The Water Cooler Incident
Published: September 28, 2012
One of the things I love about the Tribridge culture is the power of decision-making on the individual level. We have 450+ team members who make thousands of decisions everyday on behalf of the company. I believe that people closest to a particular situation are in the best position to make a judgment call or choice about its outcome. A consultant who works directly with a customer has an in-depth understanding of those unique business needs and shouldn’t have to work through a series of management layers to get permission to do what’s best for that customer.
It wasn’t always this way at Tribridge. Years ago when we were in our first office building and had only a handful of team members, we determined that we were going through a lot of bottled water. It was getting expensive. My two partners and I had a meeting to talk about the water situation. Should we use bottled water or get a filter system? What about a water service? The deliberation lasted two hours.
At the end of the meeting, I looked at my partners and said, “Guys – we’re never doing this again. This is insane and a waste of time.”
We agreed that something needed to change. With Tribridge still in its infancy, we recognized that the way we handled decisions in the beginning years would set the precedent for the company’s future. We also realized the inefficiencies were affecting everybody. Most team members didn’t really know what decisions were and weren’t their responsibility. We decided to divide the decision-making so that each person and department had clear areas of authority.
The water cooler incident demonstrated the age old problem of “too many cooks in the kitchen” combined with the mistake of bringing in the wrong cooks. In partnerships, a lot of times everybody feels the need to vote on and talk through every single issue, but it doesn’t allow you to grow very fast. When there are too many people involved in a decision, it’s hard to accomplish anything quickly or efficiently. And if people are also participating in decisions that don’t concern them, they won’t have time to handle the issues that do.
Rarely, if ever, have I seen a good decision that satisfied a customer but impacted the company negatively. The customer feedback loop can typically tell you whether or not employees are on the right track with their decision-making. I think we have a nice built-in check and balance here at Tribridge. If a decision is good for the customer, it’s good for Tribridge. Many years after the water cooler incident, I’ve never once felt like someone was a rogue decision-maker and needed to be reeled in for doing the right thing.