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Zombie Problems


When I was a child, let’s say eight or nine maybe, somehow I watched the movie Nightmare on Elm Street. My guess is I was at my cousin’s house where I would have been the youngest and my sister and two cousins wanted to watch it. Not wanting to be left out, and probably after a fair warning that the movie was scary, I stuck it out. That was a mistake. I still will not sleep with my arm dangling over the side of the bed because I’m afraid something will grab it.

I should have known better. My mom took my sister and me to see E.T. when it first came out. At that time, I was three or four and didn’t keep up with the narrative. To me, E.T. was a monster and I cried in the packed theater for almost all of the movie. Honestly, if I were one of the other patrons, I would have been so angry at my mom and me. It was 1982 and you couldn’t go home and stream the movie if you missed it because a kid was bawling. VCRs were still not popular so you couldn’t even go to a Blockbuster and rent it. For years, I used to think that E.T. followed me around in the dark, and to this day I will not watch the movie.

So, needless to say, I am not a fan of horror movies. The only time I want to see vampires is if we’re talking about Twilight. I have no need for possessed dolls, children who climb out of wells with their hair in their face, or psychos wearing masks while they hunt down innocent people. I can handle minions and Voldemort, the Wicked Witch and the Stay Puffed Marshmallow Man. These are my boundaries. Anything remotely horrific in a movie is a hard pass for me.

Nevertheless, sometimes life can be scarier than fiction. Specifically, I am sure that we have all experienced a time when we thought we resolved a problem only to have it resurface. Right? I have now started calling these instances, “zombie problems” because they seem to rise from the dead. For me, zombie problems happen mostly at work. For example, someone shares an issue with me. I think we’ve worked it out, then sometime later, I get a call about the same problem. Sometimes, just like with zombies, the original problem was a little stronger than the sluggish but persistent zombie problem. However, sometimes the zombie problem has grown muscles and brings other zombie problems with it so I now have to deal with the zombie problem and its undead friends.

I can’t help but think about Patrick Lencioni’s book The 5 Dysfunctions of a Team with regard to zombie problems because he says it’s

ironic that so many people avoid conflict in the name of efficiency, because healthy conflict is actually a time saver. Contrary to the notion that teams waste time and energy arguing, those that avoid conflict actually doom themselves to revisiting issues again and again without resolution. They often ask team members to take their issues “off-line,” which seems to be a euphemism for avoiding dealing with an important topic, only to have it raised again at the next meeting. (p. 203)

Avoiding dealing with an issue because you don’t want to be seen as someone who is difficult or because you don’t want to make waves or because you are concerned that others will judge you is a byproduct of Dysfunction 2, or “Fear of Conflict.”

Zombie problems may also be associated with what Lencioni calls Dysfunction 3, “Lack of Commitment” in that

In the context of a team, commitment is a function of two things: clarity and buy-in. Great teams make clear and timely decisions and move forward with complete buy-in from every member of the team, even those who voted against the decision. They leave meetings confident that no one on the team is quietly harboring doubts about whether to support the actions agreed on. (p.207)

If there is fear to raise concerns then there is conflict avoidance. If that’s the case, then people will be apt to not follow through with the decision that was “agreed to” because, in reality, there wasn’t an agreement. Thus, rather than actually resolving the problem, the conditions fuel zombies.

Lencioni provides suggestions for what teams look like when they are high performing versus dysfunctional. Here are his ideas related to Dysfunctions 2 (p. 204) and 3 (p. 209).

(Curious about the other dysfunctions? Click here to see what they are and what the corresponding functional behaviors are.)

Honestly, one of the best ways to avoid zombie problems I learned from a zombie movie, World War Z. There are only two reasons to watch this movie as far as I’m concerned. The first is Brad Pit. The second is the “theory of the 10th man.” I’m giving nothing away to tell you that the premise of the movie is that zombies are taking over the world. Somehow, however, Israel proactively built a wall around itself that zombies could not scale. Pitt’s character goes to Israel to find out why Israel did this since, when the wall was built, zombies were still cinematic monsters and not something in real life. The Israeli official Pitt interviews says that Israel has a council of ten leaders and when faced with a decision where nine agree, one of the council members plays the role of the “10th man,” who should always point out the flaws of the group's conclusion, even if the 10th man agrees. In the movie, nine council members agreed the idea of a zombie invasion was ridiculous, so the 10th man had to argue the “what if it isn’t?” The 10th man did some digging, he found some credible evidence to support the idea that zombies were coming, so they built the wall.

What’s so powerful about the 10th Man is that it proactively identifies a pathway to express conflicts thereby circumventing Dysfunction 2, “Fear of Conflict.” Since zombie problems often rise from the dead because they were not thoroughly questioned and considered the first time around, this is a great way to truly kill problems before they turn into zombies. As well, the 10th Man helps with Dysfunction 3, “Lack of Commitment,” because now that people have debated the solution thoroughly, people have clarity around direction and priorities.

All of us understand that problems arise. The reason we call them “problems” in the first place is that they’re difficult and they feel like they get in the way of what we’re trying to accomplish. What I know for sure, however, is that dealing with the problem once is far easier than dealing with the zombie it will become if we don’t address it properly the first time. If not, you will feel like the life is getting sucked out of you by the zombie problems that will limp and crawl and come from around the corner when you least expect them.


P.S. My Catch of the Week is the post, “Workplace Zombies: How to Avoid the Living Dead” by Katie Zabriskie. Workplace zombies, according to the article are, “soul-sucking, money-draining, productivity-killing entities that chip away at an organization’s spirit and its engagement levels one convert at a time.” Not only does this article do a great job describing workplace zombies, it differentiates between zombie styles and offers actions to take in response to zombie behaviors. It’s really good!

P.P.S. Please remember to...

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