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Reflections on a battle lost

The war I fight most days is “death by powerpoint.” Last week I lost a battle. My reflection below is the why and how.

  • The battlefield was more complex than originally anticipated. Remember that documentary with Robert McNamara – The Fog of War? He lists 11 lessons from the Vietnam War one of which is: “Our misjudgments of friend and foe, alike, reflected our profound ignorance of the history, culture, and politics of the people in the area, and the personalities and habits of their leaders.”  I misjudged the the history, culture and politics of the organization in which I work. There were more “stakeholders” involved than I ever imagined; there was a “history” of negative results and repercussions emanating from those negative results that I was not fully aware of; and the importance of the organizational message outweighed the importance of the learner’s experience.
  • My intentions tangled seaweed kelp on beachwere not clear. I intended to create a better learning experience for new joiners. But what was my intention for my team? I was
    not clear on those intentions. Had I been more aware of *who* was actually on the team, and making connections with them, then it probably would have helped to a certain degree.
  • I didn’t want this battle and therefore cared less about it. I wasn’t sure that I wanted to be in this space called on-boarding, therefore, I cared less. This impacted the two items listed above.
  • There was simply too much going on in my working life. This is the usual excuse — I was overworked. Nothing new, most people who have jobs are overworked. So what I need
    to do is create space to reflect — daily or weekly — so I can control the emotions associated with being overwhelmed, and I don’t get lost in frustration.

The biggest learning for me —  I just have to be clearer on what projects I choose to be involved in, and which ones I choose not to be involved in, to the extent that I have a choice: don’t choose leaderless projects where you have the responsibility but no power. That is the definition of frustration.

Most organizations look like the seaweed picture in this post (a.k.a. Orbiting the Giant Hairball). Most organizations are a giant mess of tangled STUFF, in which people get tangled anytime they try to change anything or do creative work. How does one keep creative integrity and not get tangled and trapped?

The keys for me are: reflection, get clear on intentions, and be concious of the battlefield.

Unfortunately in this one, both I and the learners lost. The organization got airtime for it’s messages. People get to say “I consulted the right parts of the seaweed pile.” But the ultimate goal of the organization — retention and engaging new joiners in a positive way — gets lost.


Posted in business, learning profession, OD.

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2 Responses

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  1. Diana Sanders says

    Your lamenting sounds so familiar to me. The key for me is similar to yours, but I’ve found I need more than solitary reflection. It’s in the collaborative process that I find the most insightful clues about ways to develop better understanding and expand my thinking. How to identify the right collaborator is the biggest challenge for me.

  2. Rani H. Gill says

    Yes – you’re right — identifying the right collaborator is key. However, I made the assumption that my team were collaborators — but that assumption on my part was false. So getting sound and current data and not making assumptions about the people I work with are also critical.

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