500 or so different thoughts on the cartoon. Some of them include:
- We’ve always done it this way
- Determined to use the old ways
- Organizations don’t think
- Solutions are in the wagon, already
- The solutions are available but not being used
- Old processes and information
- No trust in the people behind you
- No trust in the team
- Lonely at the front
- One person sets the direction
- One person has the vision
- Leadership is deaf
- Leaders see only what’s ahead
- There is no idea of where they are going or where they have been
- Support people are blind
- All of them are blind to the possibilities
- They can’t see the forest for the trees
- Round wheels belong to someone else
- We don’t use the tools that we sell
- Changing directions is very difficult
- We need to se the problem to find the solution
- Traditions die hard
- Inefficiencies are everywhere
- Need to change our paradigms
- People aren’t resisting change, they aren’t aware of possibilities
- People are choosing to be unaware of possibilities
- People work hard, not smart
- No mechanism for steering or changing direction
- Continuous improvement is possible
- Some work is just not much fun
- Don’t just do something, stand there
- We need to step back from the wagon to discover possibilities for improvement
- Resources are always available
- No vision of what is ahead from the back
- No use of resources
- Poor planning for resource utilization
- Lack of commitment to make real progress
- The rope is loosely tied, management may choke itself
- The answer is in front of us, we just can’t see it
- If only we mirrored our reality occasionally
- People need to step back every so often to look around
- Push, or get left behind
- Working together can get it done
- Jobs are designed harder than they need to be
- Human capital isn’t valued
- We like to overpower rather than reduce obstacles to get things done
- Not all technology works for you
- Not all the ideas are usable immediately
- Progress isn’t simply about working harder
- Tried and true still works — the Square Wheels still work
- Internal resources for improvement are always available
- Leaders get isolated from the realities of the wagon and the journey
- Workers have no vision of the goal
- People are too busy pushing and pulling to get a vision of the goal
- People are too busy pushing and pulling to make improvements
- Square Wheels are the status quo; difficult to change on the fly
- The team will probably meet its goals for productivity and cost
- Communications are always difficult when people are busy
- The manager may be too close to the work to see the possibilities
- The wagon is hard to start and easy to stop
- Stop. Think!
- People make things work no matter what
- Too busy with the work to focus on what will work
- A few people are doing all the work and others are going through the motions
The above bullets represent less than 2 of the 8 pages of thoughts and ideas that I have captured while showing the illustration. You can see from the above that there is a great diversity in viewpoint over something as simple as a line drawing. When you consider the complexity of the actual workplace, there are no simple views that are most correct.
And there have been a bunch of great one-liners, jokes and quips from session participants, including:
• Those who do have no clue, and those who lead can miss the need.
• If it didn’t go thump, thump, how would we know we’re making any progress
• We’re not like that! We push our wagon uphill!
• You should have seen what we did Last Year!
• The Pushers may have a wheely bad attitude
• Triangular wheels would be an improvement:
– You know, “One Less Bump per Revolution!”
• The Square Wheels may have been invented by a woman…
– but the men are stupid enough to push it that way!
The illustration is a wonderfully simple and unexpectedly powerful tool to generate involvement and engagement in identifying workplace issues and opportunities. The recent book, Thinking, Fast and Slow by Nobel Prize winner Daniel Kahneman attests to the need to anchor thinking and allow for group participation to generate the optimal understanding of opportunities. I reframed one of his key concepts thusly:
Our perceptions can be extremely limited, especially when one considers John Le Carre’s quote about a desk being a dangerous place from which to view the world. What we really need to do is actively work to involve and engage people in discussions about what things in the workplace need improvement. That engagement works wonders when some of those ideas can be implemented, as they usually can.
I have written extensively on the statistics and benefits of improving the active involvement of people. My blog is full of different articles around un-engaged and unmotivated people and ideas for making improvements. There are even articles on the issues and realities of sabotage that the actively dis-engaged people may take.
If you would like to read more about the Square Wheels tools for actively involving people and facilitating workplace improvement, click on the link below.
For the FUN of It!
Dr. Scott Simmerman is a designer of team building games and organization improvement tools. Managing Partner of Performance Management Company since 1984, he is an experienced presenter and consultant.