February 9, 2021

Interrogator or Integrator

Jim Wardlaw, MS

I visited a client who had recently begun the EOS implementation process. The Integrator, and 50 percent shareholder in a $30 million manufacturing business, had invited me to sit in on their weekly Level 10 Meeting. I willingly accepted, excited to see the progress he had made facilitating the process we had introduced in prior sessions. I was intrigued because this guy is an “Integrator’s Integrator” who had a history of being very strong in his opinions and, with all love and respect, a bit uncomfortable with change. I was very curious to see how the structure and accountability of EOS played out in his hands as a facilitator. To my great satisfaction, the meeting started on time and followed the Level 10 Meeting agenda to the letter, moving quickly through reporting and on to issues solving. He had a natural talent for getting at issues. I anticipated an energetic effort clearing the blocks, barriers and obstacles to progress.

For those less familiar with EOS and the Level 10 Meeting, the Entrepreneurial Operating System (EOS) was developed by Gino Wickman to help entrepreneurial leadership teams gain more accountability, a shared vision and a healthier team dynamic. EOS has been implemented with thousands of entrepreneurial companies around the world to help owners and their Leadership Teams drive next-level growth. The Level 10 Meeting is a tool within EOS that is used to create a climate of accountability and meaningful progress. It includes an additional tool we call “The Issue Solving Track” that is designed to help Leadership Teams clear obstacles, barriers and blocks to growth.

The process includes three steps, Identify–Discuss–Solve (IDS). Lot’s more to talk about here, but let me get on with my story. The Integrator began as instructed, working from the highest priority issues to the lowest. He used the WW1 tool – Whose issue is it? Who are you talking to? Describe the issue in one sentence? – to identify the issue. He even used the “Five Whys” tool to dig a little deeper and get to the root cause of the issue at hand. Then it happened. He kept digging … and digging … and digging.

Instead of solving the issue, clearing it, and moving to the next most important issue on the list, he fell into a trap I call “Issue Making.” Please understand, I walk a fine line here, issues are issues. If you need to address something, the Level 10 Meeting is the perfect forum to do so, but this was different. Instead of using IDS as a key for unlocking potential and a clearer path, he was using it as a hammer to drive home his authority and position of power. Where “Issue Solving” is focused on the needs of the individual Leadership Team member, “Issue Making” unknowingly focuses on emphasizing weakness and making people wrong; sometimes even fulfilling a personal agenda. I’m not suggesting for one minute that our goal with EOS should ever be to hide weakness or compensate for poor performers.

We’re all about building muscle by improving performance within the six components of the EOS model (people, vision, data, process, traction and issues), but there is a significant difference between helping a teammate solve a problem and using the process to assert authority. This, I believe, is the difference between Issue Solving – assisting a teammate in addressing a challenge, and Issue Making – interrogating someone to demonstrate authority.

Issue Solving, at its core, relies on a Leadership Team who actively gathers, filters and conveys issues of import to a forum for open and honest peer resolution. When an issue arises it is at the behest of the individual, not at the hands of an interrogator. The mindset of the Leadership Team, and the Integrator typically running the Level 10 Meeting, is to focus on meeting the needs of the individual, to “solve” their problem and clear the path, not to chastise or control them. Again, I’m walking a fine line. I never want to shy away from issues. I always encourage our teams to “just say it.” This said, it’s your mindset that is so key in IDS. You rely on the team to carry issues forward and when the issue is resolved for the individual, move on to the next most important issue. This is a shift in mindset from that of an “Interrogator” to that of an “Integrator,” from to adversary to ally. At an even more foundational level, an Integrator’s mindset subtly shifts the entrepreneurial burden from individual to team. The individual is no longer singularly responsible for the burden of uncovering every weakness, making every decision or predicting every obstacle, but now relies (and trusts) the team carry issues forward for resolution.

There is no need for interrogative discovery, only facilitated support. This was an “ah ha” moment for my Integrator that dramatically changed his relationship to his team and his effectiveness as a leader. As we like to say, “as goes the Leadership Team, so goes the rest of the company.” We’ve already begun to see changes between Leadership Team members and their departments in how they identify, discuss and solve issues built on a foundation of trust and support. I expect more great progress.