When I was a kid, there was a party game called Pin the Tail on the Donkey. The game involved a large wall poster of a sad-looking, tailless donkey. Armed with a replacement tail and a pin, each child attempted to give the donkey a new tail—while blind-folded and a bit dizzy from being spun around by the parent hosting the party. (I know, it sounds awful.) Obviously, the chance of an accurate placement was quite small.

Without the ability to observe what is happening, any attempts to improve a situation in your organization may be similarly misplaced. Or you may succeed—purely by chance. When you hone your ability to observe, you stand a much better chance of choosing an appropriate action. My ability to observe is my second Change Artist Super Power.

A manager called me concerned that people on his team were too timid, and could benefit from assertiveness training. I observed several meetings where the manager did 80% of the talking. When someone did get a word in, the manager interrupted. When I shared my observation, the manager was shocked and chagrined. He changed his behavior, and discovered his team had a lot to say. He also realized that his first idea for a fix was misplaced.

At another client, I observed that data about system outages was presented as monthly outage minutes in pie chart form. People knew which system was the biggest culprit in the past month, but had no idea about trends or impacts. I dug into the data and created charts that showed outage minutes over time, and how many people were affected by when a give application went down. Seeing this information in a different form allowed them to address the biggest issues, rather than pointing the roving finger of blame based on a monthly snap shot.

In both these cases, observation was key choosing appropriate action.

Observing sounds simple. In fact, it is hard work and requires practice and skill. You can practice any time, by choosing just one thing, and consciously noticing that for a short period of time. However, sharing your observations can be tricky, especially if you are an outsider and have not been invited to observe. Any time you are observing, it is imperative that you share only what you have seen and heard in neutral language. Stay away from judgement and interpretation.

What might you observe to increase your ability to solve problems?  What might you gain by having a fresh set of eyes observe your organization?

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