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Bear shaving in organisations

bear“Global warming a problem? Just shave the bears.”

An old joke Seth Godin quotes in my all-time favourite blogpost.

Ever since I first read the post in 2009 I have been looking out for signs of organisational “bear shaving”, in other words, offering a superficial solution to an organisational problem instead of addressing the root cause.

In organisations, meetings, workshops and training sessions provide excellent opportunities for bear shaving:

  • Are there bitter conflicts between two departments, fuelled by a serious conflict of interest in the background? The solution: “They all should have a day of teambuilding together. Let them have some fun – that would surely make the situation better.”
  • Is there no trust within the management team, is communication forced and dishonest, making meetings boring and meaningless? The solution: “Let’s structure management meetings even further, make the agenda tighter.”
  • Are priorities not clear, are roles and responsibilities not defined, so nobody knows exactly what to do? The solution: “Arrange some time management training for our colleagues.”

It is easier to shave the bear than solve the problem of global warming. Likewise in organisations it is always easier to spend some “fun time” together than have a tough discussion on the reasons behind a lack of trust in the management team.

So should we try and eliminate bear shaving from organisations altogether?

Anybody who has ever worked in an organisation knows that sometimes you need to settle for superficial treatment. It is still better than no treatment.

Shaving the bears doesn’t solve the problem of global warming, but at least it gives the bears some temporary relief.

So organisational bear shaving can be OK at times. Just make sure you don’t mistake it for the real solution.