Following tradition, my extended family met at our family cottage recently to celebrate Thanksgiving and close the cottage for the winter.

    When we arrived, we noticed that the clean up by the last visitors was not quite up to par.  Everybody in our family knows that if you are using the cottage, there are specific clean up tasks that must be performed with a certain level of quality. We proceeded through multiple conversations to determine exactly where the blame should lie.

    The kids are all older now and going to the cottage on their own with friends so perhaps that is why the clean up was not completed to our standard. Following several discussions on whether the offender (no doubt one of the kids) should know better or not, we decided that we needed instructions posted on the wall at the cottage. Honestly, the debate went on much longer than needed to address a relatively simple problem.

    The following week I was facilitating a business planning session and couldn’t help but draw parallels between my family’s cottage behaviour and common business behaviours.

    1. Blame – Companies often create a culture of blame, spending far too much time trying to pin point the person at fault rather than the root cause of the issue.   This tendency has an adverse impact on company culture by stifling risk-taking, innovation and growth, not to mention employee engagement.  As Amy C.  Edmondson points out in an article for the Harvard Business Review, “In actuality, a culture that makes it safe to admit and report on failure can—and in some organizational contexts must—coexist with high standards for performance”.

    2. Scale – Companies that are growing their business must develop repeatable, documented processes (instructions “posted on the wall”) with adequate training.   In order to successfully take a product or service to market, this discipline is the baseline for operational scalability and continuous improvement.

    3. Respect – Teams must behave in a productive, respectful manner when they are “at the table”.  There has to a balance between the amount of debate vs. problem solving when dealing with issues.

    I told my cottage story to my colleagues at the beginning of our two days of planning, then set some ground rules to facilitate a productive session. Although we probably didn’t leave the meeting room quite as tidy as we found it, by keeping these principles in mind we did have a successful couple of days together!


    This article was published more than 1 year ago. Some information may no longer be current.