The first step in transmuting breakdowns into breakthrough performance is to determine what the breakdown actually is.

As we said in our last post in this series, what you name an organizational challenge and how you relate to it, makes a difference.

A brief review of problems:

  • A problem is defined as a “question or situation that presents uncertainty, perplexity, or difficulty.”
  • Beyond the dictionary definition, you have a real problem if you approach it from the perspective that “something” or “someone” is wrong.
  • There is usually no clear commitment present.

This way of relating to organizational challenges often makes effective action difficult and can bog things down.

What then is a breakdown?

Webster’s defines a breakdown as:

a mechanical failure, a malfunction failure or the failure, collapse or disintegration of a system.

This standard definition of a breakdown still seems to carry that problematic sense of something being wrong or failure.

What new way of distinguishing a breakdown can give you more power in handling it?

Take the case that a breakdown is based in commitment and could lead you to breakthrough performance.

For example:

Let’s say you have committed to a key deliverable, which others are counting on, by the end of the month. And, in order to complete it you need numbers from another department, which they don’t get to you on time.

Inside a problem-oriented approach it would be easy to get caught up in who was wrong and why etc.

How to approach and deal with a breakdown

To approach the situation as a breakdown, your focus goes straight to the commitment. For there to be a breakdown there needs to be:

  • A commitment.
  • Something that happens to interrupt it.

By this new definition, if there were no commitment to a specific deliverable date there would not be a breakdown. There may well be a situation to address, but no breakdown.

  • To determine and address the breakdown, return to the commitment that was made, not to what is wrong.
  • When the focus is on the commitment, you simply take action to address the facts of what happened, and the path forward becomes clear.
  • You and the team can then re-group around actions to deliver, often uncovering innovative solutions.

This is the alchemical approach. It provides a clear committed background from which to align and take action.

This is where the “base metal” of breakdowns can be turned into breakthrough performance.

In our next post: we will highlight an inspiring story of a company that took action on systemic breakdowns and transformed their culture.

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