In recent weeks, I’ve watched as neighborhood businesses began to come back to life amid COVID-19. After last week’s article, I’ve been making an effort to (safely) get back into my old routine. In addition to asking customers to wear masks and comply to social distancing standards, restaurants and stores are installing plexiglass barriers at an astonishing rate. They use them to separate employees from customers at checkout, customers from other customers at dining tables, and employees from other employees at workstations. Although frustrating at times, these physical barriers are critical to successfully keep a business running amidst the pandemic.
This got me thinking about physical barriers we sometimes put in place at our organizations that may inadvertently keep relationships from blossoming, collaboration from occurring, or results from coming to fruition. Unlike the plexiglass erected for safety, these barriers do nothing to help us and often go unchallenged.
Allow me to share an example. Several years ago, I visited a family member in Chicago. On Sunday morning, he invited me to go to church. We arrived about 10 minutes before the service started, parked in an adjacent lot, and walked into the rectangular shaped building. The creaking front door and uneven floor suggested that the church had served the community for decades. Once inside, I saw 15 neat rows of chairs each with 10 seats waiting for our arrival. We sat in my companion’s usual spot and watched as about 80 people settled in around us for the service. All indications suggested that they too were sitting in their usual seats. Based on a quick assessment of the attendees, I put the average age around 60 years old – without any children in sight.
The service began with a short hymn during which time the pastor entered from the back of the room and worked his way to the front. As the music stopped, he turned to face us – well, almost face us. He was standing at an angle with only his left side visible to us. I then realized that he wasn’t at the end of a rectangular church; he was standing at the bend of an ‘L’ shaped room!
While we saw the left side, the other room saw his right side. Apparently, there was another group of congregants sitting on the other leg of ‘L’. I could only see the opening into the other room and make out the faces of the first row of people but if the first row was any indication, that room contained younger families with children.
After the service ended, I made my way to the front of the room to see what only the pastor had been able to see. What I discovered and later confirmed with my family members was that the original church was the building in which I had been. At one point, the church needed to expand to meet growth demands, but adding to or expanding the existing building seemed too expensive. They opted for the least expensive option. They built a rectangular shaped second building of equal size perpendicular to the original structure. I then learned, that the original building was where all of the older church members went every week and the new building was where the new people went. They had literally created a physical barrier in the church and in turn had created two, not one congregation. Depending on which door you entered each Sunday your experience at the church was different. The room you were in limited your workshop experience, friend group, and entire view of the church. It was one church in name only.
Consider your team and your organization:
- What barriers are in place that are limiting your ability to operate as one team?
- How has working from home and social distancing driven further dividers into your workplace?
- What can you consciously do today to begin to change the dynamic?
Now, go make it a great day!
Photo by Ali Yahya
Patrick Leddin, PhD is a speaker, global leadership consultant, and The Wall Street Journal bestselling author of The Five-Week Leadership Challenge. Patrick is an Associate Professor at Vanderbilt University with a thriving leadership blog and podcast, and 25-years of leadership experience. He offers an unparalleled mix of academic rigor and real-world experience.