Every company has someone – sometimes several someones – who grumble about how the organisation does things.  Sometimes the complaints have a basis in reality and there are operational habits that are not productive.

An inspiring leader doesn’t pretend they don’t exist.  To create an inspired organisation the issues raised must be dealt with – but that doesn’t mean the leader has to solve them all.

The Whinge Wall is a device I have used in a number of companies to focus discontent and move towards removing it from the business. We create two walls covered in white paper labelling one ‘Whinge Wall’ and the other ‘Ideas Wall’.  Then we assembled numerous groups of people from right across the business.  We talked about the challenge we faced – and then invited them to write their whinges on the Whinge Wall.

It took a while for the first brave soul to step up and share their whinge.  After a couple of days the wall is normally covered in grumbles.

It’s not about solving the problem

The next step in the process is not to solve every problem – or indeed address any individual problem.  That won’t change much and certainly won’t change the bigger picture.  This is where the ideas wall comes into play.

The Whinge Wall is the trigger to ask the team – every single member of staff – “How are we going to transform this business so that those problems go away naturally?’

Those ideas go onto the ideas wall.

There is a subtle difference between solving the problems and eliminating them.  It’s a different way of thinking and a different vision of the future.  It gives the people who will achieve success a hand in creating the plan.

Everyone has the potential to come up with innovative ideas and, with the brakes off about ‘how we do things here’, it may take a little time, but they will be innovative. I describe innovation as focused imagination. If we have a clear Vision of Success for the organisation (what we will look like, sound like, perform like when we are successful) we can invite the team to use their knowledge and experience to propose how we will adapt and modify our business to get there.

It’s important that every single whinge is covered on the Ideas Wall – nothing overlooked, not even the smallest complaint.

This exercise isn’t a typical ‘team-building’ activity, done on an awayday and then consigned to history.  It has to be real, something that you, as an inspired leader, are willing to stand behind and give your team’s ideas validity.

It is about encouraging ownership

It’s a huge tool for change.  It will get past all those ‘too busy’, ‘too big to change’ or ‘not how we do things’ fears. It will also challenge all those comfort zones of doing the same as we did yesterday because it is the team who will provide the new ideas and thereby own the results.

If a business isn’t performing as well as it could there is a danger that it will slip into decline and jobs will be lost. To ensure your organisation doesn’t go down that route and to encourage people to get on board with a plan to transform the business into something extraordinary, the Whinge Wall is, effectively, a mirror to those uncomfortable fears. This method is an opportunity for everyone involved to be encouraged to speak openly and to begin the process of building a future where each member of the team feels responsible for driving improvement and change.

I use this exercise as part of the launch pad for the development of the 1,000 day plan that is needed to revitalise a mediocre business and turn it into a world class enterprise.

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