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Excerpt: You Don't Have to Do It Alone : How to Involve Others to Get Things Done

by Richard H. Axelrod, Emily M. Axelrod, Julie Beedon, and Robert W. Jacobs


Everyone loves involvement in the abstract. Involving others is a great idea and being involved has universal appeal. No matter how much we love the involvement ideal, when it comes down to involving others or being involved, our fears get in the way. Involvers worry about whom to include and how to include them. When we are the ones who are asked to participate, we have another set of concerns. We want our voices to be heard and we want our ideas to be accepted. We want to experience the satisfaction that occurs when we pull together to make something happen.

Fears and Hopes Around Involvement What do we worry about? We worry about the time it takes to involve others. We worry about the hassle that occurs when we have to incorporate other points of view. We worry about loss of control. And we worry about failure.

Let's take a look at these fears from two perspectives-that of the involver and that of the person asked to be involved.

It will take too long. The involver fears: Involving others will delay getting things done, causing me to miss important deadlines. The involved person fears: If I get involved, it will take a lot of time away from my dayto- day work, leaving me with more work to do. It's going to require more effort. The involver fears: It's going to take a lot of work to include others. I will have to bring them up to speed, figure out who needs to be involved, and then work through their differing opinions of what needs to be done. The involved person fears: If I get involved, I'm going to have to convince my boss what needs to be done, and I'm not sure he's interested. Besides, while I'm doing that, my own work won't get done. It all seems to be more trouble than it's worth.

I will lose control. The involver fears: Bringing people together means that I will not be able to predict the outcome. If I do it myself, I might not have the right answer, but at least it's an answer I can live with. It's just easier to do it myself. The involved person fears: If I become involved, it means I'm going to have to consider others' opinions. I don't want to make compromises when I know what needs to be done.

I will fail. The involver fears: When it's all said and done, I'm the one who is responsible. If we fail, no one will blame them. It will all come back to me. I'm not sure that others feel the same sense of ownership that I do. The involved person fears: If I get involved, I'm going to have to live with what we decide. I'm not sure that others care as much as I do. Will we suggest ideas that make things worse instead of better? Will we be worse off in the end?

If these fears ruled the day, involvement would never happen. But opposite these fears reside four hopes. What kind of hopes? The hope that by involving others time will be saved, the work will be made easier, new ideas will emerge, and we will create allies to support our work. Now let's look at our hopes from both perspectives.

The work will get done faster. The involver hopes: If I involve others, there will be more people to do the work. I won't have to spend late nights and weekends organizing the garage sale or working on a presentation for my boss. If I involve others, they will be able to take over some of what I do. That will free up my time so that I can do the things that I'm best at doing, where I can make a real contribution. The involved person hopes: By getting involved I hope that I will be helpful. I hope that by working with others I will help the job get done sooner. I hope that my contribution will make things go faster.

The job will be easier. The involver hopes: Instead of doing everything myself there will be others to call on to do the heavy lifting. Knowing that others are there to do the work will help me sleep at night. The involved person hopes: I hope that by joining this group the work will go more smoothly. I hope to pull my weight. I want to have fun. I hope that more hands will make light work.

Better ideas will develop. The involver hopes: If I give up some control, I hope I get better ideas in return. My fondest hope in involving others is that we will come up with new and better ways to do the job-ideas that take a fresh look at old problems, ideas that provide solutions I couldn't see because I've worked on the problem for too long. The involved person hopes: By getting involved I hope that I will make a contribution. I hope to help generate fresh ideas so that we come up with some new solutions to old problems.

There will be other people to support me. The involver hopes: What I want most are allies, people to support my efforts, people to spread the word and encourage others to join. I want to know that there are others besides myself who are willing to work hard toward achieving the goal. When I'm feeling discouraged, having allies gives me the courage to move on. The involved person hopes: I hope that by joining this group I will make new allies. I hope that instead of feeling that I have to do everything myself, there will be people to help me along the way.

Building a Foundation Dealing successfully with hopes and fears requires a solid foundation. The Japanese bullet train zooms over 200 miles an hour as it makes its way from Tokyo to Kyoto. But in the United States, similar trains barely reach speeds of 100 miles an hour. What's the difference? The foundation-the tracks they sit on. American railroads are built on tracks that were designed for steam locomotives in the nineteenth century. Japanese lines feature high-tech tracks specifically built to accommodate the ultra-fast bullet train. Fearing a horrendous accident, we would never think of running the bullet train in the United States at 200 miles an hour. But when the track bed is safe, we don't give these speeds a second thought. By fully acknowledging our hopes and fears, we create a solid foundation for involving others. When we build our foundation with our fears in mind, we are aware of them, but we don't let our fears prevent us from moving forward. In the same way, while our hopes inspire us to action, we are not Pollyannaish about the task before us.

The Five Questions This book is organized around a series of five questions that help us deal with our hopes and fears. When answered, these questions help us build a solid foundation for involving others. These five questions are asked by effective involvers whenever they tackle a new challenge. Answering these questions will allow you to build a safe track bed, one that allows you to move swiftly to your destination. The questions are:

  • What kind of involvement is needed?
  • How do I know whom to include?
  • How do I invite people to become involved?
  • How do I keep people involved?
  • How do I finish the job?

We devote a chapter to showing you how to answer each question whenever you take on new work. We also offer a chapter called "Meetings: The Involvement Edge" that provides a blueprint for designing high-involvement meetings. A concluding chapter, "Where to Start," provides options for where to begin. There are also a reference set of checklists and some ideas for further learning.

What kind of challenges do effective involvers tackle? It could mean solving a problem at work that has been bugging you for months. It could mean saving your company millions of dollars. It could mean launching a community movement to improve your schools or the local health care system. It might even mean drawing on the ideas and energies of thousands of citizens to decide the future of the World Trade Center site in New York City.

Our approach has been tested for the past ten years in organizations such as Boeing, Marriott, and the Cabinet Office of the British Government. These are no-nonsense organizations where time is of the essence, resources like money and talent are precious, and the pressures to perform are enormous. They are also subject to intense scrutiny by many stakeholders, from corporate shareholders and employees to civic groups and ordinary citizens. The plans such organizations develop and the means they use to carry them out must be effective; if they are not, the repercussions may be enormous. These organizations have learned that effective involvement is the key to making smart decisions and making them work better. We predict that you will discover this, too.

How do we know these are the right questions? Effective involvers told us so. We asked some of the most productive, creative, and resourceful people we know to walk us through their own techniques for organizing and managing their work. The structure of the book grew out of what they told us. These same effective involvers also read the chapters as they were written and helped us shape the contents to be as useful and practical as possible.

Taken together, the steps in You Don't Have to Do It Alone provide you with the tools for creating organizational energy-the kind of energy that can only come when we involve others to get things done. We begin to involve others when we ask ourselves the first question, "What kind of involvement is needed?" Your journey toward successful involvement begins on the next page.