Building Partnership in Siloed Environments
por Maureen Clarry
Originally published julio 10, 2007
The walls of the silos harden. “My needs are more important than that other department. Why should I have to wait for the next release? I’ll just hire my own people and build my own
datamart…this is urgent!”
Based on 35 years of research into organizational “systems,” these are predictable patterns that plague most organizations. The way organizations respond to these patterns is the predictor of their success or their dysfunction. At the root of this problem are issues of power, politics, and partnership.
Partnership. Go to any BI conference or seminar and you’ll surely hear conversations revolving around this seemingly simple concept…the partnership between IT and their customers – or the lack thereof. Yet, so many organizations still endure significant difficulty in building lasting partnerships. Why?
To understand what’s happening, let’s begin with a definition of partnership. If you’ve focused on trying to work across silos or strengthen partnerships, you’ve likely engaged in lengthy discussions about the concept. But have you laid out an official definition for what partnership means? While this step might sound obvious or trite, a brief but serious exploration of what partnership means can be quite valuable in making sure everyone is on the same page.
Definition of partnership: a relationship in which we are jointly committed to the success of a particular process or goal. The operative word is “committed.” A commitment is a binding agreement, but it is intangible, an abstraction. As such, a commitment can be difficult to maintain, especially during the harried, day-to-day activities of any company or organization. When “stuff” happens on the job, attention can quickly be diverted, often resulting in commitments being set aside. Everyone knows that stuff happens. While the variety of stuff that happens on any given day is virtually infinite, there are many common occurrences that are easily recognizable. You offer a great idea, but nobody responds positively. You make a simple request, but only get a wishy-washy response. You reach out to invite cooperation, but get resistance instead. You do something nice, but in lieu of gratitude, you get anger.
What happens next is where the trouble really starts. Too often, when something unexpected occurs, people default to making up a story in their head to explain the occurrence. Almost invariably, the story made up is one in which the story’s creator is the protagonist, while the person who acted undesirably becomes the unwitting antagonist. The most prevalent reason why this happens is because people take such incidents personally. They evaluate others as mean, insensitive, or incompetent, then react by getting mad, vowing to get even, or simply withdrawing.
In reality, very few developments in a work environment are intended as personal affronts. This fact, however, does little to deter the story-making process. Whenever stories are being imagined, work isn’t getting done. Not only is work not getting done, but rifts actually widen because of such miscommunications – or non-communications, as we might call them. The end result: commitments go by the wayside.
How people perceive day-to-day happenings in a work environment depends greatly on what position they hold. In an exercise that we frequently conduct for a variety of organizations, we divide the class of sixty people into four groups: Tops for senior management; Middles for middle management, such as project managers; Bottoms for workers such as ETL developers, database administrators, analysts and modelers; and Customers for end users or external clients. We then involve them in a series of faux projects and issue marching orders to get everyone working.
Having conducted this exercise hundreds of times with thousands of individuals, the results are predictable. As we’ve found in our studies of corporate culture, and as we always see in the exercise, the general attitude of Tops, Middles, Bottoms, and Customers tends to gravitate along certain lines:
Just as those conditions remain standard, so do the consequent responses:
These predictable conditions and responses are so common that they’ve become ingrained in most corporate professionals. Whether this reality is due to human nature, conditioning, or a combination of both is irrelevant. The fact remains that people do tend to act in such ways. Because these behaviors have become second nature, people don’t even realize what they’re doing. That means they don’t see their responses as choices or decisions, but simply reactions – just as they might react by ducking if something comes flying at them.
Although this unproductive predictability isn’t usually ideal for organizations, recognizing these patterns of behavior makes the path to productive partnership much clearer for BI initiatives.
In our class, we explain the importance of taking a stand in order to achieve successful partnerships. The analogy we use involves two doors, Door A and Door B. Door A takes us to the usual places: if we’re Tops, we suck up responsibility; if we’re Bottoms, we blame the Tops; if we’re Middles, we get caught in the middle and torn; and if we’re Customers, we blame the delivery system for not delivering. In other words, Door A is the pitfall of standard reactions.
Door B is another story entirely. In order to go through Door B, you must take a stand. You must make a commitment not to take the easy route of going through Door A. Going through Door B is much more difficult because it demands that you remain committed to your partnership, even if that means more work or hard decisions.
Here are some high-level stands that apply to each of the four groups in our class, groups that map to virtually every corporate professional in the BI and DW world:
While these stands are not catch-all answers, they do provide a baseline of understanding from which to act. Circumstances will always vary, but if you and your team remain committed to your partnerships, the politics, and power struggles can be addressed in order to achieve greater success.
If you are interested in improving your political and partnership skills, check out the next session of our Power, Politics, and Partnership Workshop or e-mail me at email@example.com. We’re on a mission to help people conquer dysfunctional organizational dynamics and this is one of our favorite topics!
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