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Blog: IT's The Culture, Stupid

Blog: IT's The Culture, Stupid

Innovation may well be regaining its place at the centre of corporate life, as all the surveys insist, but barriers to the creation of a truly collaborative environment where innovative ideas can be nurtured and flourish remain intangible yet profound.

From the dreaded turf war to the operating silo, organizational culture remains the biggest innovation killer of all. Silos, as New York Times best-selling author and acclaimed management expert Patrick Lencioni points out in his 2006 page-turner, Silos, Politics, and Turf Wars, are one of the main generating engines of organizational politics. They devastate organizations, kill productivity, push good people out the door, and jeopardize the achievement of corporate goals.

To make his point Lencioni tells the fictional but highly-compelling and utterly realistic story of Jude Cousins, an eager young management consultant struggling to launch his practice by solving one of the common and commonly frustrating problems faced by his clients.

"Silos are everywhere. I contend that if you feel your organization is immune you're either in denial or not looking closely enough. I've seen them at every company I've ever worked for and they're one of the most aggravating issues to face," Lencioni writes.

And he insists the only way to crush silos is to start at the top. His message is that silos usually arise not because of anything you are doing purposefully but instead because of what you have so far failed to do: that is, giving both yourself and your employees a compelling motive for working together.

Even the most well-meaning, intelligent people get distracted and confused amid the endless list of tactical and administrative details that come their way every day, Lencioni points out. Pulled in many directions without a compass, they pursue seemingly worthwhile agendas under the assumption that their efforts will be in the best interest of the organization as a whole.

But the fact is, most employees have a profound and genuine interest in working well across divisions. That's because they, more than anyone else, feel the daily pain of departmental politics as they are left to fight bloody, un-winnable battles with their colleagues. If there is a place where the blame for silos and politics belongs, Lencioni asserts, it is at the top of an organization - and that means you.

Of course the word "politics" has come to have all sorts of nasty connotations, and IT managers always talk about the negative role of politics in making IT investment and prioritization decisions.

Cutter Consortium Senior Consultants Bob Benson and Tom Bugnitz have a different perspective. "Politics" might sound bad or even venal, they point out, but usually it isn't. Instead the consultants invite us to think of politics as simply conflicting views of what's actually important in making IT decisions.

What Manager A naturally believes to be important is typically different to what Manager B believes is important.

"So when managers A and B yell about what's needed from IT, it isn't politics, it's promoting each manager's own goals," they say. This is probably obvious. However, it really means that IT managers must penetrate the 'politics' to determine what's important.

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