Ouch! Fail! Just endured a smack down at the hands of my team. I pointed out a clear issue affecting the team's productivity (with a solution ready in my back pocket). The team denied it was an issue, saying it was in fact one of the things they take pride in. I was left in the apparent position of trying to destroy an attribute the team viewed as one of their greatest value-adds. Uh, what? Time for some reflection.
Sooo, instead of essentially saying (but in much more delicate terms) "You're spending too much energy providing immediate responses to every incoming email request", an area the team (at least some very vocal members) turned out take great pride in, it would have been much better to approach it as "Do you have enough time to really focus on solving interesting/complex problems?" At it's core this is what I was trying to get to.
Side note: If there wasn't a problem, how else can we explain that we are on week two of not completing the 3 day task which everyone agreed was essential (albeit not necessarily deadline driven).
I thought I had identified the cause of a problem and went straight at it. I assumed the team would at a minimum agree the time spent on these requests was an issue. I was prepared for them to disagree with my solution but I was caught off guard when they vehemently denied there was a problem at all.
I hit the web looking for an article I thought had come from Robert Greene's "Power, Seduction, and War" blog. I didn't find the specific post I was looking for but the following post from Greene struck a chord, giving me insight into both my position and my team's:
Force them off the negative: It is always easier to argue from the negative side–criticizing other people’s actions, dissecting their motives, etc. And that is why most people will opt for this. If they had to describe a positive vision of what they want in the world, or how they would accomplish a particular task, this would open them up to all kinds of attacks and criticisms. It takes effort and thought to establish a positive position. It takes less effort to work on what other people have done, and poke endless holes. It also makes you look tough and insightful, because people delight in hearing someone tear an idea apart.
Facing these negative-mongers in a debate or argument is infuriating. They can come at you from all angles. Hit you with sarcasm and snide comments, weave all kinds of abstractions that can make you look bad. If you lower yourself to their position, you end up like a boxer throwing punches into thin air. These opponents give you nothing to hit. (In war, it is always easier to hold ground than take ground.) Your task is to force them off this position by getting them to commit to some positive position. Now, you have a target. If they resist or refuse to do this, you can attack them for this resistance.
I approached my team from a negative position: "you're spending too much time on customer support requests." They countered with a negative position: "You're trying to ruin one of the things we do best". Fail all the way around. If I had started with "Do you have enough time to really focus on solving interesting/complex problems?" and the team responded "no, we don't have enough time" we could look for solutions. If the team responded "yes, we do have enough time" we could move on to determining why our interesting/complex problems remained unsolved.
Next time I WILL come at it from the positive.You can find Robert Greene's entire post here: "Only the Dull and Stupid Fight Head-on: Some Strategic Thoughts"