On one of my client projects, I was engaged to contribute on a mission critical project that almost failed. After attending several meetings, it became apparent that the project team was unable to make progress. The individual team members were competent, motivated, worked exceptionally well together, and the overall project plan provided more than enough time to complete the work. So, what went wrong? Why did such a team that looked so good on the surface come so close to failure?
Several years ago, a colleague passed along a copy of Orbiting the Giant Hairball: A Corporate Fool’s guide to Surviving with Grace, by Gordon MacKenzie. The premise of the book is that as organizations try to institutionalize the creativity that sparks their success, they frequently become a tangled mess of rules, traditions, and systems. This tangled mess, the hairball, has a gravitational field that pulls the organization toward mediocrity.