Tuesday, 11 May 2010


This is one of my favourite coaching techniques.  When someone is stuck in their mindset and feels unable to find a way forward; they cannot see alternatives or can’t ever see themselves achieving what they want, this question often unlocks their door.  Simply ask: If you could, what would you have to do?’
You say you want to run a marathon in under three hours, if you could, what training would you be doing?  OK, there has to be some sense of reality but it is amazing what can be achieved. 
I was working with a dysfunctional management team in a large manufacturing plant and continually heard the excuse for poor performance as being ‘the other shift’. Since all the shifts blamed ‘the other shift’ each one taking no responsibility, I rapidly reached the conclusion that there was a team of mischievous elves who changed all the settings on the machines when the rest were off work.  I hadn’t seen any evidence of pointy eared operatives in my shop-floor visits, although, now I think of it, there was one chap that always wore a hat pulled well down!  When all the team leaders were together I asked them to consider what they would be doing if this line was running at full potential.  After the usual ‘well that can’t happen because ...’ I reiterated: ‘If it could, what would you be doing differently as team leaders?’  Suddenly, a moment of breakthrough.  A dozen or so improvements were quickly put on the table.  The only elves now around the plant were in ‘elf and safety’.
I’ve now ostracised myself from the whole blogging community for that poor joke.
This team demonstrated many of the characteristics of inertia:
·         They thought they were doing a good job
·         They blamed any lack of progress on others
·         They couldn’t do more because they were ‘up to capacity’
·         They believed there was no reason for them to change
·         They couldn’t see how things could be different
·         Even if they could be there was no way it could be achieved
How often do we see this in organisations, politicians, civil servants, colleagues, managers and even ourselves if we are honest? 
Even worse is when other people tell you something can’t be done.  ‘You can’t do that.’ Often not as definitive as this, it usually comes in the form of a fob off like; ‘this probably isn’t the right time, I’m not sure we will be able to find the resources’ or the classic excuse, ‘the MD wouldn’t like it’.  How many innovations get squashed in this manner?  How many managers have pointy ears?  But if we could ... what would I have to do?
What if we could ... a great technique for ‘elf-preservation’.

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