Employing Differences

Employing Differences, Episode 31: What if you don't?

December 15, 2020 Karen Gimnig & Paul Tevis
Employing Differences
Employing Differences, Episode 31: What if you don't?
Chapters
Employing Differences
Employing Differences, Episode 31: What if you don't?
Dec 15, 2020
Karen Gimnig & Paul Tevis

"The challenge that many of us who are helpful by nature run into is that oftentimes we start doing things when we notice that there's a problem and we want to help. And we don't recognize that by doing that, we are contributing to the continuation of the problem. You're talking about workarounds in systems. And every time you do something like that, every time you hide the fact that the system is not addressing whatever it's supposed to be addressing, that you are now guaranteeing that the system is not going to get fixed. That's the real problem with workarounds. As you said – you are hiding the problem. And it can feel horrible to not hide the problem, to use your metaphor, to let it bleed. And it's why one of the things that I have done a lot in organizations where we're we're working on systemic issues, and of course, as soon as we go in, we discover all of the workarounds that are allowing things to function as they can that that nobody wants to continue to do, and they feel like they have to. And whenever I ask questions about it, it's like, 'Well, if I did this, then that would cause this pain.' And I always tell them, you're not causing the problem, you're revealing that it's there. You're creating an opportunity now, for the group, for the system, for the organization to go, 'Oh, we thought that this was being handled by formal processes, by a good way of working...' The larger group is not aware. And that can be very, very, very painful and frustrating at first, but when it group gets good at that, when we stop hiding problems, we can develop the ability to actually address these things to make things function well again."

Listen on the website and read the transcript

Watch this episode on YouTube

Show Notes Transcript

"The challenge that many of us who are helpful by nature run into is that oftentimes we start doing things when we notice that there's a problem and we want to help. And we don't recognize that by doing that, we are contributing to the continuation of the problem. You're talking about workarounds in systems. And every time you do something like that, every time you hide the fact that the system is not addressing whatever it's supposed to be addressing, that you are now guaranteeing that the system is not going to get fixed. That's the real problem with workarounds. As you said – you are hiding the problem. And it can feel horrible to not hide the problem, to use your metaphor, to let it bleed. And it's why one of the things that I have done a lot in organizations where we're we're working on systemic issues, and of course, as soon as we go in, we discover all of the workarounds that are allowing things to function as they can that that nobody wants to continue to do, and they feel like they have to. And whenever I ask questions about it, it's like, 'Well, if I did this, then that would cause this pain.' And I always tell them, you're not causing the problem, you're revealing that it's there. You're creating an opportunity now, for the group, for the system, for the organization to go, 'Oh, we thought that this was being handled by formal processes, by a good way of working...' The larger group is not aware. And that can be very, very, very painful and frustrating at first, but when it group gets good at that, when we stop hiding problems, we can develop the ability to actually address these things to make things function well again."

Listen on the website and read the transcript

Watch this episode on YouTube

Paul:

Welcome to Employing Differences, a conversation about exploring the collaborative space between individuals.

Karen:

I'm Karen Gimnig.

Paul:

And I'm Paul Tevis.

Karen:

Each episode, we start with a question and see where it takes us. This week's question is, "What if you don't?"

Paul:

One of the things that causes my brain to get a little excited, in my disturber nature as a consultant sometimes, is when someone says, "Well, I have to do this." And my brain goes, "Oh, what if you don't?" What happens when we take the things that we feel like we have to do and we often use that language, that language of obligation, "I have to do this thing." I will often ask, "What if you don't?" And the answers to that become very revealing. And they're often things that we have been doing so long, that we've just completely forgotten about why we started doing them in the first place, and what value they're adding now. And so I find it very interesting to start to ask. You have to ask respectfully, and from a place of genuine curiosity, but what if you didn't do the thing that you have to? What what would happen?

Karen:

And I think one of the most common places where I see that happening is when there's some sort of crisis, or some sort of pain point, or some sort of dysfunction happening. We know what should happen, the way that we should be sharing power, or the people we should be having conversations with, or that should go through that particular team is the thing that it should do and that's not working. And so I have to fix it, I have to triage it, I have to find a workaround, I have to act on it. And usually that means exerting power that's not actually authorized power within the system. So you're doing a workaround of the system, you're taking what power you have, and using it in a way that you're really not authorized "because I have to." What you're doing I mean, yes, sometimes you do have to, sometimes there is a crisis, that the thing will die if like you really do have to. But a lot of the time to use that triage metaphor, what you're doing is stopping the bleeding so that nobody else has to see it, when if you actually would let it bleed not die, but bleed that sort of pain and that really visible like "this isn't working" becomes evident. And then as a system, everybody kind of goes, "Ooh, we better figure out how to fix that thing." And so very often, what if I don't, is, "Well, if I don't, then the problem will be revealed."

Paul:

The challenge that many of us who are helpful by nature run into is that oftentimes we start doing things when we notice that there's a problem and we want to help. And we don't recognize that by doing that we are contributing to the continuation of the problem. You're talking about workarounds in systems. And every time you do something like that, every time you hide the fact that the system is not addressing whatever it's supposed to be addressing, that you are now guaranteeing that the system is not going to get fixed. That's the real problem with workarounds is that as you said, you are hiding the problem. And it can feel horrible to not hide the problem, to use your metaphor, to let it bleed. And it's why one of the things that I have done a lot in organizations where we're we're working on systemic issues, and of course, as soon as we go in, we discover all of the workarounds, you know, that, that are allowing things to function as they can that that nobody wants to continue to do, and they feel like they have to. And whenever I ask questions about it, it's like, "Well, if I did this, then that would cause this pain." And I always tell them, you're not causing the problem, you're revealing that it's there. You're creating an opportunity now, for the group, for the system, for the organization to go, "Oh, we thought that this was being handled by formal processes, by a good way of working..." The larger group is not aware. And that can be very, very, very painful and frustrating at first, but when when it group gets good at that, when we stop hiding problems, we can develop the ability to actually address these things to make things function well again.

Karen:

Yeah. And I think, you know, there is some discernment here. I mean, in the last 12 hours have a deadline on a six month project, yeah, triage away. Get the thing through and meet the deadline. And then hopefully, there's a retrospective of some sort, where you're looking back and saying, "How'd that go?" And that's the point to say, "So I was doing a lot of triaging, and I did a bunch of stuff that I wasn't really authorized to do, or I did a bunch of stuff that wasn't really my job, or I did a bunch of stuff that wasn't ideal. It got us through. How do we avoid me having to be in that position, or the team being in that position going forward?" But then the trick is to not sort of make that excuse for yourself, to sort of check in like, "Is this a time when really triage is the way to go?" Like, we just got to get to whatever it is. And I think one of the sort of measures of that is, can I define the point at which I am going to tell the story? Are we just getting through to this goal, this deadline, this thing, and I know that in the fairly near future, we're going to go back and unwind this and say, "Let's look at what really worked or what didn't work?" If this is an ongoing thing that you just keep doing, odds are it's doing more harm than actually doing good in the long run.

Paul:

This is where you get into the domain of things like psychological safety, where you actually need people to feel safe enough to bring up problems like that. That when there when there isn't enough safety in the environment, people will hide problems, they will create workarounds, and it contributes to this sort of happening even more. Yeah, you have to recognize when is the right thing to do to stop the line, to just say, "Hold up, everybody, we got this problem, and we keep patching over it. Let's actually stop and address it." And when is it the right time to say, "I'm going to deal with this situation." And then once we're on the other side of whatever this deadline, or this important thing is flag that conversation and come back and say, "So y'all probably didn't know, but this is what's going on, and I think we really need to address this, we need to come back around around to this."

Karen:

And then the other corollary to that is sometimes it's not going to work for you to say it, or you had to say it and it didn't get heard, and that's when you really just got to let things go cockeyed. Just let whatever bad things are gonna happen. Because what's happening is when you do the workaround, you're taking ownership of a thing that actually rightfully belongs to the group. And since you take ownership of it, the group doesn't. Not only they don't take ownership of the work, they don't take ownership of the problem. And so by letting everybody sort of sit in the problem there'll come this point of, "Well, how come you didn't do the thing." There's this this image that's actually housekeeping, but there's a story of a woman who is at home and her husband gets home, and he comes in, and there's like toys all over the place, and he's trippin on stuff, and he can hardly even find her, and they finally finds her, like sitting in a room and reading a book. And he's like, "What happened here today? And she said, "Well, you know, when you come home every day, and you say, 'What have you been doing all day?' Yeah, I didn't do it." And so the way he recognizes, "Oh, there's all this stuff I wasn't even seeing," is that she lets him see it. And I think in the same way, people who are sometimes it is my job to go around and clean up and do all of that. But if I'm doing a bunch of stuff that really isn't my job, isn't the best use of my resources, should belong to other people, letting it be not done and it's messy, and somebody comes in and trips over the toys for a while, and then they're like, "Well, why is this mess happening?" "Oh, yeah, cuz I didn't do that thing this time." Like, "Why is that happening?"

Paul:

And there's the real possibility for learning there. Those things just kind of evolve or the over time when there's a thing that we naturally do, we picked it up. Sometimes it's a workaround, sometimes it's an actual role that we're in that we've chosen to step in for a little while. Over time, the situation changes. And it can be really useful to come back and reevaluate and revealing what all you're doing by not doing it occasionally aometimes I like to give people warning but like allows the the group and the system to sort of say like, "Hold on, is this how we want to allocate tasks and roles and things like that? Is there a different way? Is there time to readjust it?" And if we hold on to the thing we've always done

for long enough:

One, we just get we can get sick of it. We'll just be like "I have to do this, and I don't want to." We feel like we have to because we know it's an important thing that needs to get done, and so we can't give it up. So we're in that double bind of, we don't want to do it, we're probably not doing it very well, because we're sick of it, and we know it needs to get done. So we can't let go of it. And getting out of that trap is really sort of what's behind that idea of like, what happens if you don't. How can you find a way to not? How can you find a way to reveal to the larger group what's actually happening here? Wither how this has changed over time, or how it's never worked. How there's a hole in the system. Revealing that and then letting the whole group go, "Okay, so this is not your problem. This is our problem. What do we want to do about it?"

Karen:

I think that wraps it up. That will do it for us today. Until next time. I'm Karen Gimnig.

Paul:

And I'm Paul Tevis. This has been Employing Differences.