Recenly I watched "Jurassic World" with my sons. A fun movie with just the right amount of feel-good story line coupled with tension, screaming and, of course, dinosaurs.\nMy sons had chosen to watch the 3D version, not normally my first choice. Once I had my glasses on I found the first 10 minutes or so of the experience a little disturbing and disorientating. The 3D effect was most definitely there, but I found my brain fighting it. It was a little \u2018too real\u2019 yet at the same time my brain was telling me "it\u2019s fake 3D."\nYou know what I mean, it\u2019s like going back to the early days of CGI where we could see the green line around the actors, we\u2019re conscious of what is happening. We are questioning and challenging it and can\u2019t enjoy the experience. Until that is, you suddenly realize the movie is over. At some point I had settled down and accepted the 3D approach, dodged the dinosaur as it ran towards me, and no longer saw the green line.\nIt made me think of the metaphor of the "elephant in the room." The issue we see, the discomfort we feel, but over time become used to living with. Even the plot of the movie is a great an analogy of the elephant in the room:\n\nScientist: \u201cGreat idea! Let\u2019s build a dinosaur park!\u201d; Voice of Reason (which is ignored)\u2026 \u201cwon\u2019t that be dangerous?\u201d\nScientist: \u201cGreat idea! To keep people coming, let\u2019s build a genetically modified dinosaur!\u201d; Voice of Reason (which likely doesn\u2019t speak up)\u2026 \u201cbut what if it escapes?\u201d\nDinosaur escapes into the park. Much running. Much screaming (including by the aforementioned Scientist). Plenty of \u201cI told you so\u2019s\u201d from the Voice of Reason.\n(Spoiler alert) Everyone is saved. Movie ends.\n\nHow often has this movie played out in your office or company? When did you last skirt an issue or ignore the elephant in the room? Unfortunately, unlike Jurassic World, when we do this the happy ending isn\u2019t guaranteed.\nWhat is an 'elephant in the room?'\nI\u2019ve had the opportunity to work with more than 3,000 leaders, in 20 countries and on 4 continents and it would appear there is a global menagerie when it comes to the "issue that has no name." Whether it\u2019s the elephant in the room, gorilla in the corner, moose on the table, stinky fish, or dinosaur in the park (my new addition) they all represent \u201cthe emperor has no clothes on\u201d issues.\nThey are metaphors that describe the (controversial) issues that are getting in the way of success. The (tough) conversations that we avoid for fear of how others might react. The (obvious) problems that everyone can see, but choose not to acknowledge. Those things that we deliberately ignore because to call them out would trigger conflict, embarrassment or are simply organizational taboos \u2013 never to be named.\nThere are plenty of high profile examples of where the elephant in the room has derailed careers and companies \u2013\u00a0Enron, the Space Shuttle disasters, Lance Armstrong and Brian Williams among others. Corporations and individuals who have experienced a rapid fall from grace. \u00a0Where the subsequent investigation showed that others had initially questioned what was happening, had seen the elephant in the room \u2013\u00a0what was being said or done, but over time those voices were ignored, got quieter or were stifled.\nWhen things go wrong our attention is invariably drawn towards the individual failing, when we look closely \u2013 hindsight being ever 20\/20 \u2013 there is invariably culpable negligence, and a team who were the \u201cthey\u201d that allowed the crisis to happen. Conversations quickly move to \u201cHow could they allow this to happen?"\nThere\u2019s an old adage that there are always four truths in any situation: my truth, your truth, our truth and the truth. Tell a story often enough and the boundaries of fact and fiction will often blur and \u201cbecome\u201d reality (at least for the storyteller).\nOften we all see the initial truth \u2013 the elephant in the room \u2013 but we struggle to name it. We struggle to resolve it. And so we learn to live with it. There is a great New Yorker cartoon showing a couple sitting in a room. An elephant is answering the phone and the quote is \u201cNo, This is the elephant.\u201d\nElephants are expensive pets\nThere is no doubt in my mind that far too much time is spent on the care and feeding of elephants. They are allowed to remain in place, sucking the life force from those who come in contact with them. Elephants are big, they take up a lot of space, whether it\u2019s mental space as you wrestle with how to deal with it, or physical space as it is, yet again, scheduled for the meeting agenda to be debated ad nauseum, but without being resolved.\nHowever experience has shown that the costs of not dealing with the elephant far outweigh the risk of naming the elephant.\nMeetings become an endless and unproductive use of time because the real issue is not being discussed. What is worse that lack of candor and debate around the real issues stifles the information sharing around all parts of the business. There is no real dialogue and the culture quickly becomes risk adverse, creativity and innovation is stifled.\u00a0 Accountability takes a nose dive as team members avoid the issue, as a result teamwork and collaboration takes a back seat.\nWhy do elephants get so big? The primary reason is fear of naming the elephant and actually having to deal with it.\nNaming the elephant\nIn our work with teams and leaders we will often spend time identifying and discussing the elephants in the room. Whether it\u2019s personal blind-spots, organizational issues, or process problems. Often a fresh set of eyes, and an outside voice that can say \u201cbut that\u2019s silly!\u201d can help foster a conversation that drives candor and debate.\nWhen elephants are ignored they have a habit of growing in size, and multiplying. Worst case you end up with a herd of elephants that are running amok and distracting you and your team from achieving their individual and collective goals.\nI recall working with one executive team where the elephant had not only gotten big \u2013 it had left the building. The team was caught in an endless cycle of conversations and debate about the validity of the elephant, why it existed etc. etc. They were well and truly stuck. I called the team to attention and pointed out that \u201cThe elephant has gone, it\u2019s just a pile of elephant poo \u2013 and it\u2019s only going to get smellier. Deal with it!\u201d It had the right effect, it lightened the mood and re-engaged the team in a productive conversation in how they were going to move forward.\nIn my experience, naming the elephant is a powerful strategy. Once an elephant has been identified then you can move to action. There are three outcomes that follow \u2018naming the elephant\u2019\n1.\u00a0The elephant vanishes. It seems to me that as humans we are hard-wired to see the worst, to assume the worst. While this may have kept us safe when living in dangerous times, in the modern workplace often our perception of an elephant is exaggerated or misinformed. When we name the elephant often we can discover it doesn\u2019t actually exist. That we imagined the barrier and believing in it made it so.\n2.\u00a0Identify the steps to remove it. When a team names the elephant there is empowerment. What can be \u201cit\u2019s just me\u201d becomes \u201cIt\u2019s about us\u201d. When you and your colleagues are aligned about the elephants existence then you can do something about it, together.\n3.\u00a0Live with it. By naming the elephant you acknowledge it\u2019s presence and no longer have to dance around the subject. The team can be aligned as to how they will work together for mutual success, in spite of the elephant in the room. This is a very different approach to risking failure or missed goals because of the elephant in the room. The latter breeds excuses and finger-pointing, the former removes blame and drives accountability, candor and debate.\nSearch out your elephants\nMost elephants are actively seeking a comfortable home. Once they take up residence they can be hard to shift, unless you and your colleagues remain vigilant and are willing to actively identify and discuss the elephants in your zoo.\nMaybe it\u2019s time you took your team on your own search for elephants. Give me a call if you need a guide to help you along the way!\n\nWhat are the elephants in the room? The topics that you and your team should, but do not, discuss?\nWhat are the elephants in the room that you and your team see, but seem unable to resolve?\nWhat are the first steps that you, and your team, can take to reduce the size of, or remove your elephants?