Dysfunctional management and a blame culture - it can get better: 3 first steps

Dysfunctional management is the nightmare of any organisation. It paralyses everything, leaving you steadily drifting into irrelevance. A blame culture at the top is usually both a cause and a consequence of this state and it spreads across the organisation, making even small, localised changes hard to achieve. If you can't change you can't adapt to your competitors or to changes in technology or consumer choices. So how do you start to fix that?   

It is hard for organisations to step outside their existing culture, to act ‘as if’ they weren’t in their existing world. This is as true for managers as anyone else. Attempts to ‘bring in’ or in any other way impose a new culture by diktat or plan or rhetoric is pretty much doomed to failure. New cultures need to be cultivated; they need to be grown from within the organization. How do you do this? The organization is both created by, and constrains, the small daily habitual patterns of interaction and communication of everyone in the organization, or in this case the management team.  Change these and you change the organization.

The patterns of behaviour are both products, and reinforcers, of our patterns of mind, that is, our habitual way of understanding the world. Powerful experiences that can’t be accommodated by our existing world-views are the things that change our mental models.


3 First Steps - create some of those powerful experiences


  1. On the road again. Exposing someone to different experiences can shift their views. For example sending the production manager out with a salesman to experience customer behaviour and need first hand. The production manager is going to be skeptical - "why do I need to see how sales works, that's their job. Our job is to make our widgets in the most efficient way we can to the designs we've been given. I've cut the cost of making each widget by 30%, if they're not selling as well as they used to that's sales's fault." Then he sees the customer explaining to the salesman that because they can't get replacement widgets the next day anymore he's switched widget supplier. The salesman and the production manager discuss this and they realise its because the new, more efficient procedure the production manager has brought in means they don't carry much spare inventory anymore.The salesman sees that the production manager didn't do this to make his job harder and the production manager realises his actions had unintended consequences.
  2. This person's not just a pain in my @$£%, they're a human being. In a similar way creating events where people experience each other differently can shift their beliefs about each other as they discover aspects of and qualities in the person to which they had not previously been exposed. Two managers bring their respective middle managers to a workshop session. Both get their teams to talk about one instance where the manager helped them to become more confident and competent in their roles. Both managers will see that the other manager isn't just the person that shoots down their ideas, tells them things can't be done and berates them for not following their systems, they're people who care about and nurture their teams. Then the next time there's an issue between them it's not "they're just saying no to spite me" or "they're lazy" but rather "maybe they're worried about the strain its going to put on their team".
  3. I've never even thought of that before. Alternatively the powerful experience can be an internal one. The experience of being asked a really powerful question is akin to having the world shake on its axis. If a manager only seems to see when someone is getting it wrong ask them: "Who thinks highly of this person, and what is it that they see that you don't?". When someone seems to have a good idea but is unable to get going on with it ask them: "Who do you feel you need express permission from to make something happen here? To take the initiative?" - it might be "No one I guess", they're just used to waiting for direction. When someone is locked into complaining about something, particularly if it isn't something they can actually fix, the question "If you weren't spending time talking about this, what would you be talking about?" should wake them up to the waste of time and energy.


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A little about us...

We work with organisations that are struggling to change how they work. We help avoid and reduce resistance to change and other problems so that people get stuck in to making change actually happen, saving you time and money.  

We do this using several techniques, including Appreciative Inquiry, that make it possible for the people affected by the change to see it as an opportunity that they can get involved in rather than a threat or burden that’s being imposed on them. That way they can become your partners in change rather than the source of problems to be overcome. If you and your organisation need help with this call 0845 055 9874 or email jemsmith@acukltd.com to arrange for a free 30 minute initial consultation.