Thursday, September 8, 2011

When the left hand doesn't know what the left hand is doing

There's something that I've mentioned in the past, but I really need to delve into it.

I previously wrote a post that discussed, among other things, the bureaucratic competition between organizations:

My belief is that there are bureaucratic barriers to this type of cooperation between two companies. While some might like to imagine that the FBI is secretly plotting with the CIA to send our information to a secret site in Brussels, the truth of the matter is that the FBI isn't necessarily willing to give something to the CIA and let them get all the credit; they'd rather keep it for themselves. (If you want to see this inter-agency competition in action, ask a soldier what he thinks about marines, and vice versa.)

So yes, I heartily believe that there are barriers to communication and cooperation between various organizations.

But what about communication and cooperation within the SAME organization?

I recently re-read something that reminded me of just how much I sometimes don't know about my own organization. There's a particular message board (I'm not going to identify it) that has been around for years, and at one point some of my (then) co-workers were posting on this message board. Since I'm still in touch with some of these people, I'm not going to identify the people who wrote this.

It all began when one person (I'll call the person George) wrote a vague comment about something wonderful happening at work that day.

At this point, some of the other people on the message board tried to guess what George was talking about. Abraham asked whether George had received a raise. Theodore asked whether George had received a promotion.

But then Franklin weighed in, stating that he knew what George was happy about.

I know what it is, someone left!

And that's the point that I learned something about my own organization, because as it turned out, that day happened to be someone's (I'll call him Lyndon) last day at the company. And I knew that George and Lyndon worked in the same department.

What I didn't know was that George apparently did not have a high regard for Lyndon.

This was all a surprise to me, because at the time I had worked a little bit with George, and I had worked a lot with Lyndon, and I had no idea that anything was amiss.

And I'd be willing to bet that my own ability to detect these rumblings within my own organization has not appreciably improved since that time.

There's a lesson to be learned from this. When we think of organizations other than our own, we often think of them as monolithic entities. If you're working at Google, you might be wondering "what Apple will do." If you're working at Oracle, you might be wondering "what SAP will do."

But the reality is that these entities are made up of a bunch of different divisions and departments and groups that don't necessarily work together 100% of the time. Which is why it's fruitless for me to ask the Google+ people (including the one that joined Google recently) to help me find out why my YouTube account is permanently disabled. The Google+ people and the YouTube people are in different parts of Google's bureaucracy, and probably don't have regular ways to communicate with each other.

And the bigger reality is that even when you dig into the organization, and into the division, and into the department, and into the individual group, there are still personal conflicts even at that level. I'm sure that you've all run into situations in which you realize that it's dangerous to put two particular people from the same group together on any given project.

Any organization, of any size, consists of a number of different people. And it takes great effort to get all of them to move in the same direction.
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