I am currently enjoying a three-month stint in Europe, part holiday, part family and part work. Myself and my partner Vera are mainly based in her home country of Italy but work recently took me to London to run a session for a UK based client.
On my way back to Italy, I travelled through Stansted airport, on the outskirts of London. It was hectic, being the start of their mid-term break, and every seat and every table in the airport seemed to be full. It was lunchtime, and I was starving, so I decided to try my luck at getting a table in one of the two main restaurants in the airport. There was a 15-minute queue just to be seated, but that was OK – I had plenty of time before my flight. As I waited, I watched the queue and how the staff managed the queue with fascination.
Let me paint a picture in your mind. The queue probably had 20-30 people in it at any one time. It snaked across the entrance to the restaurant, and therefore blocked the exit for people who were leaving. There was a staff member appointed to manage the queue, who at one point decided to split the queue in half, making a 4-metre gap to allow patrons to leave. Good idea. And when he was there to direct people, it worked well.
But he often got called away to sort out issues, and when this happened, everything fell apart. You see, as new people arrived, they did not see that the queue was split in two. They just saw the end of the first half of the queue and joined the end of that. A perfectly reasonable course of action I thought. The airport was busy, they were distracted and just happy that the queue was not too long, and they did not look around to notice another queue starting 4-metres away.
Of course, every time this happened, there would be someone from the second half of the queue who would politely tell the offenders that the queue started back around the corner. Often the manager would come back and end up having to explain the system and move people back to the end. The look of disappointment in people’s faces was hard to watch. The queue manager spent a lot more time, energy and emotion fixing the problem than was necessary in my opinion.
So, what could have been done differently? I think the main issue was that people did not understand the system in play. It was easy to see the queue was split in two, and I believe that if people could have readily seen this, they would have complied and gone to the real end of the queue. In most cases, if people understand your system, they will work in with it. Most people don’t want to work outside the system, they just need to understand the system. A simple sign or barrier at the end of the first half of the queue would have helped everyone to understand the queue system at Stansted.
In the workplace, we also have many systems that we expect others to comply with. But do we always make it easy for them to understand our system? Do we waste a lot of time, energy and stress correcting the situation when people don’t understand the system? Could we do something simple today that would help people understand our system everyday moving forward? I reckon this is a great conversation to have with your team. Ask them what they think wastes their time when they go about their daily work and see if you could put strategies in place to reduce the wasted time. Remember, most people are happy to comply with your system, so long as they know what it is.
Ciao for now. My lunch has arrived at last!