Leading Up to a Crisis

“Tomas is a relatively young manager. He has just inherited an environment that is post-turnover of 2 other directors before him, all taking place in the last six months. At this point Tomas has to deal with a full-blown breach of trust. Three of the senior scientists in our R&D department reporting to Tomas, have made it clear that if this situation won’t be resolved in the next month, they will be handing in their letters of resignation…It will cost a fortune to replace experts at their level of seniority and we would like to make sure Tomas is equipped to deal with this highly sensitive situation.” (VP of HR, Medical technology industry)

Tomas found himself in what he considered to be an impossible situation. Surely, no one would hold him accountable if he were to fail at bringing the team together and rebuilding lost trust. That said, he knew full well that the prices and implications of losing any one of the three scientists would make it nearly impossible to achieve needed results in the coming months, or even in the coming years. He tried to talk to the three scientists several times. He tried to understand their point of view; tried to understand what could be done to salvage the situation, but the more he tried the more he realized the perspective in the team was very different from the perspective of senior management. He was stuck right in the middle.

Sometimes when teams and leaders do not want to change, they do not recognize and make the adjustments needed to avoid a crisis. Often when that is the case, teams and leaders who do not want to change do not want to make modifications after the crisis has already shifted into third gear. In fact, it is often the case that the more tension starts to build, the more people who do not want to change become even more unwilling to cooperate.

In this case the communication patterns of the senior management with the team, as well as the decision-making processes, led to a crisis. The more the situation advanced, the more imperative it was to change people who did not want to change, both in senior management and on the team. Without breaking this wall, even the best solution would not have been accepted, let alone sustained.

When organizations are blocked by people who do not want to change, it is very common to see lack of communication, faulty decisions, missing knowledge and many other factors fester without anyone addressing them or trying to improve them. With people who do not want to change, especially at the leadership of an organization, it becomes very hard to believe change is possible. People in the organization typically become “blind” to these barriers and, soon enough, the prices of adjustments that needed to be made pop up in different places in the organization.

We have found that trying to offer teams in a crisis a solution that is not designed to address people who do not want to change is almost always doomed to failure. In some cases, without removing certain barriers, people color everything they hear in a way that blocks them from trying to find a real solution. In other cases teams are blind to certain options; they may choose to be defensive, offensive or simply have a faulty perception of priorities. All of these can be quickly resolved when solutions are designed to address people who do not want to change. In a crisis mode that’s important because the solution has to kick in quickly.

“…the transformation we experienced in the R&D team was nothing short of miraculous. The consultants provided the manager with a clear, highly effective approach, guiding him step by step through a delicate job.” (VP of HR, Medical technology industry)

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