I had a conversation about process improvement with David Firth, successful and inspired change management consultant in England.
In our discussion, David told me about some work he did with a multinational manufacturer around challenges with their supply chain. Teams of highly intelligent people were not working well together, primarily because they were not communicating effectively.
Leadership called him in to research the problem and to solve it. In that context, I wondered about if he found similar challenges to process improvement across industries.
AK: What do you find to be the biggest block to effective thinking when change is required in businesses?
DF: Here’s an anecdote: I sat down to lunch with a guy from the group from [the multinational manufacturer]. He proudly told me that just before the course, he and his team had been through the Meyers-Briggs test and found that not one of them – in a team of about 15 or 20 people – had an F score.
So they hadn’t any people in their group who tested with emotional characteristics. None at all. The attitude was proudly, “And that’s a great thing, isn’t it?"
AK: What did that tell you?
DF: I was so struck by the sort of analogy of the computer people in the early 1990s -- I know from working in a lot of IT-related industries or IT parts of organizations that there was a heck of a strong culture that sustained rigid attitudes.
AK: How would you describe that culture exactly?
DF: I think it’s a very masculine culture, even if it the employees aren't all men. It’s about gathering things round you, it’s about keeping the tribe together, it’s about being against the world.
AK: Against the world?
DF: Yeah, that’s maybe a bit strong. I’m thinking about what they did in the Wild West movies when the Indians came to attack them . . . ?
AK: They circled the wagons.
DF: Right. I always thought about that in IT departments. It’s a pride in their own language, in the way they do things . . . .
AK: But what does that have to do with not using emotional strengths -- or emotional intelligence? The idea of hunkering down, and being against the world?
DF: The analogy between the IT department is that we’re right as we are, we don’t need to change. This guy was saying, “Not only are we fine as we are, I’m born this way. You can’t change me."
AK: But it also sounds like what you’re saying is that the way that you prove that you’re right Is by demonstrating that there are no emotional components to your decision-making process.
DF: Yes. It’s about being right. And being right demands that you use only your head and deny that there are emotions involved. Somehow it's believed to be not only possible but necessary.
Look, the goal is to get to the right answer. The path is to eliminate everything that they feel doesn’t belong to them because it isn't comfortable.
AK: So as I see it, what you're saying is that this group feels that by limiting their perspective, they are strengthening it. Entertaining the value of new ways of seeing or learning is absolutely out?
More on connections between obstacles to effective thinking at work and creativity in other contexts in future posts.