Livin’ the Dream: A Drama-Free Workplace
Part 2: But I Have Good News—Structure Can Fix Your Drama (People) Problem
In Part 1, I discussed how drama and conflict in the workplace are usually caused by personality clashes. We talked about identifying personalities and motivations, and how understanding them can help you target the actual issues you need to tackle. Now, let’s look at structures you can put in place to reduce the drama and conflicts and make your organization happier and more productive.
Once you understand that nearly all issues are people issues, you can start solving them.
No, you don’t have to start firing people. Usually, you can structure your organization and processes to minimize the issues your people cause.
Continuous Improvement Meeting
Whether you call it an Issues Review meeting or—more positively—a Continuous Improvement meeting, you need a standing monthly review of the issues your organization has encountered in the last few weeks. To track issues, put running log in place, and any time there is a problem, add it to the log. Now, the point of doing this isn’t to document who’s creating problems and place blame. Rather, it’s to document what’s gone wrong—as well as what’s gone right—in your monthly “lessons learned” so you can use it and become better for it. By focusing on the issue and not the people, I promise you, you can reduce the mistrust and the resulting stress in your workplace—those awful little hints and worries and behind-covering that fester beneath the surface, creating misalignment in your teams and sometimes resulting in outright conflict.
Who should attend this meeting? Definitely all three of the following:
- Your leadership team, since they have the authority to implement change
- Anybody who identifies an issue, since they can speak to what the issue is and why it’s an issue
- Anybody who’s identified as the root cause of an issue, since they should be encouraged to explain their side of what’s been identified as an issue.
Together, in this meeting, these individuals will review all the issues that have arisen since the last meeting. And a great format to employ for the meetings is ADDD.
The ADDD Structure
In my opinion, for this kind of meeting, you can’t beat the ADDD model (Assess, Diverge, Discuss, Decide) to identify why an issue came up and what can be done to prevent a repeat of it. It’s a great format and approach to get at the root cause of an issue while keeping focus not on blame and punishment, but on solving a flaw in the way some aspect of work is being done.
Assess the Situation—Ask Five Why’s
Begin assessing the issue by asking “Why?” five times. This “Five Why’s” technique is good for getting past blaming an individual and instead identifying a deeper root cause. For example, let’s say you didn’t meet your revenue goals for the month. You start with the question:
“Why didn’t we make revenue this month?”
Someone answers, “Because our sales rep Jimmy was out sick and didn’t make enough sales calls.”
So you ask a second “why” question: “Why didn’t anyone cover for Jimmy while he was out?”
And someone answers, “Jimmy didn’t think it was OK to ask anyone to cover his work.”
You then ask a third “why”: “Why didn’t Jimmy feel empowered to ask anyone to cover his sales calls?”
And the answer from Jimmy’s manager: “Jimmy didn’t feel he had a good enough working relationship with me to say he was struggling to keep up when he got sick.”
So the fourth why: “Why did that prevent anyone else being assigned the calls?”
The reply: “Because there’s no contingency plan in place.”
Finally, the fifth “why”: “Why is there no contingency plan?”
And the final reply: “It’s never been an issue before.”
Now we’ve gotten to the root reason the sales calls weren’t made—there’s never before been a need for a mechanism to back up the sales rep in getting sales calls made.
Now, you and your team are going to Diverge. In this context, diverge means to think through and discuss as many possible scenarios as you all can as to why this issue came up at this time. This process is a lot like brainstorming, where you open up the group’s thinking to any and all possibilities. Try not to jump to conclusions! Instead, discuss the varying ideas and build off of them. Remember, at this point, you’re not looking for a solution—you’ll be tempted to, but don’t give into it. You’re looking to think through what happened and what other possible things could happen.
In our example with Jimmy the sales rep, divergent points could include asking:
”What other issues could possibly occur when someone’s out for a long time?”
“What’s the opposite of Jimmy being sick? What are we doing to support and encourage Jimmy—or any other employee—to remain healthy?”
“What if Jimmy wasn’t the problem? What if nobody noticing the calls not being made and nobody stepping up was the problem?”
“Are any other employees cross-trained to take on the sales calls? To take on any other work if the person who usually does it is out for an extended period?”
“Was not knowing where Jimmy was in the sales process the thing that kept others from stepping up?”
“Were there other things being worked on at the time that were deemed more important? Maybe we have a priorities issue?”
Nothing is out of bounds in Divergence, and every suggestion should at least be put on the table for discussion.
At this point, you and your team Discuss all the possible ideas and scenarios. As solutions come out, don’t dismiss them—again, this is like brainstorming, with no “bad” ideas. Simply add them to a discussion “parking lot” for later review and evaluation.
The last step is to Decide. Here, based on the information you have and the analysis you’ve done together, you and your team choose what to do to prevent the issue from occurring again.
This is critical! All the work you’ve done up to this point to understand the issue won’t matter if you don’t revise your process to prevent the issue from happening again. So you must decide on an action to take:
- Decide to train Jimmy to formally hand off his sales call duties when he has to take off for an extended period
- Decide to have Jimmy’s manager put a plan in place to have someone take up Jimmy’s workload when he’s unavailable for an extended period
- Decide to prioritize sales calls for the department
Do something to make good on the work you and your team have put in to understand the issue.
Beautiful and Liberating for Your Employees
The beauty of this process? You take the personality issues and all the emotion and worries out of the problem and focus on using the system to solve an issue. Your employees will begin to see it’s okay to make mistakes—not that errors are encouraged, but rather that it’s expected issues will arise and that mistakes are treated by the organization opportunities for improvement. Commit your organization to this mindset as a foundation, and your teams will move away from mutual mistrust and “shame and blame” as a way to deal with issues and encourage them to work together to identify and solve them.
No more drama.