organizational shrapnel

This post is dedicated to Joshua R. and Andrew H., thank you for your conversations and mentorings…

…as with any end to a international school year there comes moments of reflection and looking back that generate ideas and new perspectives. This year has been a challenging one on many levels due to a host of odd circumstances and situations in my department and school that effected us all in the IT Department, and required the team to face up to serious challenges. We all pulled together, and hats of to the team for their outstanding capacity to deal with everything that came to us. This has had me thinking about something I like to call “organizational shrapnel” things that fly in your face unannounced from corners you would not expect things to come from. Sometimes I even refer to these as “drive by shootings” were suddenly you are confronted with a situation unexpected and most often you are not prepared to deal with, but react and deal with in the best of your own ability.

Organizational Shrapnel is a state which generates a lot of inefficiencies, frustrations, errors, in-competencies, and slowdowns in accomplishing tasks in an organization. It is the event, moment, action or process where people look around with some confusion and try to point fingers and there is no clear evidence or concrete event that you can associate to the inefficiencies, frustrations, errors, in-competencies, and slowdowns.

Why should this be an issue? I believe that organizational shrapnel and the level of it in an organization can make or break a good team, group or organization. I believe that when groups/organization engage in a task or project, for the objective to be met you need to be able to trust and know that the different players are all going to accomplish their respective tasks, and that the framework of resources supports accomplishing the task, project or action.

This process of teams collaborating and accomplishing a task together in any institution is complicated and quite complex, we all experience this and it is no surprise to most of us. I feel if organizations, and teams can better understand the causes of organizational shrapnel and address the road blocks this tends to set  the stage for a more effective and smooth collaboration of a groups within any organization.

So what are examples of organizational shrapnel? These are broad in scope, and come in all shapes and shades.

  • A team works together and defines group agreements, but a member continually does not abide by these.
  • A decision is made and agreed upon, but there is no clear implementation plan, or process for feedback and evaluation.
  • A process or procedure is implemented within the organization, some stakeholder decide to follow it, others decide to not use it and use an alternative in isolation of the rest of the organization.
  • A collaborative group works together, but all the actions and follow through are continually done by a few, and others play lip service to the work but are not participating actively and tend to block movement in the meeting setting
  • An event, or task is organized and one of the stakeholders makes an error but does not report it, or share this out so others can support in correcting this.
  • Not following through on things
  • Looking at a situation within one perspective, and expecting others to follow through

…and many more, generally the pattern is that organizational shrapnel are small things which fall through, not completed tasks/steps, ignored agreements, tasks done inadequately, or where there is a lack motivation, drive by the players involved in completing the collaboration or task.

The frustration if organizational shrapnel becomes a habit and people accommodate to it, it can quickly become part of the organization’s culture and norms. The reality is all organization have a level of this, and the challenge is what environments and understandings can be shared to decrease it’s presence in any group or organization.

Organization, groups and teams who have a high capacity to understand and concretely deal with their organizational shrapnel create an environment where there is a greater motivation by the stakeholders of the organization which results in a sharp increase in creative flow generating innovation in moving forward.

4 thoughts on “organizational shrapnel

  1. Lindy Buckley

    John, I can recognise all of those examples of organisational shrapnel! If one could just work out how to avoid being hit by it all!

  2. John,

    Thank you for sharing and for the nod. The shrapnel you’re referring to is a killer. When it penetrates the body of the organization (to extend the war metaphor) it will cause a lot of pain. The only way to relieve the pain (and save the body) is to treat the symptoms while nurturing the general health of the organization and establishing safeguards against further damage. This requires leadership at all levels. Leadership requires a strong mission and vision so that dispersed leaders don’t run amok. Technology integration needs to be a part of the 21st century mission-vision landscape. I could go on, but further exploration is best saved for a live dialogue. Thanks, again. Andrew

  3. Nick Kwan

    Hey John, I think that most (if not all) teachers can relate to what you describe here. What truly rings true for me is when you said “if organizational shrapnel becomes a habit and people accommodate to it, it can quickly become part of the organization’s culture and norms”. The level of shrapnel or the number of “drive by shootings” that occur have a tremendous impact on the culture of a school. Changing that culture in positive ways is a real challenge. Sadly, my experience has shown me that in some schools the faculty have all but given up trying to make positive strides after being continually bombarded with shrapnel over a long period of time. People build up the wall of “why bother” as their own protection from the shrapnel. Once the wall has been built up and reinforced by others, it can be really difficult to bring it down. Changing a school’s culture is a monumental task that requires very strong leadership and vision to achieve.

  4. I can only imagine what an organization could accomplish when everyone’s ammunition is put to rest, people voice concerns with the group instead of saving them for later, and everyone is committed to the same mission and vision. I recently had the experience of being on a strategic planning committee: we we were led by Teresa Arpin of Transformation Systems, and she helped us set team understandings that eliminated the shrapnel. It was an incredible experience and the entire committee felt more engaged, empowered, and committed to our results. It can be done!

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