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Breaking Down Your Breakdowns

October 20, 2016

This was originally written for


Take a moment and think about the last conflict you had at work because of some breakdown.


Why did it happen?


Conflict in the workplace is normal, right? Even with all the Success Skills training, there is going to be conflict. Conflict is OK. Sometimes it's needed; most of the best solutions are the result of experiencing a little conflict and tension. And sometimes it's just simply unavoidable.


Though conflict doesn't scare me, I don't like it when it is unavoidable; and unfortunately a lot of it is unavoidable. When I was a business coach with E-Myth, a core skill we tried to support our clients in obtaining was the identification of root causes when problems occurred or things didn't go as planned. In my experience, when there is something that didn't go as planned, we look to see who did what or who didn't do what, rather than taking a step back to find the real cause of the breakdown.


Think back to the last conflict you had that I asked you to think about at the beginning of this post. Were you able to identify why it happened? Raise your hand if your answer came down to what someone did or didn't do.


It doesn't have to be that way.


Yes, sometimes people are going to screw up and make mistakes, but most of the time when things break down and things don't go as planned, it's the result of a lack of one of these four things:

  • Clear Goals- People aren't truly clear on objectives, goals and desired results.

  • Clear Roles- Roles and responsibilities aren't defined, so people aren't sure who is doing what.

  • Clear Communication- Important information isn't communicated clearly to key people.

  • Clear Processes - The best way to get the desired results has not been defined and documented.

​Example # 1


A few months ago a member of my team came to me frustrated. He was frustrated because he and two other team leaders were planning 12 months' worth of webinars and it was going to require resources from multiple teams to successfully execute them. He was frustrated because he felt everything was on his shoulders and the other two leaders weren't giving it enough attention. Once we started talking, the root cause of this issue became clear. This wasn't a people issue.


All three parties agreed on the desired result of scheduling 12 months' worth of webinars. Each person knew resources were going to be needed from multiple teams; everyone was on board. This new problem was occurring because nobody really knew who was doing what. The roles and responsibilities weren't clear. My team member expected the team leaders to do more because they were involved. They were on board, they just didn't know what to do. The next time they met, my team member led the discussion, and together they identified and agreed on who was doing what and were able to move forward productively.


Example # 2


I have a client whose home office is in Alabama, with seven locations throughout the southeast United States. They needed to create a scorecard that would allow them to measure the success of each location fairly and consistently. This desired result materialized in the form of a one-page checklist that regional directors would use twice a year to ensure each location was in alignment with the corporate vision.


When I received the first draft of the checklist, I thought it was awesome. They had identified over 60 key success measurements that contribute to the overall success of the organization. One measurement was "Curb Appeal." Another measurement was "Greeting" customers upon arrival. Each location's attention toward and ability to satisfy each of the 60+ success measurements will determine this organizations overall success.


Let's take a closer look at this situation:

  • Clear Goals
    On the surface, objectives are clearly defined through the 60+ success measurements. Everybody in the organization will know what success looks like. I have encouraged them to take a step further and clearly define what each success measurement means. "What does curb appeal mean?" Though they have them outlined, right now each of the success measurements is left up to the interpretation of each person using them, which will lead to a breakdown. Defining each measurement keeps everyone on the same page.


  • ​​Clear Roles
    They have done a nice job at defining clear roles at the corporate office. Regional directors will be responsible for facilitating this audit twice a year at each location. Now they need to make sure roles are clearly defined at each location for everyone to be successful.


  • Clear Communication
    Clear communication is going to be key to the success. They have clear goals and clear roles, knowing they need to make both a little clearer. To be successful they must create an intentional internal communication strategy that sets everyone up for success. Failure to do so will lead to a breakdown.


  • Clear Processes
    This checklist of success measurements is great example of a clear process that when followed will lead to more consistent and predictable results. They key word is WHEN followed. If the goals aren't clear, roles aren't defined and there is a lack of clear communication, the likelihood that this process will be used correctly and consistently goes down.


So, conflict isn't bad and breakdowns are going to happen. How we respond to a breakdown will determine our success moving forward. The next time things break down and conflict occurs, don't make it personal. Assess your situation to ensure there are clear goals, roles, communication and processes. If and when you find a gap, allow that to be the focal point of resolution, so everyone can agree and move forward on the same page.





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