Moose Mess: Boeing's Culture May Have Caused Those Tragic Crashes
In the wake of two fatal crashes of Boeing’s new 737 Max jets, Harvard Business School professor and author of a new book on creating psychological safety in the workplace, Amy Edmondson, published an article on Boeing and the Importance of Encouraging Employees to Speak Up. She writes, “The accidents and the resulting media attention together create a real wake-up call for Boeing… what’s required, however, is more than operational fixes. It is nothing less than a full organizational culture change.”

The Seattle Times investigative report found, “a company that once encouraged its engineers to raise questions or concerns about programs and designs began to do the opposite.” An engineering leader said, “there was a theme of just follow the plan, and that was code for don’t bring me bad news.” This is a classic moose-on-the-table problem. Like elephant-in-the-room or 800-pound gorillas, it’s an atmosphere discouraging real conversations about major barriers of problems. It’s a far too common problem. And a big blind spot for many leaders who think they’re open and transparent.

Is your team or organization multiplying moose in your meeting rooms and workplaces? Click on Do You Have a Moose Problem? to complete a short quiz and find out.

Tips to Reduce the Moose

  • When you’ve made a mistake, admit it. Talk about what you’re going to do to correct it.
  • Use a safe and anonymous process to identify, prioritize, and address key moose issues.
  • Moose hunting is a playful approach to touchy issues. If you suspect people aren’t being open during a discussion, ask, “Is there a Moose-on-the-Table we need to talk about?” or “Am I smelling a moose around here?”
  • Get a facilitator outside of your team to run focus groups, conduct confidential interviews, or do a survey of your team or organization to identify and prioritize Moose issues.
  • The worst thing you can do is identify Moose issues and then not deal openly and effectively with them. You’re better off to not ask if you aren’t going to follow-through.
  • As leader, when you’re trying to build a team consensus or get the team’s input, hold back your opinion until you’ve heard from everyone.
  • Brainstorm potential issues by asking for ideas on the “dumbest things we do around here,” “biggest barriers to reaching our goals,” “major implementation issues we need to address,” “pet peeves,” “dumb rules and forms,” “things that drive you crazy,” or the like. List each point. Cluster the similar points until you have 5 – 7 major groupings or clusters. Identify those things you or your team directly control, can influence, and don’t control at all. Prioritize the things you control and get ideas/volunteers/plans to address them. Do the same for things you can influence. Discuss how you can all accept and let go of the things you can’t do anything about.
  • Use 360 feedback to get unfiltered feedback from direct reports, peers, your boss, and other key internal or external partners or customers.
  • These can be three powerful feedback questions: What should I/we keep doing? What should I/we stop doing? What should I/we start doing? Ask these questions at meetings/retreats, after you’ve completed a performance review with a direct report, during operation reviews, informal chats about how things are going, breakfasts/lunches with team members, etc.

A culture of fear or weak two-way communications is a major blind spot for leaders. Many organizations have risk management programs focused on financial, legal, or safety risks. But rarely do companies understand the deep and serious risks of their closed communications cultures. Are you flying into turbulence?