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You Can Lead A Horse…

If you lead a horse to water and it won’t drink beat it with a stick. ~unknown

A project is in trouble so the team was given an entire day off the project to have an open space meeting to come up with a solution, a solution to a problem they have caused themselves by poor execution on the project. The project leads were excluded because of a fear that the team would not speak in front of their leads. This indicates to me their is also a trust issue within the team.  Giving the team an opens space with a facilitator is a positive for a team. It puts the destiny of the team in their own hands, gives them a chance to ward off any ‘help’ from management. This team had management help for a similar solution years ago and the help provided was the team was put on mandatory 60 hour weeks for a number of months, a phase of our work life that has come to be know as the Death March. While the team was still in trouble during that era, they held an open space meeting to find creative solutions to bring the schedule project. The ideas generated by the team enabled them to get of the mandatory overtime and finish the project on time and very close to budget.

I met with some of the leadership team to listen to the solutions the team had dreamed up. It’s an understatement to say, I was very disappointed at the lack of creative solutions.  They came up with a list that did not address any issues within the team, a list that points the finger to the outside world which they declare is the reason the team is behind schedule. It’s like little kids standing before a broken vase exclaiming, “It’s not may fault. He made me do it.” There is an old adage that says,  if you can’t remember history you are bound to repeat it. The sad thing is this team remembers the history, they suffered through the history, yet chose to ignore their very real history and not come up with one idea in an entire 8 hour day that would address the issue at hand. A number of people on this team fancy themselves leaders. Based on these results, they should probably rethink their aspirations.

In a couple of hours, the leadership team and I and came up with thirty to forty actionable items to help the team address their deficit. None are the complete answer but, a number of them taken together, have the power to help the team get out of the hole they have dug for themselves. A few of the items are going to upset the team because they take away some of the teams autonomy, some of the freedoms they enjoy like flexible work hours and work at home. However, this is the consequence the team must face for  failing to take the hard look at themselves and make their own tough decisions.

With the history of the Death March, you would think the team would diligently seek to find solutions and shoot a preemptive strike to the managers eager to help them find a solution. But they didn’t. We lead the horses to water and gave them every opportunity to drink their fill and provide a solution of their own design, a solution they could own, a solution that would elevate the team in the eyes of management. They chose not to drink, chose to blame the outside world instead of taking that deep soul searching inventory and bringing forth a solution. Now, I fear, they are likely to get beaten by the Management stick.


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