The head office pattern

Posted by  Mark Schenk —May 29, 2008
Filed in Anecdotes, Collaboration

Smart people hate being told what to do. In many of our projects we see the ‘head office pattern’ where HO is seen as a sort of ‘Big Brother’ (in the Orwellian sense) and not really trusted. This can often be caused by HO wanting to control things and, often unintentionally, alienating the very people they are seeking to influence. “We want people to work more collaboratively, and here’s how we want you to do it!” Of course, if HO wants to see more collaboration across the organisation, they must behave in a collaborative manner and not impose their will in the expectation of compliance.

The following is a microcosm of the HO pattern…..

In 2005 I was working in a change project. The project team were the ‘head office’ representatives. One of the team asked for my feedback on a meeting agenda he was putting together for a group of key business stakeholders. I read the first bullet point on his PowerPoint slide and told him … “if I received this from you I wouldn’t attend”.

He was taken aback till I explained that his first bullet point was ‘to agree on the XYZ model’ and that he had obviously made up his mind what he wanted to do and he appeared to be planning to spend the meeting trying to convince people that what he had already decided was correct. I suggested he change the agenda item to read ‘discuss the pros and cons of adopting the XYZ model’. He immediately understood that this creates an entirely different mindset and he later reported that the meeting was quite productive.

To tackle the head office pattern we need to be constantly aware of our language, motivations and most importantly, our behaviour. Get your messages proof-read, ‘call’ the ‘head office mindset’ when you see it and think about what you are trying to achieve and whether it is genuine. If it isn’t genuine, be assured that your stakeholders will notice even though they mightn’t say anything about it.

Mark Schenk About  Mark Schenk

Mark works globally with senior leadership teams to improve their ability to communicate clearly and memorably. He has been a Director of Anecdote since 2004 and helped the company grow into one of the world’s leading business storytelling consultancies. Connect with Mark on:


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