KingChapman Blog

Breakdowns Are Roads To Organizational Breakthroughs

Posted by Bob Chapman on Sep 12, 2017 7:03:00 AM


Businesses exist to create value. Sustaining value creation usually involves substantial growth. Substantial growth is easy when the markets in which the business compete are growing, as “rising waters lift all boats”. Most businesses, however, cannot count on “rising waters” to deliver growth. Instead, they require creativity, leadership, innovation and dogged determination. In addition, they often require breakthroughs and changing organizational context.

At KingChapman, we have refined application of Breakthrough Technology over the past three decades. This approach, when deployed by leaders, has reliably produced organizational breakthroughs and improved performance.

Integral to achieving breakthroughs is effective use of breakdowns. The Breakdown Methodology is based on an invented conversation to explore what are perceived to be interruptions to desired performance and paths. These conversations identify dynamics and factors which were previously unnoticed, and hold the key to breakthroughs.

Let's discuss the importance of breakdowns, as well as the breakdown methodology.

Importance of Breakdowns

Our breakdown resolution approach was designed as an access for teams to deal simply, quickly and effectively with the inevitable problems, setbacks and obstacles that arise whenever breakthrough results are sought. Although this breakdown methodology will not prevent problems from happening and will not alleviate people from experiencing challenges to their commitments, it does provide a tool for enhancing a team’s ability to quickly recover and re-engage in effective action.

Breakdown methodology is most effectively used inside of Breakthrough Projects. A Breakthrough Project is created by leaders to produce exceptional results. The basis for asking the team to produce exceptional results is extraordinary leadership commitment. Based on these extraordinary commitments, the leaders set breakthrough goals, without knowing precisely how to achieve them. When a team is asked to achieve goals that are the time of project launch are not known, it creates an entirely new set of challenges. Although often intriguing or exciting, these challenges bring up setbacks and frustrations. This is when Breakdown Methodology comes into play.

Setting extraordinary commitments and goals, without knowing precisely how to achieve them, creates an entirely new set of challenges

The Breakdown Methodology is essential since teams of people invariably respond to frustrations and setbacks in predictable, if not automatic ways. These automatic responses are a natural human reaction, so having methods which allow teams to identify and address their responses proves to be most valuable.

Breakdown Methodology

1. Identify the breakdown

As a reminder, breakdowns occur only because there is a commitment to achieving a breakthrough. Where there is no commitment, there is no breakdown. A breakdown becomes evident when a team has said, “We will accomplish X by Y date.” At any point where it appears the team will not be able to accomplish “X,” or it will not do so by “Y” date, a breakdown is looming.

To identify breakdowns, one may also look to see where the team appears to be operating from a reaction and losing effectiveness. The ability to notice and surface awareness of the stimuli, no matter how insignificant, that has sent the team into a swirl of reaction provides a measure of both choice and clarity that are unavailable without that recognition. Once a problem is deemed to interfere with a commitment, and is identified as a breakdown, the next step is to declare it as such.

2. Declare the breakdown

The second step is to publicly declare a breakdown. This step is so simple that its value often goes underrated. By publicly stating that a breakdown has occurred, something very interesting happens.

Before a breakdown is declared, it seems as if all the problems are external. Someone or something outside the team is creating the problem. When the team declares a breakdown, suddenly everything shifts. The team not only has power to name the breakdown, it can

  • restate what it is committed to producing,
  • take ownership for the success of its commitment and
  • start considering what effective actions might resolve the breakdown.

The opportunity is that the team’s actions may now be consistent with the commitment. Distinct from stating a problem and then solving it, declaring a breakdown extricates the team from its state of reaction, and creates an opening for action.

3. Distinguish facts from interpretations

Once a breakdown is declared, it is useful to distinguish what actually happened (the facts) from our stories or interpretations about what happened. This is essential because instead of relying on what actually happened, we typically add meaning to any occurrence. That is, we add color, a made-up story or interpretation to the facts. The story that we tell others and ourselves about what happened, although perhaps a valid interpretation, then becomes collapsed with the facts and occurs as “the truth.” This coloring can obscure the facts, and prevent the team from seeing or considering anything other than its members’ limited points of view.

4. Re-examine the original, underlying commitment

Once a breakdown has been declared and the facts have been separated from the stories and interpretations arising from them, the next step is for the team to re-surface and re-examine its original commitment. Highlighting the commitment that is at stake reinforces the difference between ordinary “problems” and true “breakdowns.”

At this point, consider whether the original commitment behind the breakdown is still valid. If so, there is power in re-committing to the original commitment. If not, time is not wasted in deciding to revoke it, and perhaps consider a new commitment or set of commitments.

5. Engage in new conversations

Following the team’s re-commitment to its original intention, new conversations for new actions become available:

  • A conversation for “what’s missing.” Instead of considering who or what is at fault or to blame, the question becomes, “What is missing, the presence of which would make a difference?”
  • A conversation for “What actions are now possible, or perhaps viewed as possible?”
  • A conversation about opportunity which surfaced during the brainstorming session, in terms of size and speed of their impact. Asking, “What new approaches might we engage in now to move forward that will add value and further our commitment?”
  • Agreement on action, based on the opportunities prioritized, the question becomes, “Who will take what new actions, and by when?”

By declaring breakdowns, separating facts from interpretations, affirming or revoking the original commitment, then engaging in these conversations, an opening for the team to engage in new ways of thinking and acting occurs. Instead of reaction, a mindset of creativity and innovation become available as the team’s response to the breakdown.


Breakdowns are paths to organizational breakthroughs. This happens when a team quickly identifies and declares breakdowns. The working of breakdowns is its single greatest access to producing new actions and exceptional results.

If your organization desires to achieve breakthroughs, consider getting the executives and managers to create extraordinary commitments to the business. Then based on those extraordinary commitments, form breakthrough projects to achieve exceptional results. Then provide the Breakdown Methodology to use in these breakthrough projects. Enabling and encouraging teams to quickly and publicly declare breakdowns is the very power that allows for a quick recovery and regained footing on their significant commitments. Noting and surfacing these breakdowns then becomes the clear pathway to producing breakthrough results. 

If you want to further learn how to develop leaders that identify potential failures and mistakes before they happen so they can transform your organization, download our whitepaper ‘Breakdowns: Access To Breakthroughs’.


  • What are ‘Breakthrough Projects’ and how do they deliver transformation in an organization?
  • How to identify circumstances or events that thwart exceptional results?
  • What are ‘breakdowns’ and what is a proven methodology to help teams overcome ‘breakdowns’ and achieve at a high level?


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Topics: Leading Breakthroughs