Working with Organisational Blind Spots
I was once told by a highly successful artist that ‘if to err is human, art is error’ – an interesting take on imperfection as a key to creativity.
The same logic could be applied to any creative human endeavour, including our organisations. As living systems made up of us – with the added je ne sais quoi of collective endeavour -organisations are, like us (like art) imperfect, creative and evolving.
So, by the same logic, ‘if to err is human, organisations are error!’
Blind spots, whether personal or organisational, are a key part of that imperfection and error. While it may feel impossible to work with something we are not equipped to see, we must still get interested in blind spots and learn about them.
Think of driving a car: we learn to manage our blind spot because we know we have one. We take extra caution: we make sure we look behind before pulling out and avoid driving in another’s blind spot. Some cars now also have a warning light on the wing mirror to indicate a car is in our blind spot.
We tend to recognise blind spots in others but not in ourselves. By the same token, it can be much harder to see an organisational blind spot when we are part of the organisation. However, there are indicators to watch out for:
Is there a sustained or repetitive feeling of confusion, frustration or helplessness with regard to a strategy?
Fotaki and Hyde write about ‘splitting, blame and idealisation’ (link) with regard to organisational blind spots: Check out how everyone is approaching the issue. Is it being split into ‘good’ and ‘bad’ elements? Are people taking sides?Is there blame for certain factions, or are others being overpraised or idealised?
Has there been a big investment, financial or energetic, into a strategy that keeps on not delivering despite best efforts? ‘Is the real issue hiding in plain sight? ‘Nothing dies as hard as a bad idea!’ (Julia Cameron).
While recognising a blind spot is tricky, addressing one is even more subtle and difficult.
It is useful to remember that having our own blind spots pointed out may be unpleasant. It may feel like blame or cause shame. In contrast, there may also be an ‘aha!’ moment of recognition. Thinking back to driving a car, it is helpful to realise why we didn’t see the car in our blind spot: by definition we simply couldn’t! Once alerted to it though, we can all learn to proceed with more caution and awareness.
Since our behavioural blind spots operate outside of our awareness it is likely to be uncomfortable, if useful, to learn about them.
When attempting to flag a blind spot, we need to remember to apply our best coaching skills: observe and listen carefully to what is going on; look for double signals; play back what we are hearing - especially the double signals - go gently and check our understanding; keep factual; ask if we are making sense about what we think might be the real issue; be contented with gradual progress. If the conditions are right, find a professional to facilitate a deeper discussion on the facts. Conscious Organisations offers coaching and facilitation for organisational development and can offer help and advice on issues such as these.
The more we work with what we don’t see or know about ourselves, or our organisations, the more self-knowledge we will have. An organisation that knows it has a blind spot can make changes. It can apply strategy to balance the blind spot and demonstrate a culture of greater self-awareness which opens the door to creative organisational development.
Our organisations are changing fast. We hope to develop organisations where aims and practices are in tune with ecological needs, where we partner rather than control, and where we can effectively tap into our collective wisdom to keep accelerating exciting, emergent ways of working.
Our blind spots show us what we don’t know, if we become more aware of them, they may hold the key to creating our gloriously imperfect, creative, sustainable future.