Most of us are familiar with the expression “elephant in the room”. It entails to something that is obvious to everyone in that room yet not dealt with between them, often because there are communication barriers or social taboos around speaking directly to it. Defining the rules of engagement can help your team focus on what is most important. They might address how to make decisions, share information, consider ideas for improvement, review work procedures, challenge prevailing thought, prioritize and resolve conflict.
Literally speaking, if there was an elephant in the room, you would notice it right away. How could you not? So regardless of the kind of room it’s in, an elephant is not something that can be easily ignored. Like when you’re conducting a daily walk though at your restaurant and you spot a dirty table and your crew members pretend they didn’t notice that table. We have all done this. Often, the elephant in the room remains exactly what it is “seen but unacknowledged” because we know there will be some sort of challenge to face if we name it.
The goal for the restaurant manager is not to prevent elephants from entering your team. Although issues will always arise, the real objective is to create a culture that encourages the quick and risk-free identification of an elephant that can have a negative impact on the team.
Thus, this metaphor might be applied to situations where a person is aware of a problem, but they choose to not acknowledge it. It’s as if there is a big elephant in the room and they are intentionally ignoring it.
“If there is an elephant in the room, it means that an obvious problem is being ignored. Put another way, it is a noticeable issue that is not acknowledged or addressed.”