Steven Covey tells a classic story. Paraphrased, he is on a subway and a man walks on with a couple kids. He sits down but his kids are all over the place and going crazy, disturbing everyone. He thinks, “Why won’t he control his kids?”
Finally, he says something and the man says, “Sorry, I didn’t notice. We just came from the hospital where their mom died and I don’t think they know how to react.”
He acted based off of very normal assumptions. Only his assumptions were incorrect.
We do this all the time at work. We assume that because there is a rule that it is a good rule to follow. Or we know that the company always ___(fill in the blank)___ so we need to continue doing that (“It must be there for a good reason.”) Or we want to be, what we might consider, politically safe. The problem is that these actions are often based off of a strategy that is faulty. Yet, not realizing the error, we go along with the strategy.
This is called Double-Loop Learning and it looks like this.
We need to ask this simple question much more often. Dig deep. For example, a new CEO may hold town hall meetings in a certain format just because his predecessor did and it looked like it worked. Instead, be bold and challenge the assumption that it worked. It may very well have worked, but then again it might be done so much better.
Instead of assuming that a given policy is the best to follow, ask WHY? Again, there may be a perfectly good explanation for it. But we have all seen bad policy, procedures and practices perpetuate beyond their useful life – to the point where it is hindering the employees from doing the right thing.
Yet, while we do this we must use wisdom. It is not appropriate to challenge EVERYTHING, even if we know it is ineffective in its current state. We need to know where to draw the line and let things go. But where it matters most, it is our obligation as a member of a team to do all we can to create greatness.