Blind Spots in Business: What they are and how to overcome them

Blind spots can have serious impacts on business growth. Their hidden nature makes them hard to see, and even harder to remove. What’s more, very few blind spots are one-dimensional. They tend to be integrated into multiple parts of a business, which makes them difficult to pinpoint and understand in isolation.

For these reasons and more, it’s essential to explore blind spots. When doing so, individuals and teams at every level must make time to reflect and examine which blind spots exist, why they exist, and how to resolve them. This includes those in leadership roles even moreso, given the influence leaders have in setting the tone, granting permission and prioritizing this work throughout an organization.

What are blind spots in business?

The first thing to keep in mind is not all blind spots are created equally. The very nature of blind spots in business can take different forms, which require different things to look for, different ways to address, and manifest as different impacts on growth.

Many times, blind spots exist as forces at play within a company’s culture. They show up in leadership styles, in the way people and teams work, or as perceived expectations that emerge. A mindset that says “This is just the way we do things around here” can veil multiple blind spots. 

In the past, whenever we have worked with organizational leaders and inquired about blind spots, many of their answers tend to be tangible topics aligned to bodies of work or skills. They focus on things such as leadership, planning, communication, etc. While these types of answers are not wrong, they only begin to scratch the surface. 

Here are three critical definitions of organizational blind spots:

  1. An area or place where someone’s view is obstructed. Typically, this is the easiest to monitor, given that it is “place”-based in nature. A leader, individual or team knows that the blind spot is there, what the risks are for not paying attention, and often those checks become part of an ongoing process. Like the blind-spot in a car, these types of blind spots aren’t questioned, and checking them becomes almost automatic once identified. 
  1. An area in which a leader, individual or team lacks understanding or impartiality. This type of blind spot can be unintentional, often characterized as “this is how it’s done” situations. Statements that echo things like: “These are the best ways to engage MBEs,” or “We always look to partners for these critical roles, rather than bring the skills in-house,” are examples of this type of blind spot. There is an inflated sense of knowing, without making room for questioning, or being open to not knowing.    
  1. An area where a person fails to exercise judgment. This type of blind spot can be difficult to recognize or admit to. It can be very personal, and even intentional. In some cases, a person may not be completely blind to the act, but will be very blind to its impact and consequences. For example, the phrase “I’m the only person who can get things done around here,” or, “Exploring that solution isn’t worth my time,” are examples of judgment-heavy blind spots. Leaders unfortunately can find themselves afflicted with these types of blind spots, often due to conflicting expectations of what strong leadership behaviors look like.    

Within this context, it’s important to understand the different types and forms that blind spots take so you can identify them, and enjoy the impacts that come when you address them. Our next section will focus on a number of warning signs to look for. 

Blind Spot Analysis

Blind spots can show up as behaviors, attitudes, approaches, etc., that others might see, that a leader or individual may not. It’s hard to remove a roadblock that you don’t know is there, but there are signs to look for when recognizing and correcting blind spots. 

Many times, blind spots begin to show themselves in the way that people communicate. Let’s say that everyone is perpetually in agreement during meetings. On the surface, getting along is a good thing, and meetings where everyone agrees tend to wrap up quicker. Leaders in particular may take this as a win!

However, what if this is a sign that people are missing something, or have settled into a culture of groupthink? Perhaps people are intentionally holding back? Are they afraid to ask a question? Being on the lookout for behaviors that trigger “why?” questions are often a good indicator to direct attention.

Examples of blind spots and how to look for them

There are a number of things to look or listen for in order to begin to recognize that a blind spot might exist. For instance: 

  • When people or teams choose to work only with certain kinds of people, or with certain groups, but avoid other personality types or work styles. While being comfortable working with like minded individuals is a basic human trait, this can be a flag that people believe a certain work style is better than others by default rather than proof. It could also be a reflection that leadership is inadvertently influencing a preferred model of work, or that leadership is unknowingly influencing teams in your organization. 
  • When organizations get stuck in a freeze state because they lack understanding, don’t know where to look for help, or become overly reliant on others to manage critical capabilities. These behaviors may point to a blind spot of encouraging reliance and adherence to direction rather than problem solving. 
  • When managers are reluctant to share resources. This can show up when a company attempts to begin to dismantle silos, or create more cross-department collaboration. People at management and director levels may feel protective over systems and projects they have created, and don’t want to lose ownership, or the sense that it is theirs. They may feel they are doing the right thing by trying to maintain what has worked, but not see how their behaviors are influencing their teams and the broader organization from benefiting from a new way of working.
  • When people at any level, especially leadership levels, take default stances, or push back on new ideas with phrases such as, “Just trust me on this,” “I’m the only one who understands, because I’ve been through this,” or “It’s a proven methodology, we just need to…” Trusting in our experience and expertise can be one of the trickiest blind spots to navigate. Experience is a tool that builds trust in what we know from the outside and for us individually. But without examination, it can be one of the biggest builders of blind spots. 

What to do when you notice these blind spots and other signs

Once you begin to notice the possibility of a blind spot, there are a number of very important action steps that leaders and others can take to help bring it to the surface. For instance:

  • Begin to question information and assumptions
  • Examine the things that teams are avoiding 
  • Build a framework for asking for, receiving, and validating open and honest feedback

Considering the examples above, let’s explore a way to move through a scenario where someone responds to a situation by saying “I’m the only one who understands because I’ve been through this.” One option to consider is to present two clarifying questions: 

  • Is this situation exactly the same as the one you’re referring to?
  • Can we explore the ways that it’s different, and see if a different solution or approach would work?

Granted, being able to have these types of conversations, where people have time to reflect, can be difficult in certain professional cultures. It’s not always easy to bring new ideas to the table, especially in  non-threatening ways. 

If this is the case in your professional environment or situation, remind the other person, or the other team, that you are posing these questions in order to make sure you as a group are exploring every possible outcome, not questioning the individual’s expertise or experience outright.

Why is it important to identify blind spots?

The impact of blind spots when they exist can be dramatic, and very different depending on what they are. But there’s another side to the story. Once you identify blind spots, they can actually become opportunities for growth, experimentation, and even transformation. 

The key to realizing these opportunities, however, lies in recognizing that exploring blind spots is an exercise that is best done as a team. To quote Dan Rockwell (Leadership Freak) “Blind spots become breakthroughs when you see and solve them with others.”

Just consider the following list of questions that any executive or senior leader might ask at different times:

  • Are we meeting and/or exceeding our growth expectations? Why not?
  • Are employees excited and energized at work? What percentage of the time? 
  • How confident are my people in their own abilities?
  • What are we collectively not thinking about, or feel we are in autopilot mode on? 

When was the last time you or another member of your organization posed these questions, or other questions like them? Ignoring them can have ties to a blind spot, or may be related to the types of blind spots we explored in the earlier sections. 

Validation comes into play here. When conversations build around blind spots, you are giving people and teams the chance to intentionally reflect on the type of experience they bring to the table, within the context of a given situation. Through reflection, they may be the one who comes up with an even better solution. It is important to note that it can be an important exercise to foster these types of reflections for individual contributors, teams as a whole, as well as at the organizational level. Blind spots rarely exist in a vacuum, and often are fueled or perpetuated by a mix of dynamics; some personal, some interpersonal and some systemic in nature. These need to be encouraged and explored in order to truly unpack and address found blind spots. 

When you uncover a blind spot that’s based on a lack of understanding, or being stuck in a freeze state, moving forward can involve seeking input from trusted people. This can be members of an inner circle of peers, a close-knit group of employees, or a mentor on whom you’ve relied in the past. 

On the organizational level, unpacking this type of blind spot can help you revisit opportunities you’ve missed in the past, and avoid missing other opportunities that may be presenting themselves now. The input you receive and put into play can help paint a clearer picture of where and what you need to focus on, and what edges the company needs to sharpen. In the end, this can lead to an exercise of building capabilities, and extending the skills of an individual, cohort, or entire department. 

First steps to turn blind spots into benefits 

Finding opportunities to provide feedback, such a team reflectives, or 360* reviews, can be a way to share observations, and start meaningful conversations that unpack and eventually resolve blind spots. Discuss with your teams where, in existing processes, they see value in working blind spot conversations into the mix. And find ways to incentivize not only traditional skill building goals, but identifying and working through blind spots as part of growth plans.

At the end of the day, the most critical step is to make the commitment to acknowledge that blind spots do indeed exist. From there, teams can start deeper conversations, and set the stage and tone of safety in which people can explore, discuss, and stay open to helping themselves and others work through them. Leadership must lead the way by undertaking these types of personal reflections, eliciting feedback and sharing their journey through uncovering their own blind spots to demonstrate the benefits, showcase the outcomes and really grant permission for others in their org to do the same. Actions speak louder than words, especially in important, if not uncomfortable work like taking on blind spots. Check our consulting services for specific solutions to address these blind spots.

About Lexico:

Lexico is a full-service transformation services consultancy. We help business leaders architect custom-fit business, technology and operational transformation journey solutions that deliver critical outcomes. If you want to learn more, contact Lexico.