Overcoming Barriers: What I Learned in the Army

Barriers – we all face them. As a manager and everyday person we all face challenges in getting what we need or want to get accomplished.  Whether you call them hidden doorbarriers, obstacles, obstructions, hurdles, a stumbling block, being  blocked, impeded, hindered, or just simply facing a response of “NO!”  Something as simple as providing direction to a co-worker such as “make an appointment with  such and such person” results in many cases a first response back “I couldn’t reach them.”  And then the matter is returned to you the manager.  To me it really doesn’t matter if this is the initial response or one of a dozen different excuses (which may be true) as to why we couldn’t make the appointment or get the task accomplished.

This discussion here is to share a training method called the “chair” I created while as the Battalion Logistics Office (S4) in Germany and working with more junior personnel. In this role I was constantly asked to take on and solve other peoples problem because I was the “leader.”  Well being the leader doesn’t mean you solve all the problems, just the ones that seems to be more difficult (even then a group approach usually works better).

social-mediaSo here is how it works. A chair is usually available in most situations to use as a training aide. Lets say you assign a task for a co-worker to get in touch with a certain person to either provide needed information or to gain needed information. Your co-worker assigned the task goes out and then comes back to update you that “no,” in fact they did not get in touch with said person. So now the discussion begins – “why didn’t you get in touch with said person?” Possible responses although not limited to include:

  • Person was not in the office
  • person did not answer the phone
  • Person was in the office but didn’t want to talk to me
  • Person didn’t return my email, tweet, snapchat, instagram, facebook message.
  • I couldn’t find their office
  • They moved their office
  • Their office was closed

Well, you get the picture – there are a thousand and one excuses – I mean reasons why the task or any task was not accomplished. Its usually at this point the co-worked comes back to report and pass the task back to the leader for resolution.  Oh not so fast!

Here is the beauty of this simple technique.  Begin by asking the follow on questions telephoneto the excuse (insert excuse here) they lead with.  For instance, “person was not in.”  Question; “did you seek to speak with some one else, did you ask when the primary person would return, did you leave a message that you need to see them and would return at a specific time, did you get their cell phone number, did you ask where they were at this time?” These questions will normally result in your co-worker going back out to seek the resolution to these  questions.

NoUTurnNext – when you coworker come back again and indicates they still could not complete the task , you again ask why (in no case do not  as the leader accept responsibility to “just do it myself”).  This time the responses to failure might be something about the office or the phone or no-one there.  So this time you ask about who was in the office, you ask about email, you ask about telephone contact, you ask about alternative points of contact. Here is where the chair comes in.

wall ladderAs you are discussing the task reference a chair.  In this case explain that overcoming barriers is a lot like getting past a chair. The chair is the barrier to getting to your task completed.  In discussing the challenge your co-worker usually approaches the task straight ahead. I usually then ask if following their initial repulse, did they try another approach? In this case I ask if the co-worker tried to go to the left of the chair; if not then I suggest that they first try another path. If this path is not viable then I recommend trying to go around to the alternative side.  If in this case the co-worker is not successful, they should then try to go under the proverbial chair or in this case to go over the chair. 

chair 3 The bottom line is that until the co-worker has tried to go to the left, to the right, over the top and under the obstacle, then I ask the co-worker to not come back to me and tell me they cannot accomplish the task.  This is their task to accomplish not mine, when they have exhausted all alternatives, then come back and lets talk about it.  Normally, by this point the co-worker has figured out a way to accomplish the task themselves. In the future the co-worker will have more confidence to solve problems instead of coming back to the leader after their first rejection. 




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