Tending the Fires of 21st Century Organizations

Tending the Fires of 21st Century Organizations

This post-decision tendency to justify one’s choice often will give any new program or organization an initial boost. It operates like a fire-log—helps to get things started. However, this boost usually is short-lived. This is especially the case if there are people involved in the startup who benefit in some way from the failure of this initiative (e.g. “See I told you so. . . “). Most importantly, the tendency to ignore negative implications of a chosen course of action, once the decision is made, will itself often contribute to the downturn in productively and morale. Problems associated with a new venture often will be ignored until they become particularly difficult to resolve. The “bugs” in a new computer program, for instance, may be overlooked during the pilot test phase because those involved in the program want it to succeed and therefore ignore these “trivial” difficulties. The true extent of the problem only becomes apparent when this program is distributed to all the operating units of the company.

What typically happens after this downturn in productivity and morale? People involved in the startup will either wait it out, to see if productivity and morale improve over time—or panic and decide to close the program or organization and return to a more comfortable (and usually traditional) setting.  Alternatively, they decide to get out of this line of work all together.  At the very least, those who formerly were optimistic about the new venture are now disillusioned—because it is not working.

Worst yet, they are embittered, because the program or organization was never given an adequate chance to succeed. New problems may be added to the list of old problems as the person or organization attempts to make up for the drop in productivity and morale. Because of the negative consequences associated with an aborted effort, it is better for a person or organization never to undertake a major initiative if this person or organization is unable to see this initiative through to the end. To paraphrase a passage from Ecclesiastes: for everything there is a season—a time for something new, and a time to refrain from starting something new.

Shifting the Logs

Fires don’t just keep burning. They must be tended—meaning that one must occasionally get up from a comfortable chair and change the location of logs in the fire. A fireside implement is engaged for poking, prodding and perhaps even lifting up and moving a log or two. The fire lights up more fully after its logs have been moved a bit, exposing new (fresh) sides of some logs to other burning logs.  A log that is burning brightly will ”lend a hand” to the log that has either just been placed on the grate or has resisted burning very much (because of moisture content, age of the wood or position on the grate). Rather than resenting intrusion of the new or ill-positioned log, the older ones that are burning in a successful manner help this struggling log get started. Rather than resenting the recalcitrance of the unburning log, those that are burning acknowledge that this log needs a bit of assistance—and some patience (as it slowly loses its moisture or loses its youth as a log that is still “green”). The fire is teaching me about collaboration and is thankful that I am helping to facilitate this collaboration by moving the logs around so that they find new ways to be helpful.


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About the Author

William BergquistWilliam Bergquist, Ph.D. An international coach and consultant in the fields of psychology, management and public administration, author of more than 50 books, and president of a psychology institute. Dr. Bergquist consults on and writes about personal, group, organizational and societal transitions and transformations. His published work ranges from the personal transitions of men and women in their 50s and the struggles of men and women in recovering from strokes to the experiences of freedom among the men and women of Eastern Europe following the collapse of the Soviet Union. In recent years, Bergquist has focused on the processes of organizational coaching. He is coauthor with Agnes Mura of coachbook, co-founder of the International Journal of Coaching in Organizations and co-founder of the International Consortium for Coaching in Organizations.

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