Do YOU work in a “Chesil Beach” Organisation?

16 Aug 2018

Do YOU work in a “Chesil Beach” Organisation?

On the south (Jurassic) coast of England there is an eighteen-mile long pile of small stones called Chesil Beach. It consists of an estimated 180 billion pebbles! I’m pretty sure there aren’t any organisations that big; estimates for the earth’s population are around the 7.8 billion mark so that’s a safe bet! Nonetheless, it has always seemed to me a good simile for many organisations I have encountered. No, the employees weren’t stoned – at least not all the time! Allow me to explain…

You see, Chesil Beach has been there for quite a while. Over the years, the tide has come and gone more than a few times, rolling the stones against each other on a twice daily rotation. As a result, they are all beautifully rounded and smooth; all the sharp edges were worn away years ago. Of course, they make a lot of noise as the waves roll them about, but no edges…


Hopefully, you are starting to see my analogy. You see, I have always contended that High PerformING environments are characterised by ‘quality disagreement’… what other authors have referred to as the ZOUD or Zone of Uncomfortable Debate. Of course, just disagreeing doesn’t make them right, but being the Boss doesn’t automatically make you right either! At the very least, having to assemble and present an argument on why you think your position is the correct one is always useful, forcing you to structure your thoughts.

My point is that, without the sharp edges and the occasional sparks they might cause, the organisation tends to wallow. Lots of noise to be sure, maybe even some slow movement over the years, but certainly very little quick progress and certainly no immediate adaptation.

And that is my feeling about many organisations, which seem averse to disagreements and sparks flying. So much so that they tend to recruit non-challenging individuals and promote from within so as to protect and maintain the ‘Company Way’. Political correctness and corporate image overpower originality! This challengeophobia (great word, eh?) extends to an insistent inculcation process for new arrivals, who are encouraged to rapidly assimilate (“resistance is futile”) the company approach. Once again, this is a shame because new arrivals can offer critical insights to how things are ‘usually done’. Rather like going on holiday and seeing other ways of doing things. Sometimes you might wonder “why do they do it that way” but often, you see another approach that really makes you wonder. A kick in the brain which can spark innovations at home.

So, I hope that your organisation celebrates, nay pursues, challenge. Constantly looking for new ways of doing stuff is, in my opinion, my experience and based on my research, a crucial characteristic of any organisation which aspires to ongoing and increasing levels of high performance. PLEASE look for and appoint staff with edges…then listen to them. Everyone might benefit!

BTW, it goes without saying that two way challenge is a key pillar of Grey Matters. We present ideas, based on a thorough evaluation of both the literature and our perceptions of your situation. That doesn’t make us right, however! So talking through and refining ideas is a key part of our approach, working with individuals, teams or organisations.

Author: Dave Collins

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In an increasingly confused world of ‘sciency’ researchers and commercial gurus, Grey Matters focus on providing a clear, evidence-based service that puts YOU in charge.

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