“To determine the cause of the problem,” I continued, “you have to look at more than symptoms. Look at any medical doctor. Before they can prescribe a remedy, they are trained to look at very specific things. I assume you have a physician?” I asked.
Sarah laughed, “Of course.”
“When you go to see the doctor, after the pleasantries, what does the doctor ask about?”
“That’s easy,” Sarah said. “She asks me where it hurts?”
“Not only where does it hurt, but is the pain specific or general? Is it an ache, or a sharp stick? Does it happen all the time or only occasionally? If only occasionally, what happened right before you noticed the pain?”
“Yes,” Sarah nodded.
“These are symptoms, the kind of things your team members complain about,” I said, “but they are only symptoms. But while the doctor is asking you about your symptoms, what else is she doing?”
“That’s funny,” Sarah replied. “While she is asking me questions, she is listening with her stethoscope, tapping my knees with a little rubber hammer.”
“So, not only is she listening for symptoms, she is also looking for signs. Symptoms, the things you (your team members) complain about may mislead. The doctor must also look for signs, evidence of something amiss. That is the point of diagnostic tests, blood work, x-rays.”
“That’s it?” Sarah asked.
“Nope. With the symptoms and signs, the doctor must now rely on a theory that ties them together. When you described the feedback you got from your team, that there was a communication problem, that was only a symptom. In addition to the symptom, we also have to look for signs, like a reduction in productivity or confusion in delivering our services. And, with those two together, we now must rely on a theory that ties them together to arrive at the proper diagnosis.
“Your communication seminar was based on a breakdown in communication. Your outcome from the communication seminar was neutral at best. More likely, the problem occurred from an absence in defining the accountability and the authority in the working relationship. Accountability and authority is a completely different organizational theory than a communication theory. Only when we apply the right framework, can we make a more accurate diagnosis and prescription.”