The whole and its parts

The whole & its parts

It’s the situation

Over the years I’ve learned to work with different personality type models and found them helpful.

However, they come with the challenge that their users might end up using stereotypes and rely on them in problem analysis. There then is a risk that the causes of a problem in the team will be determined by focusing on individuals and their dispositions or personality-based attributes.

When people seek to make sense of a situation, they often rely on what they know and can explain and underestimate what they don’t know. This feeds into the so-called fundamental attribution error. It’s a cognitive bias that leads people to ascribe causality to individuals when it’s a function of the situation.

Taking for example someone coming late to a meeting. It can as easily be that the person is late because of a traffic jam or out of the habit of never paying attention to time. Over time, people use patterns they have observed. While sometimes only remembering the more noticeable moments of being late. And this may happen often enough, especially when the person has the habit of being deadline driven.

I remember a situation where our group was getting into this idea of a pattern. We all changed our mind when the person shared with us, how people in the London area have become used to the impossibility of effectively planning the time it takes to drive from one point to the other. Punctuality has become a non-issue there.

While punctuality makes it easy to describe the idea of a fundamental attribution error, it also describes issues people will most often be able to see and dissolve. It’s less visible in more complex situations. Take for example a team that relies on an individual in the team. It may slowly drift to unconsciously let go of requesting accountability from that individual. It’s an attitude that can spread to others leading to individuals underperforming.

Or take the situation in which an individual is new to his leadership position and also has to design a new product taking his whole attention. Then consider how that organization uses a leadership model of hands-on activity and perceives people management as a function of kindness. It’s a situation in which it easily happens that such an individual focuses on the hands-on job. His performance evaluation might have over-emphasized his lack of empathy, leaving out, that leadership is not sufficiently developed in the organization.

Treating people well doesn’t mean using the situation as an excuse. It’s true for not letting people underperform as for the wrongdoing of individuals. It means sometimes accepting that people can find themselves in an unpredictable situation. For example, one where they will not be able to develop their full potential. It also means knowing that such a situation still requires making the decisions necessary for the organization.



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