view of male hand in white shirt stopping falling dominos

The 3 Levels of Interference

In his now famous book, The Inner Game of Tennis, Timothy Galwey introduced us to the idea that a person’s performance was equal to their potential minus the level of interference they experienced. Reduce the interference and performance improves.

For an athlete playing an individual game, the only significant interference is inside their own head. In business, though people can experience interference at three different levels.

The first level is personal. Just as with athletes, this is about the unconsciously held values clashes, repressed emotions and limiting beliefs of the person. Many people go through life having no idea of their own interference. Most of this level of interference comes from, and is shared with, their own family, which means that without some kind of intervention, it tends to be self-sustaining. This interference shows up at work in terms of mental health problems, absenteeism, and bullying.

The second level is team. Here we look at the roles played by the individuals within the team, the skills they have to play those roles, and the systems they operate within to do their jobs. We all know about square pegs in round holes, but how often do we use appropriate psychometric testing to make sure each peg is in the correct hole? When did team members last have skills training? Because most organisations are hierarchical, the level of personal interference within the team leader may have the biggest overall impact on team performance.

It is said that people leave managers not companies, and your ‘A’ players will leave if stymied by a manager who rewards sycophancy. Where is objective performance measurement? I remember an experienced HR manager telling me that when managers wanted to sack someone for performance reasons, he would just move that person to a vacancy in another department and wait for their new manager to start raving about how good they were. We might say that one manager or team leader is better than another without really understanding why, or what to do about it.

The third level at which interference occurs is organisational. Here we are concerned with the culture, strategy, and structure of the organisation. How many layers of management have the executive team created or overseen? Look for signs of the responsibility avoidance matrix. The greatest impact on organisational performance can be the interference within the CEO’s head. A 2013 study of CEOs said that the average time in between interruptions for CEOs was 11 minutes. That is catastrophic in terms of interference, but also in terms of dropped IQ points. If as a CEO you cannot rely on the executive team, change it don’t micro-manage it.

How many organisations have evolved sufficiently to thrive in the high-interference, post-lockdown world? How many instead are suffering from increased interference at all three levels and are still unsure what to do about it?

About 40 years ago, we in the UK started to learn about what the Japanese were doing to achieve high productivity. Their whole system was built around the step-by-step elimination of waste. Today we need to extend the ‘7 muda’ of manufacturing businesses to include service, project, and asset-based sectors.

Apparently, the Japanese also say that the best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second-best time is now. It is time to rebuild business productivity one layer of interference at a time.

John Cottrell was one of the first people to use Open Space Technology (OST) in a work environment to help clients both save and make money. He has led successful productivity improvement projects in various countries around the world and has been running Directors and Employee Alignments for nearly 20 years. They are the perfect mindset and motivation antidote for a business suffering from Covid interference.