There’s something lacking in many fast-paced, pressure-filled workplaces today: time to think.
That’s the belief of Margaret Wheatley, a best-selling author and management consultant who specializes in organizational behavior. Speaking at the 2014 Leadership Conference in Red Deer on Monday, she described how organizations often rely on quick decision-making, which leads to unresolved problems that escalate and foster blame, resentment and denial.
“Big issues don’t usually start as big issues,” said Wheatley. “They become big issues by our unwillingness to tackle them in their early stages.”
A good way to pre-empt such problems is to schedule time to meet with others and analyze issues before they get out of hand.
This must be a regular and ongoing commitment, held in a relaxed environment without time constraints, and following an agenda that reflects the issues of the day.
The benefits, said Wheatley, can be dramatic. Participants gain the confidence to handle complex problems, their sense of camaraderie increases, their behavior improves, they become more willing to experiment when seeking solutions, stress and anxiety drops, and ultimately, better decisions result.
“This is the single most powerful way to cure many of the issues that affect us, like morale, quality of decision-making, teamwork, trust,” she said. “There’s a sense of confidence that, ‘Yes, we can tackle all of this.’”
People may initially resist a push for organized time to think about issues, but that attitude changes after a few meetings.
“Once they experience them once or twice, they can’t wait to come back to them,” said Wheatley.
An organization’s leaders might also oppose such meetings, afraid that they’ll become a forum for “bitching and moaning.” But that’s rarely the result, she said, as members gain a positive way to channel their energy instead of voicing their anger or cynicism privately.
“You hear it in the bathrooms or the parking lot or via private email communication,” said Wheatley of unresolved discontentment.
She pointed out that most workplace disasters, including calamities that cause serious injury or loss of life, result from problems that staff were aware of.
But they felt powerless to effect change, or weren’t listened to.
“We are missing these experiences of feeling successful at solving a problem, and feeling successful at working well together,” said Wheatley of workplaces where thinking isn’t encouraged.
“We’ve got to find ways to turn our brains back on.”