Scene 1: Our air conditioning repair man Luigi was just telling me how he caught his wife painting their bathroom red, just after he had just painted it white (over the red it used to be). He smiled, while clearly still irritated: “I love her dearly but she drives me crazy. She is a free spirit and I am anal retentive.”
Attraction to people who, on some core dimensions, are very different from us is commonplace. So it seems quite paradoxical, that many of us combat the very differences in our partner, that we once found attractive.
Scene 2: Allied Engineering, a large bureaucratic firm, acquires upstart Stevens Tech to streamline its IT processes and systems, in order to more quickly respond to its customers in real time. Stevens however never gets the chance; upon integration, Allied forces Stevens to adopt Allied’s procedures and systems, thus preventing Stevens from accelerating Allied’s customer response time.
Completely illogical, yes? Completely common – absolutely! Research shows that the majority of integrations fail, not because of finances or legal ramifications, but as a result of this inherent resistance to change. Clearly, this ambivalence to change needs to be identified and addressed prior to the integration.
How do you understand this paradox? Do you see it in other organizations? in your own life?
I was consulting to a CEO of a Fortune 500 company who wanted me to help him to get his group of senior execs act like a team. He mentioned that one of the execs on the team had a stellar team that put his senior exec team to shame. He wanted me to observe both to see if I could discern what made them so different. First thing on a Monday morning, I settled into a chair in the back of the room. Of the 7 execs, 4 were on time. They waited about 10 minutes or so for the others to get there before they began. During the meeting, 3 of them were busy manipulating their blackberries and Iphones. The CEO was tapping his foot, signaling that the meeting was taking too long. No one was monitoring the agenda (I later learned there wasn’t one!) nor did anyone call others on their inappropriate behaviors. One exec never said a word (and no one ever asked him anything) while another droned on forever — with no one making the effort to cut him off (yet several managed to roll their eyes in displeasure). When I later inquired as to the meeting objective, the CEO told me that the group liked having unstructured weekly meetings to stay in touch with each other. Not sure they succeeded.
Several hours later, I walked down a couple of floors with one of the VPs from the prior meeting to observe his team’s weekly meeting. As we entered the room, the meeting was underway. The energy was lively, people were brainstorming. One team member was up at the white board capturing people’s comments while another was drawing images of the comments being made. Meeting objectives were posted on one wall, ground rules on another.
In addition to the high energy level, team members all monitored each other. When one team member repeated his points, another let him know they “got it”. When another pushed her point relentlessly, rather than argue with her, someone asked her more questions. When one obviously tangential point was made, one team member asked the comment maker to take that part of the discussion offline. Every step of the way, the group self managed, focusing on the objective and the specific results directly related to it.
Some of you would probably think the decorum could have been improved — people interrupted each other, spoke loudly, cajoled and challenged each other (I’m not objective on this; everyone in my New York family just talks louder than the next to get heard). Most noticeable to me, was the frequent use of the word “our”. Team members asked each other: “How will that support our objective?” and “How will that work to our advantage?” and “Is that truly in our best interest?” It’s important to note that the use of the word “we” like “our” rather than “I” is considered (and empirically proven to be) an indicator of commitment, whether to a couple, a team or an organization.