Some colleagues and I are working with a client who is looking to refine a newly implemented organizational structure. It’s just about the first anniversary of the implementation, and they’ve seen some cracks in the thing, and so they hired my colleague to help suss out those cracks, and surface some potential solutions. He asked my partner and I to come and help him think it through.
The way these things tend to go is, client sees signs of a problem they want to solve, they hire consultant/s to look into it, do an analysis, and make recommendations, consultant does things like interviews, focus groups, and material review and then compiles a report. It’s pretty common. Not exactly overly complicated work.
Last night, we were talking about the first round of data gathering that had been done - it was focus groups with everyone who was involved in the new structure, from managers to front line contributors. We were talking about the next steps (interviews with the VPs and some other executives), when something occurred to me. “I’d like to ask you a binary question,” I said to my colleague. “Based on your focus groups, is this new structure working?” Without hesitation, his response was, “Yes. In fact, I asked them that same question at the end of the sessions. They had an enthusiastic yes.”
This is interesting. Not because it’s working, that’s actually not that surprising. Yes, there are cracks. And, yes, they will need to figure some of those things out before they are able to know how this is going to scale to the degree they need (this particular company is on the verge of massive growth). But it’s working. It’s giving them, for the most part, what they want and need. Why is that not the focus of the conversations right now? Why the hell aren’t they celebrating? These kinds of changes are hard to pull off.
Of course, they aren’t alone. My partner and I decided to bring our work under the singular umbrella of Connection Works last August. We did a bunch of work to get this lined up, including re-writing the existing CW website, and put it out there. And we have yet to do what we said we’d do back in the summer: go out with our significant others to raise a glass and celebrate this new partnership. We’ve moved on to the next things. Why is this?
Here’s what’s occurring to me: we have a problem oriented society. We are looking for problems, not for reasons to celebrate. We are looking to be and (maybe more importantly) to feel productive. Productive means getting things done. Getting things done means solving problems. When we cross one threshold, it’s time for the next. When we finish one project, it’s time to get the next one rolling. In some ways, stopping to mark the good, to look at what we’ve done is seen as counter to this. I’m really not sure that it is, though.
A 2012 study showed that the way that couples celebrate each other helps to predict how they will go through the hard times together. Sure, this is about married couples, which is different than workplaces. But not necessarily that much. We could read into the study that it’s what’s at the heart of relationship that counts here. Celebrating strengthens relationship. Relationships matter in our work.
When we focus on the problems to solve, and just the problems to solve, we are missing out on a key ingredient: all the people doing the work together. Each of them - each of us - have an inner world that constitutes of needs and desires. Things like, to be seen, to be appreciated, to be acknowledged (in a variety of ways), to be cared for, to be recognized, to be respected, etc. If all we do is move on to the next thing, we’re going to miss out on this. And this could bring trouble over time. People want to stay where they feel they belong. And we feel we belong where we feel seen.
This is starting to go down the path of something that could use some more references and research, so I’ll leave it here for now.
We closed our call with our colleague by strongly suggesting that this particular client spend a few minutes giving each other high fives before they dive into problem solving. I made a note to schedule a celebration dinner with my partner. I’ve got celebration on my mind, so I’m going to work to build some more of that into all areas of my life. It’s probably something we can all use a bit more of.