People who have been working for a long time, work in teams and are part of a larger organization, are open to a hidden danger. Few people recognize it and even fewer have the courage to tackle it or openly discuss it. Nevertheless, recognizing and dealing with ballast in your own environment can deliver massive results.
Ballast consists of images, beliefs and attitudes which, when combined, take the flow and fun out of an organization. They make work hard, boring and frustrating. They make people fearful, discouraged and de-motivated and in the end they quit. Ballast is the often un-recognized cause of energy loss and declining productivity.
Where does ballast come from?
Although programs like Six Sigma and LEAN take waste out of a process, my work is focused on identifying and addressing the ballast in an organization. Ballast is difficult to recognize, certainly for those who have been working for a long time in the company. However, the presence of ballast has a huge (negative) impact on staff members, teams and on the organization as a whole.
How is ballast created?
Actually, it’s a by-product of long-term (collaborative) work. If you are hard at work negative images about others can arise, conflicts remain unresolved, suspicion can grow, well thought through work practices can become lax and useful lessons can be forgotten or twisted.
The longer ballast remains, the more it hampers a fully functioning person, team or organization and the pleasure, the flow and the productivity suffer. This is the way a company can slowly morph from being a close-knit organization of dedicated people to being like a nation of islands, where fear, compartmentalization and distrust rule the day.
In a time when organizations and individuals are very challenged to do more with less, ballast becomes an even greater threat. Fear of the future, disappointing results and high work pressure easily lead to even more ballast in the organization.
Where a consultant really can help
Recognizing, tackling and eventually letting go of ballast is a hard, sometimes painful process that can be extremely fruitful for those who have the courage to really engage with this issue.
There are a number of reasons why dealing with ballast demands an experienced external consultant; in the first place because it is difficult to recognize, both in yourself and in your workplace. It is also a hard topic to broach and discuss, between colleagues without guidance, as it can quickly lead to a ‘game’ of attack and defense, and then to outright conflict. An attempt to turn the tide in a positive direction ends up as an extra chunk of ballast in the organization.
Letting go of ballast
If you as an individual, team or organization have been carrying ballast for years, you’ve got used to it and don’t even notice it. Ballast forms a part of your reality. You can even grow quite attached to it. It is, in the first place, important that you learn to recognize your own ballast along with its negative effects. Only when you see what your own contribution is to something negative will you be able to take responsibility and make different choices.
There are specific forms of coaching for leaders focusing on recognizing ballast. An extensive 360’ scan focusing on identifying ballast can be helpful in this process.
Recognition of ballast for teams consists of team diagnostics and workshops. It’s also very useful to observe a team whilst it is at work. Ballast in the daily routine of work is then identifiable and open to discussion.
A huge motivator for effecting changes
Organizations learn to recognize and let go of their ballast through shared experiences. In order to create this, we have developed very specific business simulations tailored to each situation. These are geared to reveal ballast and open it up to discussion. Simulations like this help a large group to practice other behaviors than those that they have been used to at work. An experience of working with little or no ballast can be a huge motivator for effecting changes for everyone in the workplace.
If an individual, team or organization is able to release a considerable amount of ballast then they are not just briefly freed from obstacles to success, growth and joy in work, but long term. We see this in the speed problems are solved, information is shared, flow returns to processes and finally, in the bottom-line results of an organization.