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Good Thing We Don’t Make Airplanes!

I have always learned a great deal from my clients. It is what keeps my work interesting and challenging.

Sometimes there are hurdles that are so unique that it can appear to be a dare: I bet you can’t come up with a strategy or identify the skills needed to create a feasible solution!  It’s a testament to the client’s determination and courage to work through to a viable resolution.

Sometimes I see trends.  Many people are dealing with the same thing and feeling the same kind of frustration. When I see that happening, I share with them my observation: they are not alone. Perhaps they can learn from another client.

When Dave (not really Dave, but Dave seems like a good alias to use) told me about his 3 legged stool analogy, I perked up because he is definitely not alone in his frustration.  And I love analogies and metaphors. But his works so well that I thought it might be of use to Blog Readers.

3 legged stools require all three legs to work as a stool. Shorten or remove one leg and you won’t be able to sit (certainly not with any comfort or security).

Dave has found that in order to move forward at work, he requires a clear idea, consensus, and resources. 

With a fuzzy idea, people don’t have clarity about what the goal is. The more clarity, the more likely success is possible.

Without consensus, there will be resisters, saboteurs, ‘Doubting Thomases ,’  passive aggressive behavior, and analysis that goes on forever.  With second guessing (“I agreed yesterday, but today I don’t”), true consensus has not really taken place.

With insufficient resources, execution will be found to be deficient.

In Dave’s organization, there are rarely three good legs to the stool. And Louie says that is the case in his organization as well. And Gertie tells me that her experience is much the same. 

And that might be the case in your organization as well.

What can YOU about that?

You can’t change the culture. You can give yourself a huge headache knocking your head against a wall. You can yell, although you’ll just make yourself hoarse.  You could ask them to read  any of the many HBR articles on making better decisions (though reading tell them ”what,” but won’t teach them “how”).

What you can do is talk to the stakeholders about the 3-legged stool.

  • Make sure you have goal clarity. That means making sure everyone understands what a successful outcome looks like.  Gaining clarity it as you go along is not the same thing as learning NEW information that you didn’t have any way of knowing about.   


  •  Work hard to get consensus.  It does not mean that everyone is in agreement. It does not mean that everyone is happy. It does not mean you take a vote and the majority wins. It means that people with opposing views come together to agree on something, even if it is only in part, and this allows them to move forward. Part of that agreement is that they will provide support for the decision going forward and not obstruct others.
  •  Identify the resources needed and secure the means required. You don’t hope for the best, you plan for it. Identify what you will need, might need, would like to have, and need to have.  Consensus is moving forward with all the information you have at the time. 

Dave may continue to struggle but he has a good conceptual understanding about what is needed to move forward with decisions. There may be on the part of some involved, a desire so strong to avoid making a mistake that no decision in made. That is a decision too. While no decision is being made, others are moving forward on things that are showing progress, losing interest, allocating resources elsewhere, and losing confidence in their ability to contribute and the organization’s ability to leverage their skills.

I laughed when Dave told me that he was glad his organization didn’t make airplanes! We’d still be discussing things and getting to those meetings by train or ship.

This entry was posted on Wednesday, December 4th, 2013 at 5:08 pm. Both comments and pings are currently closed.