Creating An Environment In Which People Feel Comfortable Sharing Information

The success of any organization depends on the effectiveness of its people in addressing those issues that lead to the organization’s increased productivity and profitability. It sounds simple, but it isn’t easy. I often use the game of golf to illustrate this point.

The game of golf is simple. On the par four holes you are allowed two strokes to get on the green and two additional strokes to get the ball in the cup. On the par three holes you are allowed only one stroke to get on the green and three strokes on the par five holes and, as with all holes, two strokes to get the ball in the hole. So, the game of golf is simple, but it’s not easy.

The same is true in managing people and organizations. The basic principles are simple, but they are not easy. In his book, Overcoming Organizational Defenses, Chris Argyris introduces the concept of Double-Loop Learning. In single-loop learning he uses the example of a thermostat in a room that detects when the air in the room is too cold or too hot and corrects the situation by turning the heat on or off.

In organizations we evaluate the success or effectiveness of a project by interpreting the feedback we receive upon completion of the project, and then make necessary adjustments to our plans to continue the project. According to Argyris, the problem with single-loop learning is that we address only the existing issues that need correction. In doing so, we do not ask why the problem existed in the first place. In double-loop learning we address the underlying issues. In the case of the thermostat, we may learn that the heat is constantly on because someone left a window open.

Argyris contends that we do not engage in double-loop learning because of organizational defenses which he identifies as reluctance to ask questions that are embarrassing or threatening. The 360° Feedback process can lead to an organization in which people feel comfortable sharing information and asking the difficult questions. It can begin with the manager who asks for feedback, listens to that feedback, discusses it rationally and objectively with the person providing the feedback, and then encourages and supports additional feedback.

If our organization is going to be successful, we need the input of all those who are contributing to our mission and values. We need honest feedback on how we are doing on a daily basis, internally and externally. If we have any hope of receiving such information, we need to create, develop and maintain an organizational environment in which all of its participants feel comfortable sharing information and asking the difficult questions.

8 Responses to “Creating An Environment In Which People Feel Comfortable Sharing Information”

  1. Margaret Aliff Says:

    My comment is a story about the first time I learned the hard way to look for underlying causes of problems. A manager of a well known large company contacted me when I was teaching at the University of Houston. He requested that I design, develop and deliver a customized training program on the topic of “Managing Your Anger” for technicians in six locations across the country who were “blowing up in customers offices”. At this stage in my career, it did not occur to me to ask why this problem existed in the first place. Designing customized training programs was what I did, so I designed and developed a customized workshop with all the bells and whistles. When I delivered it the first time in Houston, I learned that the reason technicians were “blowing up in customer’s offices” was not because they did not know how to manage their anger, but because there was an inventory control problem which prevented them from getting parts required to maintain customer equipment. I met with the hiring manager and we decided to cancel the other five training programs and fix the inventory control problem. Once the inventory control problem was fixed, technicians no longer “blew up in customer’s offices”. This is the day my focus began shifting from being a trainer to being a consultant. I never again accepted manager’s diagnosis and prescription for the problem without asking ‘why does this problem exist in the first place?’

    Another similar story occurred after I learned this lesson. A Canadian utility company had been privatized and had developed a strategic plan to become more effective. One of their strategic objectives was to design, develop and deliver a customized training program to teach executives how to make decisions based on financial data. My first career was public accounting; I had taught financial and managerial accounting at university level in the early days of graduate school; and, one of my specialties was training design, so I was asked to take on this strategic objective. What I discovered in my first meeting was that the organization did not have a Management Information System (MIS) in place to provide managerial accounting data for executives to use for decision making purposes. The underlying issue was the lack of MIS, not necessarily the lack of knowledge of how to make decisions based on financial data. We determined that it would take two years to design, develop and implement an effective MIS and that it would be best to postpone training until MIS implementation. The solutions are usually simple once you identify the underlying issue. I could have designed, developed and delivered a very effective training program on how to make decisions based on financial data, but the executives would have gone back to their desks with no meaningful managerial accounting data available and the organization would have wasted their money on the training program.

    Too many times in our culture we diagnose a symptom and prescribe a pill for the symptom, but do not treat the underlying cause for the symptom. The most effective results can be achieved by simply asking, ‘why does this problem exist in the first place?’

  2. Rosaria Moulden Says:

    Informative blog post! I like visiting your blog for the reason that you always write informative articles. Thanks for sharing once again. I have already bookmarking this website. I am planning to subscribe to this feed also. Until Next Time! ….

  3. Jerry Gardner Says:

    Dear Margaret. For some reason, people have started to respond to my blog, written nearly two years ago. As I have been reviewing these, I just noticed your contribution written nearly two years ago. I apologize for my tardiness in responding. Your two experiences demonstrate the need to identify the customer’s needs before trying to sell your product. Thanks again. I trust you a re doing well. Jerry

  4. Lorriane Hallas Says:

    Thanks for your posting. I also think laptop computers have grown to be more and more popular currently, and now tend to be the only form of computer utilized in a household. The reason being at the same time they are becoming more and more very affordable, their working power keeps growing to the point where they’re as robust as pc’s out of just a few years ago.

  5. Hp Notebook Battery Says:

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  6. Marcia Schrunk Says:

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  7. Jerry Says:

    Many thanks, Marcia. I appreciate your kind words.

  8. Jerry Says:

    Many thanks, Ellis. My apologies for not getting back to you sooner. I appreciate your kind words. I look forward to hearing from you again.

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