Can't, Can't, Can't...
That word has derailed more projects than any other word in the English language. I’m not sure which word is currently in second place, but I can guarantee its not a close second. Seriously, the human race has successfully placed a human being on the moon and returned them safely to Earth! I'm pretty sure we can do this.
As a young facilitator, I used to think some people were put on this planet to make sure nothing progresses. Ever. People who habitually use the word can't are not evil people. They're really not.
They can be a huge asset to an improvement team
“Wait, what? You mean my co-worker who invents reasons we can't ever change anything at all is an asset to an improvement team?!? Chris, have you lost your mind?”
People with this tendency are ultra talented at finding barriers. These are often barriers your team is going to have to overcome anyway. The key is in drawing out those barriers while preventing the language from stalling all of the team’s momentum. Here is a process to make that happen.
How to harness the good energy and block out the bad
Preparing for the meeting that you anticipate will turn into a “full-on can’t festival”...
- On a whiteboard or flip chart or somewhere else visible to everyone in the room, write the word "Can't", and then put a circle around it with a line through it. (just like the image in this blog).
- On another sheet write, "In order to accomplish this, we would need to..."
- Have a third location (flip chart, whiteboard, etc.) ready to capture thoughts where everyone can view them.
During the Meeting...
- At the very beginning of the meeting say exactly this, "Today we’re not going to use the word can’t. That word is completely off limits. In its place, we are going to say - in order to accomplish this, we would need to…"
- Tell your entire team if anyone, including yourself, uses this [despicable] word, they need to call them on it. (at this point I like to throw in a "can't" or two of my own so they call me on it.)
- During the discussion, when someone says can't, correct them by referring to the "in order to accomplish this" visual aid and ask them to rephrase their idea in that form.
- While the group is having fun calling each other out, make sure you’re capturing all of the things the group is identifying and visibly writing them up on a flip chart.
After the Meeting...
Consolidate the ideas into an action plan format, and then congratulate yourself and smile (like an "I just did that" cocky kind of smile). Because you, like Christopher Columbus are a crusader - you just navigated some pretty choppy waters and successfully charted the course for you and your crew to discover the new world. Good work.