"Why have you tolerated it?"
"We tried to fix it, but nothing worked."
"And how is this affecting you?"
He pointed to his bald head and replied, "I used to have a full head of hair."
OK, he didn't really say that. What he did say isn't printable.
I spent the next two weeks observing the business. Since they'd already made any number of attempts to fix the problem and nothing had worked, it would have been silly to just jump in with another "solution." Compared to the hard drive or the falling student, this situation was a bit more complicated.
It wasn't until I was allowed to sit in on some performance reviews that the solution revealed itself.
At the risk of oversimplifying what was a complex situation, the fundamental problem was that the bad behavior was being rewarded. Despite all the talk about the importance of teamwork and cooperation, employees were being rewarded for their personal contributions. Project went well, but you couldn't prove you had contributed sufficiently? Poor review. Project went badly but you could show all the times you had stood up and fought for the "right" answer? Good review. And so it went. Teamwork was talked about, but selfishness was rewarded.
Once the problem was correctly identified, fixing it was eminently doable. The most difficult part was taking some deeply rooted beliefs about what should work and replacing them with facts about what would actually work. On the other hand, the sacred cows turned out to make excellent hamburger.
Quite often, the best way to figure out a problem that is only getting worse is to combine the lessons of the hard drive and the jujitsu student: You have to have the right person looking at the problem from the outside. It's knowing what to look for, what to ignore, and having perspective on the problem that makes finding a solution possible. It's amazing how many seemingly intractable problems have remarkably easy solutions once you know what to look for and how to look for it.
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