I remember working with a group of employees on the manufacturing floor (many years ago) in an attempt to improve efficiency through a better layout and organization of the workspace. I made a very interesting observation that I believe, illustrates the significance of our responsibility to our staffs and organizations as leaders.
I spent a week “observing” a small group of production employees doing assembly and testing of one of our products. There were some “operations” involved in the assembly and test, all located in a small area we had defined as a “work cell.” Anyway, during the week I had observed all of the employees walking around this small table that was kind of centrally located in the work cell. Can you picture it? I never saw anyone use the table for anything, though. It was just there. In fact, it was in the way, causing everyone to have to walk around it. I even witnessed 1 or 2 of them accidentally bump into the table.
At the end of the week, I got all of the employees together to discuss my observations. During the meeting, I asked, “Can anyone tell me why that table is there?” They all looked at each other and me and finally concluded that nobody knew. “It’s just always been there,” they said. I told them what I had observed, and they all agreed that it was in the way. I then said, “I have an idea … let’s move it out of the way.” They all agreed, and we made it so.
What’s the moral of the story? As a leader, I’ve seen it over and over. The people “in our charge” will work around any obstacle we put in their path to get the job done. No matter how many “barriers” we place in front of them, they will find a way around them. Unfortunately, we often don’t like the method they are using to get it done, not realizing that something we did, didn’t recognize, or otherwise are responsible for (as leaders) is the cause.
As leaders, we need to recognize this and at a minimum empower our staffs to make decisions about the things that affect them. We need to teach them this concept and make sure they know that they are allowed to remove the obstacles/barriers to getting the job done.