Imagine this situation, which I am sure you have never come across. Just kidding. A ‘project’ (not necessarily defined as such) is running with multiple people involved. Accountabilities are not terribly clear. In fact, there seems to be some overlap. People involved report to a range of people both geographically and functionally, and, at a higher level, things are a bit untidy as well in terms of who is in charge of what. The ‘project’ is complex. You seem to have the right people but they are constantly running up against barriers, some ‘political’, some not. It’s not a terrible situation, because, if it was, the project would have stopped. It hasn’t. But it relies on personal relationships and a lot of ‘people skills’ to keep it going, because there are many stakeholders involved and, as said before, there is no real clarity on who ultimately owns what.
There are two fundamental ways to approach this.
One, very traditional, very alive and present in many organizations, and sounds as follows:
Let’s clarify accountabilities first, have a clear picture of reporting and ownership, get rid of all possible barriers first. Because of the messy accountabilities, we need to ask senior management to make a decision, once and for all, on who owns what, ultimately whom we are reporting to, so that we know where we stand. Then, we will push forward. We have reached so far, but we can’t go further until we get that clarification from above. We need ‘them’ to tell us.
The alternative approach sounds like this:
Let’s make it work, acknowledge the imperfect world, the untidiness of the reporting lines, the messy responsibilities and the fact that it may be a bit painful to bring on board so many people all at the same time. We have the brains and the hearts and the willingness to do it. Let’s get on with it. Then, when we are making it work, we will point to the untidiness and we will make recommendation as to how to clean up the system, if possible, so that next time it is less painful. By then we would have learnt so much, that we would be in a strong position to propose changes, if any, on the question of accountabilities.
These are fundamentally two different cultural worlds, with two distinct sets of behavioural DNA. Not good or bad, but different. The problem with approach number one is that it assumes, naively perhaps, that the men and women more or less ‘at the top’, who could allocate accountabilities, sort out the untidiness and remove the barriers for you, are in a position to do so. Often, their own world is equally untidy, messy, and unclear. They are navigating through this as much as anybody else. It’s not that they have decided not to clean up, to make life difficult and not clarify and declare a pristine organization chart with unequivocal boxes. It is that, perhaps, they don’t have a clue either on the best way to do it. Or, they do, but ‘they’ don’t have any problem navigating in muddy waters, and they assume you won’t have either.
Today, people need to learn to navigate as in the second scenario. For people who can’t act without a clear chain of command and perfect process and systems highways, this will drive them nuts. However, I have heard the Army is open for recruits and one can get a decent job there these days. Today’s organizational world needs 10 portions of scenario two and one spoonful of scenario one. Reverse the quantities and you won’t get any soufflé going, no matter how high tech the kitchen is.
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