First Responder, Gets the Work; Resist the Urge, Pause, Breathe

First Responder, Gets the Work; Resist the Urge, Pause, Breathe

A silo business cartoon

I learned this while I was working for a large multi-national corporation.

“You don’t always have to prove you are the smartest person in the meeting,” my manager said.

“I was trying to show value.”

“Yes,” she said, smiling. “I understand. You were trying to be the consultant.”

“I was just sharing information.”

“But you didn’t give everyone else a chance to answer the questions.”

She again, settled me down with her smile. She was gently teaching me a lesson.

I was new to her team. And I WAS still a contract employee. And we were having an annual planning meeting with the VP above my her. I was not trying to show off. But I was definitely excited and excitable.

“It’s part of why we hired you. Why I got you on my team. But you don’t have to be the smartest all the time. In fact, you can relax a bit and let the group handle some of the load.”

She also taught me the value of NOT responding to urgent emails or urgent voice mails.

As I was getting my bearings inside the behemoth, I was often the first to respond to an email complaint or ask. I learned, after a lot of practice, and literally walking away from the computer and phone to let the conversation happen without my INPUT or SOLUTION, that the early responder is not always seen as the hero.

The value of the pause is that often the problem will take care of itself. If you don’t knee-jerk a response, often the solution will happen without your guidance. Whereas, if you are always the first to reply with an opinion, suggestion, solution, you will often end up with the task of solving the problem. EVEN WHEN THE PROBLEM WAS NOT YOURS TO SOLVE.

It was another lesson in the “Who asked you do this?” school of management. And over the course of my year under this mentor/manager I began to learn the value of not being a quick hand-raiser. Not being the excitable & noticeable, contractor, I began to notice my projects were running a bit smoother. And when there was a squabble, by not jumping into the middle of it, often the solutions were offered and actions dispatched before I had to chime in. And in that case, I didn’t inadvertently sign up for the job.

I’m not used to sitting quietly and letting a discussion or process go without my input. I’m a contributor. But I learn more when I am quiet. And I pay attention better if I don’t open my mouth. And at big company, where your performance review can determine your next role, it was best to stay focused on the tasks directly related to your performance review.

This occasionally led to the silo-effect, where cross-functional teams didn’t work “together” so much as cooperate with the bare minimum of contributed effort. And worse, occasionally, members of your project team would actually seem to be plotting against your success. Probably, they were just CYA on their own work, but sometimes it felt agressive and not-passive at all. As if they wanted your project to fail, so they could reclaim the time spent in your weekly status meetings. And they could gather additional attention and resources for their projects and their performance review.

It was a weird time. And a weird culture, that didn’t function very well. And the company is still struggling mightily, with it’s process before people approach. I’ve never been part of such a siloed organization before or since. And I’ve never had a manager (after reorg #1 I lost my mentor) who seemed so dead set against my projects. I was on HIS team and yet he seemed to throw wrenches into my meetings without any indication that he was trying help. I confronted him after one of these calls, with a VP from another division.

“Did you have a solution in mind when you threw my “newsletter” ideas under the bus?”

“Not really.” This guy had a way of appearing pissed off and enjoying it at the same time.

“Why did you ask such a loaded question? Where go going for a solution, or were you just trying to rile things up for my team?”

“I hadn’t really thought about it. I just asked.”

“Well, I’m the one who’s got to pick up the pieces and now re-prove my plan to the VP. Do you have any suggestions for an approach? Do you have any guidance on how you would like me to proceed, at this point?”

I was wasting my breath. Even though he was my new manager, the previous year had pitted us as occasional rivals. He seemed happy to toss grenades into the plans with no intention of solving the ensuing chaos. And I suppose, I learned the lesson of the “worst manager in the world” syndrome. You grin and bear it, and look for a new team to join or a new company to work for. And you pray they will get a job offer somewhere else.

@jmacofearth (also seen on Google+: jmacofearth)

Reference: Silos, Politics and Turf Wars: Destroying the Barriers That Turn Colleagues Into Competitors – Patrick Lencioni

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