A while back, your trusted adviser BadConsultant elucidated the madness of the Random Act of Leadership
[and boy-oh-boy haven’t we seen a few of those in the intervening years?]
which has proven to be one of the most enduring
of our posts. Not a surprise to us, the RAOL is just so common that we all experience it at some point.
But as we were observing the artificial abnormality of the modern organization, we identified a sympathetic bedfellow to the RAOL, for which we now humbly
coin the term ‘Drive-by Collaboration’.
Here’s the thing. The modern organization built it’s mythology upon growth obtained through industrialized manufacturing, where people were akin to ‘human production units’ that could be added and removed much like plant machinery – people were just another part of the machine. Which was fine when industry was only about designing, making and selling ‘things’.
But then, along came the late twentieth century: the internet, conspicuous consumption, lifestyle choices, the escape from the base of Maslow’s hierarchy
[for some of the world, at least]
and, over time, people began to notice that… erm… er… human beings are odd. They have aspirations. They don’t act predictably. They have a sense of fairness. They have energy that they choose to use positively or negatively. They form relationships.
The organization frowned a little, it’s furrowed brow couldn’t quite compute this weird species that didn’t act like machines.
And, because it’s the way things are in organizations, the search for ‘fixes’ for the ‘broken’ machines was on.
- Aspiration? Let’s create career tracks to leadership roles.
- Predictability? Let’s re-engineer processes and increase the BureaucraSy.
- Fairness? Let’s complexify pay based upon activities and ‘calibration’.
- Energy for good or bad? Let’s survey people to try and fix their ‘engagement’.
- Relationships? Let’s, like, er… rilly, rilly get people to focus on teamwork.
And thus every grouping of people in any context was suddenly a matter of team. Any hierarchical organization of working units was a team. Any random gathering of individuals in any context was a team. And team described ‘us’.
- CEOs stood up in front of a thousand people and said “you are a great team”
- Managers sat with their direct reports and said “when it comes to our team…”
- Endless multitudes of HR and OE professionals engaged in the debate of whether it truly was “a team or a group of people”
All of which set against the backdrop of the rise of the boomers, that was so clearly I-hiding-in-us-centric: surely we can find the answer to how to save the rest of the world from itself?
[can I hear you say kumbaya!]
Yup, if you had any sort of relationship at work it was grounded in ‘team’.
Another puzzle-piece of the modern organization myth was put in place: “We are a team”
[more recently enhanced to include the word ‘diverse’ – killing two birds with one stone]
The ‘solution’ didn’t match the ‘problem’.
A strong relationship is not a matter of team, neither are the best teams founded on strong relationships. And, with the square peg refusing to fit in the round hole, a weird reverse osmosis began to happen – suddenly relationships were enshrined within the confines of the team.
Being nice was more important than performing.
Consensus replaced urgency.
Activity replaced outcomes.
And everyone… EVERYONE… presumed they had a right to be involved in everyone else’s work whenever they wanted to and in whatever way they wanted to be involved.
So we saw the emergence of the Drive-by Collaboration
[DBC – can I hear you say acronym!]
where a ‘team’ is working to achieve an agreed output, moving against plan, delivering just enough activity to be deemed worthy in the end of year performance calibration exercise. All of a sudden, at a regular meeting, Joe pipes up: “Betty swung by my office yesterday and thinks we should re-gear the change management plan.” The room goes silent. Maybe Betty’s got a point. Maybe they’ve missed something in the change management plan. They quiz Joe, but he doesn’t have much more to add – apparently, Betty had a been on her way out to lunch and had just dropped in to mention the change management plan.
BOOM! – Drive-by Collaboration!
The team, not wanting to upset Betty because we’re all, like… one big team… undoes months of hard labor and sets the project back by two months.
No-one thinks to ask whether Betty has a right to an opinion, a credible base to challenge the plan, or the veracity of her judgement.
That’s the beauty of the DBC, it happens quickly, takes little effort on behalf of the DBC’er and creates major downstream impact for everyone else. And it damages the business.
But Betty’s happy that she’s been heard, the myth that “we are a team” is perpetuated, and nothing changes.
So that’s all right then.