Say you have a team that doesn’t gel, or a person who won’t cooperate with everyone else. What do you do? I find it helpful to regard any shouting matches, or a high volume of complaints, as noises from the plumbing. This immediately stops me regarding it as a people issue, and starts me thinking, instead, of the system (the plumbing) that is causing it.

People are part of the system, of course, but there are other factors too. Let me tell you some stories to illustrate.

Sweet talk

Back in the Jurassic, I worked for an organisation that made children’s sweets. The success of the Manufacturing department was measured in “tons per direct employee”. They hit their production targets by making large numbers of large jars of sweets. Manufacturing didn’t want to make small packets of sweets, which took too much time, and messed up their performance figures.

However, at this same company, the Sales team could only make their sales targets by selling things people wanted to buy. And shops wanted sweets in sealed packets. They did not want large jars from which they would have to pour out 100g at a time into little paper bags!

So of course, Manufacturing and Sales were always fighting. And each blamed the other when they missed their targets. An issue with the people involved? No, a management issue. They should never have had conflicting targets.

Human error? Or faulty plumbing…?

Some time ago I worked with a Housing Association. Both tenants and Housing staff used to complain that the Repair service (a different organisation) did not phone ahead when they turned up to do a repair.

Then I discovered the Repair staff complaining that the Housing staff never advised the tenant’s telephone number when booking a repair! Except they did, always.

Apparently, the computer programme only transmitted the first part of the notes field (details of the problem) from Housing to Repair, and not the second part, which included the phone number and information about when the tenant would be in!  An issue with the people involved? No, an issue with the original design of the computer system, which could only be fixed by IT.

Somebody else’s problem?

More recently I worked with a small family firm which was having frequent unpleasant internal squabbles. It was clear that the way they worked had just “evolved”, so the business was not working effectively. Everyone agreed that getting more organised would be good.

It soon became clear that some tasks had never been allocated to anyone. Everyone thought it was someone else’s job! (And said so. At the top of their lungs.) Once we sorted out what needed doing, by whom, and in what order, the shouting matches went away. An issue with the people involved? No, a process problem (they didn’t have any).

In each case it would have been easy to jump to the conclusion that people were being difficult, or were not really team players. But in each case that would have been wrong – there was another cause, and once that was sorted, the noise went away.

Of course, sometimes it is a problem with the people involved. But if you start by eliminating the plumbing issues, it’s easier to avoid the accusation that you are “picking on” someone.

Struggling to see the plumbing issues? Give me a call 01359 240717 – I’ll be happy to talk it through with you!  Or email kate@businessplumber.co.uk