Fans of Sherlock Holmes might remember the occasional scene in which a scruffy urchin appears out of nowhere, speaks briefly to Holmes, and then disappears again. Holmes then solves the case, and explains to the stunned Watson that he cultivated the urchins as sources of information. They are his “Baker Street Irregulars.”

When they are present, they exist only to meet the needs of the story, or at least of the hero.

The same thing can manifest itself in organisations as well. Many players tend to assume that the other players in the scenario are only there to support their goals. They don’t quite recognize that each participant has their own goals and their own needs that they are trying to meet.

Such “off camera” behavior occurs when each department treats the others as existing only to fulfill their needs. Each group becomes completely occupied with doing its own job.

Such behaviour leads to narrow perspectives and a decreased willingness to work with others. Although the pressure appears to be increasing performance, it does so at the cost of also increasing friction: in other words, increasing the performance of a single group decreases how well different groups work together.

To tackle this, make sure that each department and each person understands the big picture. What is the flow of information and production in your company? What does success mean, not just individually but for the company as a whole? While people do not need to know how to do one another’s jobs, nor is that necessarily a feasible objective, they do need to understand how those other jobs fit into that big picture. They need to understand how their actions and decisions affect other people, other departments, and the company as a whole.

(Adapted from ‘Baker Street Irregular behaviour in your organization’ by Stephen Balzac, American Management Association)

(This article was published on June 22, 2012)
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