Last Updated on September 18, 2017 by karwisch

There I stood, electric hedge trimmers in one hand and a ninety-nine-foot extension cord in the other. On the ground in front of me lay a one-foot extension cord.

At this moment I had three items that were essentially useless. There was the hedge trimmer which now had no power, and two wildly different links of perfectly non-functioning cord.

Moments before this I was happily chopping away at a holly bush and then when I wasn’t paying attention, I cut into the thing that you should never cut into… the thing that powers you.

So let us take a moment and name our players in this tale:

We have the Electric Hedge Trimmers which work on the front lines, are aggressive and are seen as being risky and a little dangerous. They see themselves as the only one who really does anything real work around here. If you take an electric hedge trimmer and really look at its design, the cord is not long enough for the trimmer to cut it off. You cannot physically get the cord into the teeth of the trimmer, even if you really pulled it and tried. Without electricity, even if you stuck your finger into the blades, they really won’t do much damage. By itself the trimmer can plug into an outlet, work perfectly, and never cause damage to itself or the outlet. But how many holly bushes are there within the six-inch reach of an electrical outlet?

Next, we have a ninety-nine-foot electric cord who works seamlessly with the one-foot electric cord. They work together so well that no one even knew there were two extension cords there. Most of the time, the trimmers see the ninety-nine-foot cord as something that is holding things back and frustrating to have to drag along behind you. The ninety-nine-foot cord has to get the power a really long distance, something that the one-foot cord cannot do. But the ninety-nine-foot cord cannot work with the outlet. There is no interface. Without the one-foot cord, the others cannot do their jobs.

Lastly, we have the one-foot extension cord. This guy understands how the outlet works and how to get power from it. He works great with the ninety-nine-foot cord, and for the most part, just tries to stay away from the hedge trimmers. They have been around each other before a few times at parties but the trimmers always seem to forget they even exist. When others do take the time to notice the one-foot-cord they see something that is a little sad and hard to understand.

When everything was functioning correctly, it was a perfect line of transport. The ninety-nine foot and the one-foot extension cords were of one mind and the hedge trimmers were getting what they needed to do the client facing action. Then… nothing. No work is getting done. The trimmer is furious. The Gardner is frustrated.

Let’s recap the metaphor, shall we?

  1. The only thing that actually USES the electricity are the trimmers.
  2. The trimmers think they do all of the work and tend to get most of the gardener’s attention.
  3. Without the other components, the trimmers can accomplish nothing.
  4. If the trimmer lashes out, everyone loses, including the Gardener.
  5. We sometimes resent the ninety-nine-foot cord for slowing us down or holding us back
  6. We tend to only notice the one-foot cord when it is no longer doing its job.

So let us consider our varied roles in our organizations and in our systems.

When are you the hedge trimmer?
The ninety-nine-foot cord?
The one-foot-cord?
How does it feel to be in each role?
When you are a cord, what makes you feel appreciated?
When you are the hedge trimmer how do you approach that role?
What behaviors make the system work well from each of the three perspectives?

A huge thank you to my friend Erica Marx for helping me crawl through the finish line on this one. She proofed the ending and thought it wasn’t my best work. The new ending reflects her thoughtfulness.