Tourist in your own town: Seeing your org with new eyes.

When I serve an organization in an interim position, I feel a lot like a tourist. New sights, things to figure out, routes to plan, people to meet, conversations with the locals in what may be a new "language", learning the lay of the land. It's always an adventure and I know I see things differently than the people who've been coming to work there every day. And that's part of the value of an interim - happy to talk with you about that. But that's not the point of this post.

My city, probably yours, too, has a great event called "Tourist in Your Own Town". You can take the trolley bus around to cultural places, points of interest, eateries (and drinkeries), and landmarks that you might not think about on a day-to-day basis. Fresh eyes looking at the place we live every day, emerging with a new appreciation of what's here. I like this idea.

If you lead an organization or a department or a informal work group, may I suggest you hop on the trolley and approach your organization as a hometown tourist, or more appropriately, as an interim? Snap some pictures, like a tourist does, to think about later.

What would think if you came into your position as a newbie, for a short stint, charged with making things better during your limited engagement? What do you really see? You'd have tons of questions. Here are a few of mine.

"Who are these people?" It's easy to define people by the roles they fill in our organization, rather than asking broad questions about what they might bring. One of the great pleasures of being an interim is not knowing too much about staff and starting from the ground up. And here's what I've found when I'm brought in to help with a problem, whether is how to reorganize a department, what positions need to be created, or how to improve service - somebody in that organization, somewhere, perhaps in an unexpected cubicle, already has at least part of the answer. But, often, no one's asking the right questions to the right people or not paying attention when the answers are volunteered. Interims ask different, sometimes very obvious, questions. You, playing the tourist/interim, can ask those questions, too. You will be surprised at the incredible amount of perception among your folks.

"Why are they here?" While getting to know new people is one of the great joys of interim work, one of the most uncomfortable things about serving in interim positions is seeing staff without emotional attachments. In day-to-day operations, we can get pretty wrapped up in people who haven't grown, won't change, or cause drama in our organizations and because they're so familiar to us, we fail to see what they're doing to us. Sometimes when we're touring our own town, the trolley takes us past places we'd rather not see. And when you view your org from a different vantage point, you can often see that the mix isn't quite right. Everything, everything in building successful teams and successful organizations hinges on being able to view the team with interim eyes from time to time.

"Why do we do it like that?" We all battle the "we've always done it that way" syndrome, but sometimes, as leaders, we're part of the problem. We don't want other people to cop out with that, but we can hang on pretty tightly to possessions, processes, traditions, and power structures that we've invested in. Are you asking yourself the tough "why" questions -- about yourself? Fresh eyes and then letting go.

"Why did somebody paint the walls green?" I was once on the trolley, cruising around my town, and saw a piece of public art that I'd never noticed before. I drove down that street all the time and it had become invisible to me. Pretend your walking into your place of business for the first time. Are there things that jump out at you that don't fit your image, the public face you want to show people, things that aren't productive? Take some mental pictures and look at them again and again. Look for the obvious things that are tripping you up. Not just physical things (although, dang, those green walls are hideous!). How much time is spent struggling with shared documents because one person in the office insists on using a Mac (and Pages) when everyone else sits in the PC camp with Word? How many times does a check get handled before it's safely recorded and banked? Why does everyone here eat at their desk rather than taking a real lunch break? Ask the questions you'd ask if you'd never seen these places, these processes, before.

And so on.

You could hire a consultant to help you look at the place with a tourist's eyes and sometimes, that's a great investment. But you could hop on the trolley, snap some photos to ponder, and tour the home place yourself.

Fresh eyes. And letting go.

Common People United