Point Lookout: a free weekly publication of Chaco Canyon Consulting
Volume 3, Issue 3;   January 15, 2003: Please Remove My Appendix

Please Remove My Appendix

by

When an organization is experiencing problems with conflict, "pushback," or "blowback," managers often hire trainers to present programs on helpful topics. But self-diagnosis can be risky. Often, there are more direct and focused options that can help more and cost less.
Not feeling so good

Carole noticed that Cliff was checking his watch again. "Got somewhere to go?" she asked. "We all do, you know, but unless we can get these people to stop bickering and start engineering, nothing else matters."

"I know, sorry," Cliff said. "But I'm out of ideas. They all believe they aren't the problem."

Carol, Cliff, and Daryl sat silently for a minute, though it seemed longer. Then Daryl had an idea. "What about conflict training? I hear from HR that they have someone and people say he's pretty good."

Cliff really had given up. "I can hear them now: 'Oh, training. Another day lost.'"

But Carole was more optimistic. "Let's do it. We've tried everything else. Maybe it'll help."

In desperation, and with good intentions, Carole, Cliff, and Daryl are about to deal with a team conflict problem with conflict training.

Training rarely hurts, but considering all the costs, it can be a mistake. To understand why, imagine waking up one morning with a pain in your left side. You call your doctor and manage somehow to get an appointment that morning. You walk into the office and say, "Doctor, my left side hurts. Please remove my appendix."

Self-diagnosis is risky
when your health is at stake,
and it's no less risky in
the organizational context
Of course, you'd never do that. Instead, you'd probably talk about your pain, and submit to an examination. Maybe it's appendicitis, but maybe not — it's unlikely, since normally, the appendix is on the right side.

Self-diagnosis is risky when your health is at stake, and it's no less risky in the organizational context. Instead of deciding for yourself what to do, have a consultant investigate what kind of problem there might be, then tell you what your options are, and recommend action.

Here are some advantages of professional assessment:

Fit
If there's too much tension in the air, training might not be a fit. Some people might be too hurt or too steamed to learn much. You might need another kind of intervention first.
Cost
When you include the cost of participant time, training can be more expensive than more direct and focused interventions. A professional assessment can control costs.
Opportunity cost
The people attending the training could be doing something else, and that work might be delayed by the time spent in training. The cost of those delays can be significant.
Expertise
Experts are more likely to uncover the real issue. You gain the benefit of their skill and experience with other organizations.
Outsider status
During the assessment, some people in your organization are more likely to reveal key information to the outside expert than they would be to you or to someone within your organization.
Objectivity
It's difficult to be objective about interpersonal issues. Since we have a tendency to overlook our own contributions to problems, self-assessment can be less objective than a professional assessment.

An assessment can be helpful even when you think everything is OK. Think of it the way you would your annual physical. Would you skip a physical because you feel fine? Go to top Top  Next issue: Let Me Finish, Please  Next Issue

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Situs inversus is a condition in which internal organs are organized as a mirror image of the norm. It affects one in 7-8,000 humans. There are also other conditions that can cause the appendix to be on the left side. More.

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Many of the difficulties we encounter when working together don't create long-term harm, but they do cause delays, confusion, and frustration. Here's Part II of a little catalog of tactics for avoiding speed bumps. Available here and by RSS on November 30.
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Reaching consensus in technological contexts presents special challenges. Problems can arise from interactions between the technological elements of the issue at hand, and the social dynamics of the group addressing that issue. Here are three examples. Available here and by RSS on December 7.

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