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Resolving Breakdowns

Have you ever worked with someone who needs to be a committed partner for your success, and it seems to you like they are sabotaging the project? You try your best to work with them, but it seems impossible, they just don’t get it, or they just don’t care. Maybe you have resigned yourself to compensating for their weaknesses or working around them?

Consider you may have missed a vital step that establishes a foundation for creating accomplishment in partnerships.

Avoiding Costly Delays

A project on schedule and on budget are necessities in large scale construction projects, and delays in schedule can come up for a lot of different reasons. It is the kind of environment where many people from different cultures must come together to make something happen with skill and leadership, with a high level of risk at play. This is a place where people must set aside their differences and work together to solve issues quickly because delays can be extremely costly. Unfortunately, the human condition can get in the way from time to time. People can make problem solving issues more stressful when they make breakdowns wrong and make each other wrong. When people are arguing about who is right and who is to blame, it’s certainly a recipe for more delays and breakdowns in working collaboratively and efficiently.

Shifting the Conversation

Recently we worked with a small committee of leaders dealing with a backlog of change orders which caused tension and upset among the team. When people addressed the issue from their upsets, the conversation quickly turned to who was at fault or to blame. The conversations became more about personalities and how people were talking disrespectfully to each other. Clearly, this kind of reaction will get in the way of productivity and accomplishment! Fortunately, this team was highly committed to working collaboratively and we were able to shift the conversation from “Who is at fault?” to, “How do we bring our best to this situation?”

Distinguishing Facts from Opinions

We supported the team to take a step back and begin to distinguish for themselves what were the facts associated with the breakdown, instead of people’s opinions and judgements of what went wrong. We took a clean document and put a line down the middle of the page. We listed facts on the left side of the document and opinions, judgements, and interpretations on the right side. It sounds simple but you would be surprised how people think their opinions are facts! This process helped calm people down so they could think strictly from what was so, rather than trying to solve a problem from opinions of who was right. When people address a situation from the context of “Who is wrong?” and “Who is to blame?”, it distorts leaders’ thinking and they begin to solve from being right or fixated on an opinion. Looking solely at the facts of the breakdown allowed people to see that they were reacting and stuck in their opinions, which thwarted their creativity and ability to resolve the issue. Through this breakthrough, the group learned that inherently there was nothing wrong and something was missing in the design of their system.

A diverse group of women engaged in a lively conversation while sitting in a circle.Identifying and Addressing the Impacts of the Breakdown

Once they could view the situation from the facts, the next step was to address the impact of the breakdown on all the entities before attempting to solve the situation. We have found this is a step many problem solvers skip! Listening to hear about the impact and what concerns or considerations arise for each entity productively and contractually is critical before developing solutions. When all parties understand the impact, concerns, and considerations that arise from the breakdown, people have a bigger and expanded view to begin to discuss possibilities for resolving. In our case study, this exercise freed the group up to solve the breakdowns from several different possibilities.

Creating Agreements for the Future 

What became clear from this exercise for the team was that creating agreements in the future on how they would engage with one another would be a proactive approach to striving to work collaboratively in the future. They now include separating facts from interpretations and letting go of anything wrong! They gave their word to a bigger commitment and agreed to collaborate with honor, respect, and integrity. This new agreement will support them in the future to be responsible for their performance, being clear headed and practicing looking at situations from the facts. The team found this exercise empowered their ability to be more creative and to appreciate their colleagues at a new level.

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