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Monday, 26 June 2017 06:28

Lead the horse to water, don’t push their face in it

Have you been to many off sites or problem solving days that you can never get back? Was it 4 hours of your day that you’ll never get back? 2 days? A week altogether, including the meetings and planning beforehand?

Why are so many strategic planning days or problem solving initiatives such a waste of time? One of the reasons – it’s all about the people.  The right or wrong people can make or break the success of the group thinking. We just assume because they are capable, they are valuable. We also assume that if they turn up, they are motivated. We need a room of people who are capable to contribute to the thinking AND are motivated enough to want to be there. 

For the sake if this argument, let’s assume that we are clear on the right problem to solve. Which rarely happens but hey… it’s not called an assumption for nothing. There are three principles I stand by when it comes to making sure we get the best outcomes with the right people.

1.    Don’t make people come. Seduce them.

Telling people they have to come or participate in problem solving is old school. It stems from the old school ‘command and control’ style of leadership. It’s the opposite of ‘leading the horse to water’.  It’s pushing their faces in it.

Harrison Owen, the Originator of ‘Open Space Technology’, a highly successful problem solving methodology, tells us that we should invite people to attend these days so only the ones that want to be there are. It changes the whole atmosphere. Now there’s a concept. 

We sell our products and services to our customers, so let’s do the same to our people. Let’s sell the issue and why it’s so important to resolve. Then trust that the right people will come. The onus is on us now, not them.

Not everyone is wired to think outside the square, nor motivated to. Let’s be ok with that.

2.    Don’t judge a book by its cover

When I was a little tacker my Dad told me a story about one of his good mates, who was blessed with copious amounts of cash. One day, after a morning of gardening, he decided a good break would be to walk over to the nearby BMW dealership and inquire about the new series. It was time to upgrade. 

He walked through the dealership, looked in the windows of the pristine and shiny new models on the floor. 15 minutes later and still no one had approached him. He then decided to sit in one of them and admire the dashboard. Within seconds a salesman approached him and suggested he move on, as this was not a “game of dodgems”.  

Later that afternoon, he drove past that dealership with a new BMW – for which he drove to the city dealership to purchase and trade in his last years’ model. I’ve never forgotten this lesson. Obviously, his gardening threads were not considered good enough for a typical BMW customer to wear. They missed out on a $150K sale that day and a considerable loss of future revenue, once he told the story over and over to his other well financed mates. 

We do this at work too. We judge people based on what they wear, how they speak, if they don’t speak, how they treat others and their years of experience or even academic history. Your assumptions of what the ‘right group of people’ to solve the issue looks like are exactly that – assumptions. We need to be very careful that our need to be right about the lineup, doesn’t make us assemble the wrong team to solve the core issue.

3.    Participation is optional. Commitment is not. 

It is not hard to make the mistake of valuing attendance instead of outcomes. Many of us think that a greater number of people attending meetings or workshops dictates a better outcome. It doesn’t. It’s like telling your child that the more Instagram ‘likes’ the more popular they are. Unfortunately, this is what many kids are basing their identity on. We do the same in business. We want great solutions and think that large numbers are the way to do this. 

Yet we do need to make something clear. Whilst attendance is optional, being a part of the solution is compulsory.  This way, no one is powerless. Everyone knows the options. No surprises.

Daniel Pink, Author of “Drive; The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us”, explains that to create a high-performance workplace we need to encourage and support ‘autonomy’.  Autonomy is different to independence. Independence is about going it alone, relying only on self and acting as a lone ranger. Autonomy is about acting with choice.

If they don’t want to come, fine. But the outcomes decided (without them) will be how the business moves forward. That’s a given.

If you want to make the time and thinking count when your people gather next, talk to us about our new facilitation program ‘Decisionate’.

Last modified on Tuesday, 27 June 2017 06:45

About Georgia

Georgia is obsessed with the power of great communication. She knows how great communication leads to great collaboration and helps create outstanding cultures.


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