I remember some years ago (it was the past, its distant, so dim I can’t see it) attending a workshop on strategy and how an individual can go about solving business challenges by applying strategic tools. It was like a mini MBA style thing but about £48K cheaper. At the end of the workshop the facilitator presented us with a list of things to try if ever blocked i.e. no solution was presenting itself. One of the things on the list was to imagine you are an alien arriving on Earth what would you think about what you saw (I always worry this has a profound effect on the behaviour of management consultants but that’s another post altogether).
Fast forward a few years and I was in Hong Kong for the first time and in getting in the lift to go up to our office (we were on the 39th floor) I was confounded to find no buttons in the lift. Instead you had to push the floor you wanted on a panel outside and the system then directed you to the appropriate lift car. I thought this was ridiculous until I stopped for a moment and thought about it and realised it was completely amazing.
The alien arriving on Earth would have no clue why there were people in every car going to the same floor but being split across multiple lifts all being stopped and started randomly dependant only on who had decided to use them. I remember thinking at the time it was a brave engineer or designer who pitched that idea at the meeting and thank god someone backed them.
Now we reach a few weeks ago and I am attending a conference (I was doing a turn) and met someone who work for a major airline. I won’t name them but they are British, formerly favourite now more flying and serving. They had run a form of internal skunk works to try to address the challenges of working with teams and individuals in remote locations and constantly shifting teams.
Of the two teams attempting to address the challenge the first team returned with what in 2013 is surely the teacher’s pet answer. It involved internal social networks, communities, blogs, video uploads – you know, all that good stuff we all think is the silver bullet to everything. My understanding is they got a pat on the back and a job well done. The second team however thought very differently.
The solution they came back with may even count as a *whispers* paradigm shift in the thinking. Rather than a new strategy and boat loads of tactical goodness they came back with a simple but systemic change. Stop thinking of head office as the team and everyone else as remote but rather realise that head office is the remote one and everyone else works together.
Having had the
pain joy of spending some time with flight crew down route they are not sitting around worrying about the company strategy. They are usually spending high quality time exploring the locale, eating, drinking and generally being a very well bonded group.
Whether this shift in thinking actually leads to an improve in the operation of the airline is yet to be seen but whether it be the lift or the remote workers you’ve gotta love it when someone just flips the reality 180 degrees and looks at it completely differently. Haven’t you???