Paris Posts #2: Who Has the Right of Way

The massive roundabout encircling the Arc D' Triomphe in central Paris contains almost a dozen side streets that feed into it like spokes on a wheel and the circle itself is several lanes of traffic wide ... not that there are actual lanes, of course.

Almost always packed with traffic, the roundabout is a lesson in self-organization as hundreds of cars, motorcycles, and a few bikes engage in an ongoing "dance with death" though few accidents seem to happen.

Observing this dance for almost an hour, I was most surprised to realize that instead of waiting patiently to slowly enter the roundabout, most of the cars on side streets barreled in at a fairly fast pace, diagonally bisecting the circle until they became a part of the masses. Those already in motion on the circle generally were the ones yielding to the newcomers.

It got me thinking about organizational culture. Existing staff members or volunteers are already in motion, but we regular bring newcomers into the fold. In most organizations those newcomers behave as I expected the cars in Paris would: they patiently observe those already working, try to learn the rules of the road, and then tentatively enter into the conversation or activity, almost always with at least a touch of deference to the existing players. Yes, some assertive individuals jump in and participate fully right away, but generally they are the exception and not the norm.

But what if that wasn't the case? What if new staff and volunteers sped right into the center of things much as the motorists in Paris do as they enter the roundabout? What if existing staff members and volunteers understood they were to the ones to yield to new ideas and fresh perspectives? The end result might look as messy as traffic does all day long around the Arc d' Triomphe, but the results produced might be far more compelling and well worth the confusion which might ensue.