Finger pointing stifles innovation and agility

When problems arise, finger pointing is all too easy. But indulging in finger pointing stifles innovation and agility, even when it seems justified. In fact, especially when it seems justified…

How often have you been trying to solve a problem that affects multiple departments, teams or individuals and heard someone say “don’t blame me/us” or “it’s not my/our fault”?

This kind of finger pointing occurs in two separate scenarios.

  1. there is compelling, explicit, incontrovertible evidence that another party has done something (or failed to do something) that is clearly and wholly responsible for the collective problem;
  2. one or more departments, teams or individuals is/are convinced that “I/we have done nothing wrong”, assumes that the fault must therefore lie elsewhere, and picks a presumed guilty party (typically based on circumstantial, flimsy or wholly non-existent ‘evidence’).

The first scenario is relatively simple to resolve. It may require a degree of tact, but the evidence will largely speak for itself.

The second scenario is much more challenging. That’s because even though the logic that “I/we did nothing wrong, therefore someone else must have” is flawed, it is highly compelling.

Collective problems in organisations typically stem from misaligned 2D perspectives of two or more involved parties.1

Here’s an example of how 2D perspectives held back a critical international project and how a shift to 2D3D mindsets was brought about:

Finger pointing in a critical international project

Today we’re used to China being a global economic force, but this wasn’t always so.

In the late 1990’s a global consumer goods company hired me to help them boost innovation because several of their main product lines were under threat from Asian competitors.Finger pointing - project plan

In response, they started a crash programme to develop a new, more competitive product. The project team needed help to reduce the time to market launch.

One of the first people I met was the European Project Manager responsible for developing the new product. His office was at the company’s main product development centre in Western Europe, with manufacturing and marketing located in China.

The Product Manager told me that the inability to reduce time to market was nothing to do with him and his local design team. Finger pointing towards his marketing and manufacturing colleagues, his most memorable sound bite was that “the Chinese are thirty years behind the West”.

At a project progress meeting in China a few weeks later, the Product Manager refused the Chinese Production Manager’s request to eliminate a two week shipping delay from the programme because it would incur an additional air freight cost of $10,000.

I asked the Production Manager how much revenue the organisation would lose due to the two week delay in production start caused by the Product Manager’s refusal.

This was the era before smartphones and very few people had even seen a handheld computer. Silence fell as the Production Manager pulled a small handheld computer from his pocket and tapped a few figures into the business model he’d programmed.

Finger pointing - Chinese PDAThe Project Manager was gobsmacked when his colleague said that two weeks delay would cost the organisation over $3,000,000…

Finger pointing prevents us seeing other people’s creative solutions to our shared problems

Before experiencing this ‘wake-up’ moment the Project Manager believed, based on no real evidence, that the problem lay with his Chinese colleagues.

By escaping the trap of his narrow, biased and one-sided 2D perspective he could now see, for the first time, that:

  • his $10,000 “saving” came at a cost of $3,000,000;
  • this cost was well known and understood by his better informed (and equipped) Chinese colleague;
  • ‘the Chinese’ ‘were not ‘thirty years behind the West’;
  • if he worked with his Chinese colleagues, together they could probably reduce time to market further still.

When he returned to Europe at the end of a highly productive week, the Project Manager took three new things with him:

  1. a project plan with a significantly reduced time to market worth more than $10,000,000 in additional revenues;
  2. his very own shiny new handheld computer (that the local Production Manager had personally taken him out to buy);
  3. a deeper appreciation of his international colleagues as members of a single global team.

Finger pointing in your organisation

Where do people in one part of your organisation see colleagues in another part as “a long way behind us in terms of competence”?

Who are most prone to indulging in the kind of finger pointing likely to be stifling, smothering or strangling innovation and agility?

Which specific seeing-being traps are preventing you and your colleagues from building an innovative agile organisation?2


Footnotes:

  1. Find out more about how misaligned 2D perspectives stifle, smother and strangle innovation and how innovative 2D3D mindsets solve this in this short video.
  2. Find out more about how seeing-being traps block the adoption of innovative ‘2D3D’ mindsets, anchor organisations to past orthodoxies and stifle, smother and strangle the innovation and agility on which their future depends in this short video.
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