Monday, 8 September 2008

More on comfort zones

Had a bit of a frustrating meeting today with a colleague. This individual (please note gender neutrality to avoid identification!) is a senior manager in a fairly large organisation, responsible for a budget of several million pounds, a significant group of staff and - most importantly - the delivery of public services to needy people. They are experienced in their job, having been in their role even longer than me.

Anyway, they are heading up a project re-designing a bunch of services in their area of responsibility. We disagreed very early on in the meeting - as they tried to tell me how I should be doing the workforce planning for this project (the irony of this may become obvious in a wee while).

After a few minutes I thought we should move things on, so I asked where the project plan was. The response - 'there isn't one, and I don't do project plans!' This wasn't a humble recognition of a deficit in the management toolkit, this was almost a badge of honour. Next I asked for clarity on the objective of the project - there isn't one, or at least, it's not clearly stated. It seems that the approach to the project was to thrash around wildly, doing lots of things and asking for some major investment in the hope that the services will improve.

I've known this individual for over a decade, and I know that we approach things very differently. Nevertheless I was shocked by the (initial) attitude that planning was unnecessary. Effectively this manager's comfort zone is in handling operational issues, almost at an individual case level.

Well, being awkward - like I am - I wasn't prepared to let this rest. I have absolutely no intention of being associated with a project that is doomed from the outset, so I forced the issue, and in doing so, forced this individual out of their comfort zone - and into a place where thinking was required. In the end we agreed a way forward. I doubt that it will lead to any lasting change, but at least it's a first step.

The moral? If there is one, it may be that the deeply entrenched comfort zone is the hardest to deal with. For us as individuals and for those who work alongside us.


That Hideous Man said...

Is an article about a local church near us who thought that they were asking too many people to operate too far out of their comfort zones... to the extent that they were trying to get people to excercise gifts they didn't have!

They re-organised, and have benefitted from it.

His Girl Friday said...

When reading this, for some reason the following book came to mind:
The Five Dysfunctions of a Team: A Leadership Fable
by Patrick M. Lencioni

I do think it does go over the whole comfort zone, team working thing...been a while since I've read it....hmmm, since all I have is 'sit on the sofa' duty at the moment, maybe I'll re-read it! :)