Top 20 Problems I’ve Encountered in Organizations
I have real-world personal stories that go with every one of these situations and the questions embedded them. I’ve clustered them according to which of the three volumes in my curriculum I deal with them. I’ll share relevant vignettes when I detail frameworks I found or figured out to understand what had happened and applications for what to do about it.
Problems with Paradigms, Perspectives, and Pathways (Volume #1)
- People didn’t seem to realize that their personal assumptions are not necessarily universal truths, or that unexamined assumptions can easily result in potentially harmful actions. What critical thinking skills could counteract this deficiency?
- In systems of leadership by dictation, not participation, it seems that people consistently didn’t value those who were different from themselves, and thus didn’t listen to them. What relational teamwork principles and practices were missing?
- Why do some people have to have everything easy – even when it’s really a complicated issue – and others always seem to make it complicated when it really could be simplified?
- There are times when we think we’re in synch with those we’re partnering with, but it turns out there is only some common language and no common ground. How do we figure out when we only share the same words but they different meanings to us, before that brings on nothing but conflict?
- For some people, the conventional learning approach of theory-into-practice doesn’t work because they fail to engage in application. What is it about this pursuit of the “right” theory that too often ends up the goal of follow-through getting lost by the end of that process?
- An action-reflection approach to learning uses experience-based knowledge, with lessons sorted out after immersing in the learning environment or event. Why does this so often work for people that the traditional theory-into-practice doesn’t – and which approach is more compatible with the times we live in?
Problems with Organizational Strategies and Structures (Volume #2)
- How do we figure out what standards to use for participation in a project – especially for leadership roles – when it’s clear that some people aren’t skilled enough yet to lead, others abuse their power when they do lead, and some participants weigh down the project because they’re passive while others are bossy?
- We’re all broken to some degree, but there are people who, as leaders, are over-the-top harmful in their attitudes and actions – evil even. What is wrong in the hearts of people who abuse their power and perpetrate evil on others, how did they get into a role of power, and how did they stay there?
- Toxic systems seem to linger on, even if the originating leader has gone. Why doesn’t removal of a bad leader automatically fix the organization that they messed up, and how deep do we need to go to reconfigure the organization to get it to healthiness?
- I experienced control happening in organizations, regardless of whether there were lots of rules and regulations or not – and regardless of how charismatic the leaders were or weren’t. How is it that control tactics and leader personalities can be so different in different organizations, and yet people still end up so similarly bound up by them?
- I experienced control happening in organizations, regardless of whether they were big or small in scale, and where they had a decentralized/flat structure or a centralized/hierarchical one. How is it abusive leaders can take control over such different organizational systems, and how could that potentially be prevented?
- People whose actions directly harmed others rarely took responsibility, and similarly, those whose support kept these harmful people in power took no responsibility for indirectly harming others. Is there a difference in level of culpability when multiple people in an organization are abusive, and what differing responsibilities does each person hold for repairing the damage they directly or indirectly caused?
- If abusive people did acknowledge the wrong they did, the organization often didn’t discern what appropriate actions to take with these perpetrators, or follow through with restitution and support for their victims. What should be done about those who abuse their authority or power, and what restitution and support should the organization provide for those they victimized?
- Sometimes organizations should be shut down when they continually harm people, but they often keep limping along. How do we know when a non-profit, business, or school has become just a self-perpetuating institution instead of a viable and sustainable entity?
Problems with Peers, Partnerships, and Projects (Volume #3)
- Sometimes organizations or partnerships get really inward focused and people are called “participants” but they really aren’t being equipped well or doing much. What happens to turn a group into nothing much more than a culture of consumption that enables benefiting the few, and turns the rest into cogs that keep the organizational machinery going?
- A lot of teams, projects, and partnerships are ruined when participants are manipulated by guilt, shame, and/or fear into doing actions they don’t really want to do, whether those actions were in themselves good or harmful. How do such “extrinsic motivations” mess people up and corrode the culture of collaboration?
- Many projects obviously need changes to the trajectory along the way, but they don’t get them. How do we assess whether we’re experiencing positive progress, stalling out, unintended or unanticipated consequences, etc., and make course corrections where necessary?
- From their inception, many projects and partnerships seem to be assumed to be permanent. When projects are set up to be open-ended, how are people and organizational systems affected by the hidden expectations that the project has to be kept going, and thus the people have to stay involved?
- Sometimes so-called “learning communities” just create a bunch of programs and do a lot of stuff, but without much intention or reflection. Why didn’t these turn out to be the “listening and learning communities” that were advertised, and what should it have done to follow through on that goal in the first place, to create the most needed and best possible projects?
- A major ongoing problem among agencies that want to “do good” is that they impose on the local people their outsider opinions of problems that “need” to be addressed and the methods or programs to use. What are better ways for outsiders to serve instead of dictate, and trust insiders to set the agenda of needs and their priority for addressing, assess the local resources already available, and guide the methods for what is culturally appropriate?
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Series Links: Building Blocks in a Certification System for Healthy Leaders and Holistic Organizations