Is Your Organization Like Congress?

US CapitolI rarely comment on politics.

The issues are too polarizing and emotional to bring people together. Often, the discussions about process, approach, or statistics are lost in people’s positions. There are no easy answers and I’m not a professor, with hours and hours to study and reflect on all of the different facets of each issue.

This entry will be no different, though the context is political. It’s just that the example was too good to pass up.

David BrooksDavid Brooks was in town this week. He’s a national columnist with the New York Times and frequent commentator on events for various media outlets. I don’t always agree with his opinions, but I respect his insights. Mr. Brooks consistently provides context as well as opinions, developed from his practice of interviewing at least three politicians a day.

Brooks was interviewed on Minnesota Public Radio on Wednesday (click here to listen) and implied that Congress couldn’t solve the difficult issues facing it. Following a fascinating discussion on the public’s trust, he claimed that he could visit the major think tanks – liberal and conservative – and come up with a solution to a difficult problem in an afternoon. Brooks thought that coming up with a solution wasn’t a problem, rather it’s the will of the people involved and the structure of the organization keeping that from happening.

The power structure of the present political environment is very simple. The people raising the most money have the power in the parties. Partisanship and extreme positions tend to fuel most of these people’s ability to raise money and gain political power. That puts power in the extreme positions and freezes the status quo. Brooks thought we were unlikely to see much new, innovative, or effective coming out of Congress because of these conditions.

His comments caused me to think about our own organizations. How much innovation and how many good ideas are lost because of the power structures in organizations? The power in these establishments usually rests in two groups: those who make the money and those who protect the status quo. Think about the people leading major business units or the accounting function in your outfit. These people are reluctant to give up power or change their predictable world – critical mistakes in this turbulent environment.

It is critical to find people willing to challenge the status quo and push ideas and approaches that challenge business-as-usual. The difficulty lies in our traditional methods of running our groups. Traditional and well-known rules carry the day, while unconventional ideas are pushed out. It’s difficult to foster this change, but essential to future success.

Are your leaders finding ways to push the limits?

Or are they becoming more like Congress?


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