Keep your eye on the big picture

Remember the story about the six blind men who were led to an elephant — an animal they had never seen before — introduced to just one part of it and then asked to describe it?

The first man grabbed the elephant’s trunk and said the elephant was a tree branch. The second touched the elephant’s tail and determined it was like a rope. The third felt the elephant’s ear and described the animal as a big fan. Others touched the elephant’s tusks, belly or leg and defined the animal as a solid pipe, a wall or a pillar.

The story is a simple analogy for working within a complex organization. We all go about our business, looking after unique and separate parts of the operation and come to have our own expression of just what the organization is. Our colleagues are busy with other parts of the animal — I’ll let you determine who has the tail end — but we get so engrossed in our own work that it’s only occasionally that we consider the organization as a whole.

And that’s unfortunate because our myopic view can create consequences for our colleagues.

Take, for example, a planned public works event, maybe a road closing for some underground infrastructure work, scheduled for the same day as a regional park opening that requires access along the closed road. The two departments can go about their work oblivious to the work planned by the other with disastrous consequences for the organization as a whole.

The solution to avoiding this kind of trouble is to include communications as a component of your project plan right at the outset. That begins with research, identifying potential allies, opponents and others who might in some way be affected by your work. Communicating with them at an early stage provides ample time for both of you to work together to resolve potential issues before they become major problems.

In a way, it’s kind of like stepping back from our particular part of the elephant, comparing notes and coming up with a more accurate depiction of what we’re really seeing.

Have an example to share? Or a story to tell? Please comment below.