Webster’s Dictionary defines a barrier as “something immaterial that impedes or separates.” Barriers are so easy to build in an organization. In his book, “The Looming Tower”, Lawrence Wright describes a mind blowing example (pgs. 387-389):
“The Justice Department promulgated a new policy in 1995 designed to regulate the exchange of information between agents and criminal prosecutors, but not among the agents themselves. FBI headquarters misinterpreted the policy, turning it into a straitjacket for its own investigators. They were sternly warned that sharing intelligence information with criminal investigators could mean the end of an agent’s career. A secret court in Washington, created by the 1978 Foreign Intelligent Surveillance Act, became the arbiter of what information could be shared-“thrown over the Wall,” … Bureaucratic confusion and inertia allowed the policy to gradually choke off the flow of essential information to the I-49 counterterrorism squad.
The CIA eagerly institutionalized the barrier that separated it from the bureau… “Millions of dollars and thousands of hours of labor were consumed replicating information that the U.S. government already had but refused to share.
The agents on the I-49 (FBI) were so used to being denied access to intelligence that they bought a CD of a Pink Floyd song, “Another Brick in the Wall.” Whenever they received the same formulation about “sensitive sources and methods”, they would hold up the phone to the CD player and push Play.”
Extreme example? I don’t think so. I have lived similar examples and bet the same thing is happening in your organization. Here are some signs or organizational barriers, their potential causes and suggested fixes:
|Symptom||Possible Cause||Suggested Fix|
|You wonder why it takes so long to get things done.||Too many approvals in process.||Streamline processes and eliminate everything except what enhances your competitive advantage or provides a basic check and balance.|
|The use of blind copies in e-mails.||Fear of repercussion and risk taking. People feel the need to CYA or blame.||Provide guidelines on risk taking.Fire the blamers.|
|High performers are leaving||Ego maniac or control freak is running rampant.||Replace the ego maniacs and control freaks with self aware, emotionally intelligent people.|
|Lack of intense conversation.||Fear of conflict.||Praise and reward those who disagree.|
Ask your employees where the barriers are. I bet they will tell you. After they do, act on it. Explain the reason for the perceived barrier or eliminate it and make sure you eliminate more than you explain away.
What barriers have you experienced? What would have eliminated it?
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