Even Marie Kondo has a junk drawer

Junk drawer.jpg

I have a hypothesis. Even Marie Kondo has a messy junk drawer. This isn’t verified, so don’t @me.

Let me explain.

I was recently working on a project with a team of nine creative, fun and like-minded facilitators. We each regularly help guide teams through navigating the difficult conversations and challenges that can damper focus and productivity. This was the first time we worked together.

Like most new teams, we were getting to know each other while delivering work. Since we create great teams for a living, it was easy for us to role model the desired behaviors. Until it wasn’t.

We were each facilitating different breakout teams during a week-long offsite. Each team was working through different design thinking challenges to create a proposed solution. At the end of the week, teams presented their design and voted on a winner. It was a tricky facilitation with no two teams being in the same place at the same time, yet still needing to end with designs simultaneously.


Our facilitation team huddled each morning and evening to set our intentions for the day and calibrate the tweaks needed. This time was critical to align and share tips to achieve the outcome. It started off relaxed and fun, full of stories and jokes. As the week went on and the pressure climbed, the laughter gave way to glazed looks and fingers drumming on the table. On the last day, we were physically in our huddle. Mentally, we were each in our breakout room trying to think through how to get our teams to the finish line. We didn’t realize it, but we had stopped actively teaming. We were instead focusing on how to land the plane for our own teams, not considering if we were possibly landing the plane in a different city from all the other facilitators’ teams.

Edward, the workshop designer, sensed we weren’t feeling comfortable and started to describe the intention for the activities. It only caused each person to further check out. This was the moment where we failed as a team. What we needed was to speak up and say the approach wasn’t working. Instead we did what most teams do when it gets hard. We quietly retreated, not wanting to offend or hurt anyone’s feelings.

Thankfully, Tabitha interrupted and said “I’m sorry, this isn’t helpful. I understand what you are trying to do, but what I really need – and what I think we all need – is to go prepare. I’m watching each of us and we are drifting off and no longer listening to you. That would be of most help.”  One by one, each of the heads at the table slowly nodded. She was right. Tabitha had looked around the table and realized we weren’t honoring our agreements as a team. She stepped forward, called us out and helped us pivot to what was helpful. There was a moment of tension, but with her candor, she led the way through.

Work is hard, but it is only hard if you expect to be perfect all of the time. A better mindset is to intentionally plan to check-in if you have veered off track. To figure out where you can course correct or tweak instead of fail. When I am coaching someone, we set goals and then we set alternate plans. “What do you do if you aren’t able to do that? How can you have an alternative plan you can switch to when the first one doesn’t work and not feel like a failure.” We plan for going off-track. Often, the necessary thing is to remember to lift our head and question “Does this make sense?”  Even better, when you appoint someone to do that.

When taking CPR training, you are taught to point to someone else and say “You! Call 911!” (or whatever the number is for Emergency Services in your country) when coming across an unresponsive person. The reason is for this is simple. You want to make it very clear who has responsibility for calling so your attention focus on taking care of the person. The same thing can happen at work. Identify a team member whose role is to occasionally lift his/her head and ask, “Is this what we should be doing? Is this helping us work towards our outcomes?” Tabitha played that role for our team, helping us regroup.

Simon Sinek struggles with why. Tony Robbins has days where he is in a funk. Brene Brown has been transparent with her struggles towards becoming a courageous leader. And I’m pretty sure Marie Kondo has a junk drawer for the things she just can’t quite find a place for and don’t disappoint her, but don’t bring her joy. The “I’ll deal with it later” bucket. These people aren’t perfect. They are successful because they know they will have days where they aren’t able to do the things they talk about. They plan for them. They build in mechanisms to catch themselves before straying too far in the wrong direction. When the first plan doesn’t work out, they haven’t failed. They just switch to the alternate plan.

The goal isn’t to strive for perfection – it isn’t realistic. Instead, plan for going astray. Put things in place to routinely check in where you are and where you need to tweak. Check in to see when your proverbial junk drawer needs tidying before it becomes an abyss of ticket stubs, scotch tape, twist ties, random cords, unidentifiable attachments you are afraid to throw away, paint samples and swatches, thumb tacks and a graveyard of laser pointers for the cats.

Which reminds me, time to go tidy the junk drawer.

Karen Eber