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Helping Families End The Fight

Organizational Dysfunction

(PS Families are “Organizations” Too)

Coronavirus and Breakdown

   With our world turned on its head due to Covid 19, people are working from home, many businesses are shuttered, the ones that are open are looking for new ways to develop productive, at home workforces, and in turn, the at-home workforce is trying to balance caring for their now virtually schooled at home children. They are also continuing to meet their work obligation while ensuring that they have food and TP and that their household remains virus-free.  If ever there were fertile ground for dysfunction it is now and in fact, the rapid spread of Covid 19 is itself symptomatic of wider societal dysfunctions.

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What is Dysfunction?

 What is a dysfunction when it comes to the normal workings of an organization (or a family)? 

First, let’s define dysfunction. Dan Little in a recent blog post on the social understanding platform defines it in the following way:

“A dysfunction might be defined as an outcome for an organization or institution that runs significantly contrary to the purpose of the organization.”

This is true also for families. The family is set up to ensure that all the members are well cared for, nurtured, safe so that they encourage one another to develop and grow. What happens when the purpose of the organization comes at cross purpose with the family? Either the work or the family has got to give, or something innovative needs to happen. 

Dysfunction in Crises

As a coach, I have had multiple conversations with clients about exactly this. Both parents are working, the kids are at home. They cant both get their 40 in and watch the kids, what are they to do? Bring in help? That ups the risk of bringing in the virus. Quite a quandary! I’ve also talked to business owners who are frustrated that their people are either using communication to talk about nonwork things, interrupting the workflow or that their people are not communicating enough duplicating efforts. 

The businesses and the families are all prey to one outside the wild card. Specifically, the Federal Governments’ response, or lack of response,  once it was clear that a highly contagious virus was loose in China. Really the breakdown is in not anticipating this possibility which has come up in previous outbreaks like ebola etc.

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Functional in Crises

Some businesses are reacting better than others, those who had contingency plans in hand already for example. Some are just super lithe in their reaction. The ones that are struggling are those that simply are not future-oriented enough in their thinking. Some are just to stuck in “this is how we have always done it” to get out of that box. 

Similarly, the families that are thriving have traditions and structures in place. These allow them to think through how they are going to manage the kids and work. Basically, families that are reacting well to this shift have cultural procedures and policies built-in.

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How To Fix It

Whether you are in the box, out of it, or just finding your way, taking ownership of where you are is the first step. Someone has to own where we are, where we want to be, and what’s between us and that. Ultimately, like everything in any group, dysfunction comes about simply because no one is willing to take responsibility:  

“One intriguing hypothesis is that correction of dysfunctions requires observation, diagnosis, and incentive alignment. It is necessary that some influential actor or group should be able to observe the failure” – Dan Little

ALL organizations and families either have some dysfunction or the potential for it depending on how forward-thinking they are. What makes the difference is that SOMEONE is willing to notice the dysfunction. Someone is looking forward and recognizing potential dysfunction, explore it in-depth, create buy-in for action.

Break It Down

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  You’re at home with your family and your struggling, here is your action plan:

  1. Be willing to take the lead whether in creating consensus or just plain doing it yourself.
  2. Identify the breakdown- don’t accept the first answer. The breakdown happens 5 layers below whatever comes to the top first (which is usually blame)
  3. Look at where it is you want to get in relation to the breakdown, what’s the end goal here? Long term? Short term?
  4.  Be clear that this is a place that all the players want to go with you. For example “I want my 40 hours so you take the kids” is going to get less of a win for others than “how can we balance your 40, mine and the kids’ needs?”
  5. Take actions, observe, go back to step one because there will be course corrections.

Punch Line

Conclusions we can draw from this is dysfunction is due in large part to fractures in leadership. Fractures in the perception of the now and in their anticipation of the future. Families are particularly vulnerable to this as power is often shared between two parents. A work through on this is to give each parent authority over specific areas. This works especially well if areas align with strengths. Like any partnership this requires regular communication and checking in. Keeping on track is built on minimal overlap and elimination of things slipping between the cracks of areas of responsibility.

Most families need a lot of help with this. As much as we may want to vilify our governmental leaders, to a large extent, their reactions have to do with the kind of advisors and coaches they have in their lives. Yes, they pick them of course. Who do you have helping you at this time?

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