dinsdag 23 april 2013

When We Cross That River

Imagine two individuals standing on the same side of the same river but with some distance in between them. And one is standing at a point where the river is calm and gentle whereas the other is standing at a point where the river is wild and fast. Now what will happen when the two will call each other only to consult one another how to cross this river? Do you think they will agree on the way to get across? Probably not. Yet I see this happening every day in organisations. Individuals and groups in direct opposition when discussing solutions whilst they are facing a different problem. They share the same goal: reaching the other side. But they are looking at different parts of the river, requiring them to think differently. Now some would argue that it's simply a matter of reaching agreement on what the problem is. But sometimes we think we agree but we don't. Or we can't agree. Why is that?

First there are a couple of constraints that need to be understood by both. Recognizing these five may increase your options to reach that shared goal:

1. The premature solution
We try so hard to focus on solutions that often we forget to analyze the problem sufficiently, causing us to limit our data gathering, use familiar ways that we know how to solve, and finally, narrow too soon. This can also be 'the single-solution dogma'. We have found a solution to the problem as we see it. Can we accept that there might be several solutions instead of one?

2. The forgotten principle
Problems often reoccur. While this doesn't call for repeating a solution, it's not uncommon that organisations have thought of a principle to guide them each time a problem of similar nature occurs. But principles tend to be forgotten or understood differently over time, whilst they can help us agree that multiple solutions could fit.

3. The policy straitjacket
Organisations often seek efficiency and control by standardisation. If similar problems are addressed in the same way, policies are in place, then people know how to act and we can predict the outcome. But while standardizing manufacturing processes makes perfectly sense, it doesn't make any sense in problem-solving. It limits the use of common sense and may deny us better solutions for different contexts in which the same problem can occur.

4. The improbable testimony
You are looking at the problem but you fail to see it as the other does. Of course! You are looking at it from a different angle. Denying someone's perception of the problem is more harmful than the problem itself. It causes distrust and closes doors for further dialogue and collaboration.

5. The Babylon effect
Christian or not, we all know the story. In ancient Babylon, the Babylonians were building a tower to reach to heaven to sit next to God and rule the world. In the biblical story, God placed confusion of speech upon the builders so they could no longer communicate and complete their work. Are we really speaking the same language?

In fact, there are many more constraints to mention that can cause us to disagree on a solution, or worse, make us settle for a less optimal consensus. But the ones mentioned here are some within your direct span of control. Recognize these and you are half way there!

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