A Diagnosis Metaphor

5 Mar 2021

I started and ran a gym with some friends for six years. I learned a lot about training, and how to maintain and train without getting injured, and what to do when you do get injured. And we're not talking big "go to the hospital" injuries. Just the standard injuries when you are pushing your body past its current limits; strains, pulls, and alignment problems.

There is a common piece of advice that "When my knee hurts" the problem is not in my knee. The problem is actually in one of the adjacent joints: your ankle or your hip, and your knee is compensating. As a result of that compensation it is either over worked, beyond its designed range of motion, or out of alignment. And the "hurt" is your body's signal back to you to stop and adjust.

I like using this metaphor when diagnosing organizations as well. If you're putting your finger on a problem, or a part of your organization is crying out for help, it is likely that you need to look at one of the adjacent pieces of the org, the other teams that are interfacing. As we say in programming: garbage in, garbage out. If a team isn't getting the right inputs, or isn't working under the right conditions, or lacks context, their output isn't going to match your expectation. This is an alignment problem.

Alignment problems need to be solve from the outside. Because the part of the org looking for help either; does not have the capability as the org is designed, does not believe they have the authority, or doesn't know how, to fix the problem.

As a leader you have to answer the conundrum: who ought to have the authority and how can you make that a reality? How do you begin teaching others how to fix the problem they're dealing with?When do you change the organization to enable new capabilities? Without answering these questions you will continue to spend your time maintaining aligment. The only way to move on to different problems is to give someone else this problem.