Effective Engineering e-Newsletter – 9/1/2005
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Tom Dennis – President, Effective Engineering [firstname.lastname@example.org]
Families are a wonderful institution.
Typical characteristics of families include unconditional love, trust,
understanding, support, care when a family member is ill, empathy,
forgiveness, and much more. However,
family members can sometimes love each other, but not like each other very
much. Family members know how to
hit each other’s hot buttons and annoy, anger, and really tick each other
off. When carried too far, this
can lead to dysfunctional families.
We all know what dysfunctional families are.
We see them all of the time on TV.
Many TV sitcoms are about them. Many
reality shows parade them, particularly those showing families with children
out of control and parents unable to control them (i.e. unable to act as
parents). We often see them in
our neighborhoods. Perhaps your
family itself may be dysfunctional. They
are often caused by clashes of personalities, by real or imagined slights, by
one family member getting too involved or not involved enough in another
family member’s interests, by insufficient or too much control, by being too
rigid or not rigid enough.
All well and good, but what can this possibly have to do with effective
engineering? Well, companies are “families” too.
In fact, most people spend more time with their company “family”
than with their own personal family. Company
“families” have many more “family” members, so the
opportunities for tension or conflict are magnified many-fold, in fact
probably exponentially. If
personal families of 3 to 6 can become dysfunctional, it should be no surprise
that company “families” of tens or hundreds or even thousands of
people become dysfunctional. When
things do become dysfunctional, the effectiveness of the company as a whole,
not only engineering, is adversely affected, to the detriment of the company.
So “family” relations are critical to the success, or
possibly even the existence, of the company.
In companies, people are given specific roles to carry out, be they in
engineering, marketing, sales, product management, etc., but to carry out
these roles there must be close interaction with other people and
organizations to be effective. With
close interaction, the opportunities for conflict are high.
A healthy tension between organizations can actually be good, as it can
ensure that all sides of an issue are properly represented.
However, some conflicts can turn a healthy tension into an unhealthy
tension, where people take actions that work against the company’s best
interests. Sometimes this is inadvertent (“I thought I was helping and
didn’t realize what I was doing would mess things up”), and sometimes it
is purposeful (“I’ll show him not to mess with my turf”).
Reducing tensions or keeping them healthy is a critical role of
management and something all members of the organization must be mindful of.
What should be done when company “families” become dysfunctional?
As with many problems in life, first you need to recognize that you
have a problem, and then work to make others recognize that the problem
exists; this is often half the battle. The
importance and impact of the problem needs to be brought to the attention of
management. People up the
management chain then need to recognize that the problem is serious and that
something needs to be done to correct it.
If people refuse to recognize the dysfunctional behavior or to ignore
it, hoping it will just go away on its own, then the problem will fester and
Once it’s recognized that there is a problem, then an action plan to address
it needs to be developed. Most
often, this is getting the people showing the dysfunctional behavior together
and explaining the problem and getting them to work on fixing the problems.
Facilitation is most often required; someone without a stake in the
problem can help the parties involved to find ways to correct the problem that
are mutually beneficial. More
often than not, problems result from a lack of communication and the first
sincere discussion of the issue produces surprising results.
If people are not working well together, then they need to define ways to be
more effective together and start working in that fashion.
Understanding each other’s needs and viewpoints is often a good place
If people are stepping on each other’s turf, then roles and
responsibilities of each need to be more clearly delineated and how they can
interact effectively. When it is clear what your job is and what the other
people’s jobs are, it is much easier for you to concentrate on doing your
job, and to let others concentrate on theirs.
This doesn’t mean operating in isolation, but recognizing who is
responsible for what.
If people are working entirely in islands of isolation without
interactions, then joint areas of essential interaction need to be defined.
People generally can’t work effectively in total isolation, and they
need to be able to recognize this.
If people are at each other’s throats, then they have to be told to play
nicely together or one or more of them may not be allowed to play at all.
If people’s egos are getting in the way, then they have to be told to leave
their egos at the door and work together.
The company is not there to satisfy their egos, but for them to do
their jobs for the benefit of the company.
In general, the source of the dysfunctional behavior must be clearly
identified and a plan of action must be developed to attack and eliminate it.
For a company to succeed, the company “family” must succeed.
It is critical that all members of the “family” pull in the
same direction and work cooperatively to achieve the company goals (see eN-030522
– Keep Your Eyes on THE GOAL!). For
company success, “dysfunctional families” are not allowed.
2005 Effective Engineering Consulting Services, All Rights Reserved