29 May

Relational dysfunction: a silent killer

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“We never manage to do what we intend to do as an organisation.”

“Our strategy looks good on paper but we never manage to actually make it happen.”

We are all familiar with organisations that are no longer able to implement their strategy or deliver their plan. In some cases, it has always been a struggle for them. For others, it just seems to be getting harder. Organisations often look for external explanations. Or perhaps they have tried changing key personnel to inject fresh vision. Cutting staff and tightening up inefficient practices is another common approach. Introducing new systems and performance improvement programmes will usually be attempted.

Yet for some, the ability to implement strategy remains elusive.

From our relational perspective, there are clear signs that there is something dysfunctional going on inside the body corporate. Yet, we meet many leaders who appear to be in denial.

“It can’t be a relational problem because people aren’t actually shouting at each other.”

“Checking whether there are relational issues will only give us bad publicity and won’t solve anything.”

“Let’s keep trying these other things and wait and see; maybe the problem will solve itself.”

Individual relational issues within or between organisations are usually about personality clashes or personal chemistry. Such personal issues are very visible and tend to get addressed (by changing the people or avoiding each other). Organisational relational issues are more insidious and pernicious and more easily ignored. Just as geographic proximity can influence how well two teams work together, relational proximity is a key ingredient of a smoothly functioning organisation.

But there is more to relational proximity than geography. Unbalanced patterns of influence and communication can trigger misalignment, causing people to work at cross-purposes. Lack of mutual knowledge and irregular periods of contact can reduce momentum and cause people to despair of effective change. All of these give a sense of relational distance.

It is not only possible to clearly identify where such issues are occurring, it is also possible to do something about them.

Whilst basic business processes and the usual measures of activity in an organisation might appear to be working normally, core relational issues may be silently hampering its ability to deliver. A sound strategic plan will include an understanding and assessment of relational dynamics, enabling you to deal with organisational silent killers before they take hold.

This article was originally published by Renuma, one of our member organisations, and is republished here with their permission.