Chickens do not fly as far as I know.
Some organizations are like that too. They almost fly.
I think I figured out why.
It was 10:45 a.m. I drove to a Target Teal customer, gasping for breath, one hand on the steering wheel, and another finishing the bag. Lighthouse closed. I sent a voice message to my partner.
Me: “Davi, according to Waze, I’m going to be 10′ late for the meeting.”
Waze doesn’t overestimate, that is, it could still get worse.
Punch on the steering wheel. Half a dozen swearing shots with some variations of “shit!”.
At that moment I tried mentally to correct my delay. “Maybe if I had not had coffee later… Maybe if I had not reviewed that presentation before I left… Maybe if someone else had taken my son to school… “
Suddenly I stopped the litany.
“Wait a second it’s not the end of the world, right? It’s only ten minutes. This meeting never starts on time. I always have to run after people to start. I’ll bet Davi will be alone there when I arrive. I have good reason to justify. It’s OK!”
After the relief came, there was doubt.
It was curious how it had calmed me down this time. Radio off. No great existential reflection.
PLIM! (Mental sounding).
I understood what was happening. At that moment I discovered why I was being so generous to myself. Actually, I was okay with my delay because I knew all the other people at that meeting would be late, too.
I sent another message to Davi.
Me: Davi, I know what happened! I understood my delay, I understood why we were hired and the reason things were kind of weird out there.
When we started the project on this client there did not seem to be a specific problem that we should address. This is quite normal. The interviews we had with various people in the organization had been great. Lightweight. There were difficult and passionate stories, as well as in other organizations.
When they told us in the beginning
“I like you but I’ve seen this kind of initiative here, it will not work”
“We start a lot of cool things but rarely go forward”
“I do not trust the capacity and sometimes the intentions of some people here”
“There are things that only work if you escalate to the top”
“The rush never ends”
“There are very different people here, it is very difficult to please everyone”
“The priority is what comes last or who speaks loudest”
I didn’t realize they were all talking about the same thing.
I needed to see myself repeating some of those sentences to know what it was about.
When I found myself suspicious, hiding, climbing, complaining, I became conscious that I was in the same scene what these people were. At that moment I was able to understand the script I was replicating.
I’m going to reproduce here only one of several cultural loops we from Target Teal are identifying in the organizations we’ve been through. We named this as direct as we could: “The Flight of the Chicken.”
The cycle becomes obvious after someone reveals it.
When I avoid saying “no” to people, I end up committing myself to more things than I can do. Dishes begin to fall and I can no longer honor all the agreements I have made. When this happens to an entire group, people begin to lose confidence in the decisions they make, in the capabilities and intentions of others, and in the future of the organization. No results are achieved.
Authority becomes more centralized and control mechanisms proliferate. In this context of widespread mistrust, I am even more afraid of not being accepted, valued, recognized, supported. I am afraid of being fired, losing my friends or such great opportunities. In the face of such fear, it is safer to please, obey, and agree. It makes sense to say more “yes” than “no”.
When I could see this pattern taking shape, I wanted to solve it there at the same time, as I would with a burnt-out lamp. Well, the truth is that this is not possible. It is not a tangible thing or a gear that can be replaced. Interventions are as desirable as they are unpredictable. And although they may affect the pattern, they are not able to control it.
Breaking the loop
“And what do we do then?” is what you may be wondering, just like I did.
There are many paths. For all possible tastes. The charm of this is that there is no ready, infallible formula just waiting to be applied. Let’s just say there would not be so many bestsellers and consultancies out there if only one of them already had the answer that everyone is looking for, right?
The way we treat it at Target Teal is called Cultural Design. See more about this approach here.
In this process of facilitation the answers are treated as cultural experiments, some give certain others not (it is only the time that separates the failure of the hit), but all bring learning. These experiments are not specialized solutions.
In this process of facilitation, the proposed solutions are treated as cultural experiments. Some are validated, other not (it is only the time that separates the failure from success), but all bring learning. These experiments are not created by experts outside the organization. They come from the people who work there and the stories they want to be part of.
As I said, culture is not a broken trunk that can be repaired. Even less a Mission and Values picture hanging on the wall (“Manifesto” has just been the cool way to hang the same picture on the wall, sorry). Culture is all this universe, so delicate and deep, of things that exist between people.
Let’s go back to the “Flight of the Chicken.” It seems like we can try to stop it at any time. Personally, I prefer to affect the point of least resistance where the pattern seems more “fragile”. There, where the egg is about to hatch. Habit of not saying “no”.
Our project team decided to prepare an omelet. No big plans for that. Among the cultural artifacts we create for prototyping, we have decided to prioritize one that encourages people to say more “no” in their daily lives. It is important that these are simple initiatives so that they can be tested quickly.We call this minimal viable interventions (MVI) .
We opted for something fun where everyone, from the CEO to the assistant, is invited to spend a certain amount of cards weekly, which, on one side, has the word “no” in bold letters, accompanied by a small justification on the back. These cards have the magical power to let people say “no” to that request/order/demand they are getting. Whatever it is, whoever it is. I do not know yet what will happen. That’s what we’re living right now. A small group of restless people causing the organization to try something new.
The Myth of Maturity
“Oh my God, but are people ready for this?”
As the popular saying goes, “there is no way to make an omelette without breaking eggs”.
A final word about the myth of maturity (click here to see what we have already said about it):
What is maturity, anyway? What scale should I use to measure these assumed levels of maturity? Who says if the fruit is ripe? Is it the tree, the fair guy or the fruit itself? Or does nature use a 9box matrix that crosses performance with fruit potential to know which is edible and which is disposable?
I leave here the invitation to talk less about ‘maturity’ and more about ‘maturing’. Let’s stop treating as a noun (something I own, a property) to treat as an intransitive verb (something I do, an event). That is, it is not something understandable or teachable. So forget the courses and books for that purpose. Maturing has to do with practicing. Nobody’s ready for anything until they start doing it. This is the point! In our case, just start saying “no” more often. Yes, it is uncomfortable and at the same time it keeps us alive.
Want to know more about cultural loops, design and omelets? Call us for a coffee :)