This is part two of my post on "stream thinking" –a different way to think about organizational structure and collaboration. You might want to read part one (August 22).
Imagine the scene:
Frustrated Frank: I really wish you would’ve let me know before you made that decision.
Hard Charging Hanna: Sorry. I thought we were moving forward based on my conversation with Sr. Leader Joe.
Frustrated Frank: Well, Joe didn’t have all the information when you talked with him. This affects my team big time. In fact, team member Susie got wind of the decision and came into my office and hit the ceiling. I don’t blame her. I was mad too.
Hard Charging Hanna: Look, I’m not trying to cut in on your team, but we have to keep things moving or will never get anything done. Do you want to include EVERYONE in EVERY decision?
Frustrated Frank: “I don’t call including ME or my team ‘everyone.’”
The trouble with Hanna and Frank is that they don’t understand how stream thinking and leading should influence decision making and change.
When I sit with leaders and Executive Teams I hear the above conversation—or others similar to it—all the time. Executive leaders seem to have a propensity to move forward without including the right people (up and down stream) in the decision or change process. This weakness will thwart the possibility of healthy change (and actually slows change down).
Why do leaders leave people out?
Hanna’s fear is real. Teams and organizations can over-talk decisions to a point where nothing seems to get done. Leaders are leery of conversation because they’ve seen it go nowhere and waste too much time. However, the way to overcome over-talking is not by enforcing a no-talk rule. Rather, dialogue about decisions should include the right people at the right time. This may slow the process down a bit at the beginning, but in the long run you will avoid the trouble Hanna and Frank encountered.
A healthy conversational process includes the right people up and downstream in three ways:
• To consider the value of the decision.
• To evaluate possible consequences—foreseen and unforeseen.
• To anticipate as much as possible what it will take to make the change/decision a reality (this is something leaders frequently underestimate since they don’t do most of the actual work attached to a proposed change).
To leave key up and downstream people out of the conversation is trouble every time. It doesn’t mean everyone up and down the stream gets to vote on the decision. It does mean that important voices should be heard. If they are not, the decision or change is less likely to stick and you (as leader) are more likely to encounter resistance up and down the stream.
A few years back, I was working with an Executive Team who was wrestling with the need to improve stream dialogue and leadership. Together we came up with the following questions they (and everyone else in the organization) now ask when considering changes or entering a decision making process. You may want to develop something similar for your team or organization. Here are the questions:
1. Is the potential decision congruent with our mission and guiding principles?
2. Who should I/we process this decision with before the decision is made and implemented?
3. Who (individuals and groups) will be effected by the decision? When and how will they be affected?
4. What needs to be communicated to whom and when?