Any time we enter into a new team environment, the quicker we can get up to speed, the better. In those first few weeks, there will be a lot of catching up to do. Not only informationally, but also empathetically. We’re going to need to learn how this team became what it is today, so we can help them become what they need to be tomorrow. The good news is, when approached intentionally and systematically, we can multiply our learning quickly.
THREADING — Teasing out the historical context of an organization to give your work more leverage
If you find yourself in a situation where you need to get up to speed quickly, here are several insights and questions adapted from the framework that might be useful. First, follow the money. Figure out which people are economically incentivized and by whom. Second, consider people’s age. Learn how a team member’s years of work and life experience, or lack thereof, might be shaping their behaviors in the moment. Third, note the company lifecycle. Ask where the larger organization is in its overall narrative arc, to understand how maturity, or lack thereof, plays a role in the problem. Consider which systemic problems exist that team members don’t want to believe is there. Another is, discover collateral damage. Has there been any significant conflict, tension, churn or other form of transition in the past few months? That will give you a temperature on morale. One more is organization debt. See if you can find the elephants in the room. Take note of the accumulation of decisions that leaders should have made, but didn’t. Learn how that debt impacts the rest of the team. Next, start at the top. Notice how the attitudes and habits of the leaders have trickled down to infect the larger culture, for better or for worse. Also reverse engineer from the bottom. If a lower level person is confusing in their behavior, follow it up the chain to identify the source. Here’s a good one. Differentiate motivational systems. Do you know who needs to look good for whom? Are you compassionate for the different degree of stakes for the various members of the team? Everybody answers to someone. Finally, notice power dynamics. Listen to who talks the loudest and most frequently. Watch where people’s eyes go during meetings. Observe the way certain people speak when in the presence or absence of the key leaders. Notice who are the first people to show up and the last people to leave.
My marketing capstone professor spent the entire semester teaching our class his framework for approaching business challenges like this. It had a profound impact on the way I solve problems in my own life, personally and professionally. One of his insights that stuck with me was that the historical context surrounding any problem almost always contains the seed for the solution. And if we ask the right questions, we can understand why things are the way they are.
If you want to multiply your learning, use your intention and attention to tease out what’s really going on at the organization. And you will unlock your ability to make an impact. Can you find the solution's thread by centering in on the problem's tangle?
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