I brought up the subject “we solve problems better together” with a few Vice Presidents and other members of various executive teams, and it felt like a rocket shot out the roof. It clearly was a very important topic to these very successful group of business leaders. They had lived both sides of this issue a few times. One member spoke of how the CEO and other top leaders had a great track record of including feedback and engagement of the others in the company for many years, and this was part of what helped make this organization successful. Then, about a year ago, the CEO decided to install a new software program that worked in other parallel companies, without any input from the organization – a departure from usual protocol. You can guess what happened next. Although there was training of people on this new software, nobody knew why this product was chosen, and the vendor of this software had not taken feedback from the rank and file about whether it was a good fit for this company, or exactly how it needed to be customized for their organization. One of the Vice Presidents told me a story. He said he tried to simply order one certain part for his own use at his home office. He said the order went through six people and he still did not have the part two weeks later. He then said “that was one part, and we are putting in orders for thousands of parts for various organizations daily. We now have a list of 360 problems with a punch list of 144 items. Who knows when that delay will go away!”
People might push back and say it takes too long to include many people in these decisions and therefore it is better if someone with authority makes the call. This is actually only half true. In a brand new outstanding book entitled The Open Organization, the authors would reply by saying, yes it does take longer on the front end, but the speed and depth of change is much quicker and more successful on the back end.
Quoting a study from PwC on project management found that 59% of large change projects, meant to solve problems, end up with a negative ROI on the organization. Three problems were quoted for this failure:
- A lack of commitment and follow-through by senior executives
- Defective project management skills among middle managers
- Lack of training and confusion among frontline employees
On the other hand, when these organizations were compared with the best successes in project management, these were the 3 reasons they discovered in how they succeeded:
- Senior and middle managers and frontline employees were all involved
- Everyone’s responsibilities were clear
- Reasons for the project were understood and accepted throughout the organization.
All of this reminds me of a text in the Old Testament. As you follow the history of Israel in the Old Testament, it becomes obvious that God never wanted hierarchy, with only one top leader calling the shots. He creates 12 tribes of Israel from Jacob’s 12 sons, because when they left Egypt (think Pyramid organizational structure) God intended that kingship was not repeated – God would set up a federation of 12 tribes, where God was to be King and Lord. After a bunch of rebellions and rescues by leaders called by God to rescue Israel from their oppressors, Israel cries out for a king. In 1 Samuel 8:10-18 here is what God tells Samuel to tell the people:
Samuel told all the words of the Lord to the people who were asking him for a king. 11 He said, “This is what the king who will reign over you will claim as his rights: He will take your sons and make them serve with his chariots and horses, and they will run in front of his chariots. 12 Some he will assign to be commanders of thousands and commanders of fifties, and others to plow his ground and reap his harvest, and still others to make weapons of war and equipment for his chariots. 13 He will take your daughters to be perfumers and cooks and bakers. 14 He will take the best of your fields and vineyards and olive groves and give them to his attendants. 15 He will take a tenth of your grain and of your vintage and give it to his officials and attendants. 16 Your male and female servants and the best of your cattle[c] and donkeys he will take for his own use. 17 He will take a tenth of your flocks, and you yourselves will become his slaves. 18 When that day comes, you will cry out for relief from the king you have chosen, but the Lord will not answer you in that day.”
The last line strikes hard. If you all depend on one central leader to make all your decisions and solve all your problems, as it goes for the king, so it will go for you. The New Testament also has this to say in Romans 12:2-6:
“Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will3 For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you. 4 For just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, 5 so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. 6 We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us. If your gift is prophesying, then prophesy in accordance with your[a] faith; 7 if it is serving, then serve; if it is teaching, then teach; 8 if it is to encourage, then give encouragement; if it is giving, then give generously; if it is to lead,[b] do it diligently; if it is to show mercy, do it cheerfully.”
In other words, Paul is calling the new Christians to not follow the patterns of the world, which in the case of the ancient world was kings and hierarchies everywhere, but instead follow a new pattern where we are a body together, each with contributions to make towards the whole.
This does not mean we do everything by consensus. What it does mean is that we will solve problems better together when input is taken from the various parts of the organization before a decision is made. Slower in the upfront process, but successful and faster on the implementation side.
I want to close with one more story. A close associate of mine is CEO of one of the fastest growing companies in our area. In talking with him about this subject, he commented this way about a major change happening in his organization. He said, “if I make this decision alone, it just doesn’t work. But if I tell my executive team to research and make three suggestions for solving this problem in rank order, then the decision is completely vetted from many angles and the buy-in is completely owned by the leadership team. Then when the pain and hassle of change happens,the people in the organization will do the work to see it through to completion.”
We solve problems better together.
Engage further with this topic by listening to our podcast.