Why your workforce acts stupid and how to release their intelligence

According to Sarah Lewis M.Sc. C.Psychol of Appreciating Change there are a number of reasons people sometimes switch off their intelligence and put on their stupid hat when they arrive at work:

1) Our understanding of organisations encourages this.

In an unconscious way we see an organisation as a head and a body. The head decides what to do and the body follows instructions. Thinking is viewed as a management skill. Non-managerial staff refer to this when they say ‘I’m not paid to think’.

2) It’s not safe to make suggestions.

Perhaps someone was publicly humiliated when they made a suggestion. Or maybe when their idea ‘failed’, perhaps through no fault of their own, they found themselves being blamed. A few experiences like this and the workforce quickly decides it’s safer to keep your thoughts to yourself.

3) There is no effective way to contribute.

Sometimes the challenge is the lack of a suitable process to enable a connection between those aware of the problem, those aware of possible solutions, and those holding sufficient power and influence to agree to changes in working practice. Without these connections it is very difficult for people to act as an ‘intelligent system’.

4) Fruitful interaction is inhibited.

For example, in some organisational environments it is frowned upon for people to be away from their desks or designated work areas. This can inhibit the ability of people to problem-solve at a local level. So instead the problem is escalated up the line.

5) Goodwill has been withdrawn.

When people feel badly or unfairly treated the low risk silent protest is the withdrawal of good will. ‘Let them (management) make stupid decisions, what do I care?’ Once relations have fallen to this low, people will passively implement instructions they know to be potentially damaging.

So what can be done to release the individual and collective intelligence of all organisational members?

Change the organisational metaphor.

Start thinking of the organisation as living system, such as a flock of birds. These living systems use the intelligence of all their members to self-organise. ‘Organisation’ is recognised as being a product of the behaviour of the many rather than as a design of the few. These types of metaphor encourage us to recognise the value of the unique perspective of every member.

Encourage initiative and contributory behaviour.

Recognize that encouraging people to risk using their initiative or making contributions requires that we recognise and reward very early and tentative attempts.

Use co-creative problem-solving processes.

Bring together the people with the problems, the solutions and the decision-making power to create a fully informed robust solution or plan for change. Appreciative Inquiry is excellent for this, as is SimuRealWorld Café and Open Space also offer methodologies that bring whole systems together to create sustainable change

Encourage local problem-solving and decision-making.

People need to have relationships with their counterparts that are strong enough to handle conflict and disagreement as well as creativity and innovation. Staff need to be confident that their managers value the time invested in both building those relationships and in calling on them to solve problems or generate new ideas.

Build social capital and good relations.

Social capital at the organisational level refers to the degree of connectivity between different departments or functions. A good level of connectivity encourages the development of trusting relationships and also facilitates the flow of information around the organisation. When people feel they have been well treated by the company over time, they are much more likely to respond very positively to an ‘all hands on deck’ call to suddenly help with an unexpected catastrophe.