ELTM13: Not in My Shop!

There are those who seek to define; to “make sense of things” by clearly delineating what they do, and more importantly, what they do not. For them, control brings comfort. Then, on the other hand, there are those who approach life with both eyes wide open, always looking for new opportunities; new ways of doing things. For them the excitement of growth trumps comfort any day.

When it comes to leaders, neither type is exactly desirable, especially when taken to extremes. Who, after all, wants either a control freak or an impulsive child to be in charge? Fortunately it is rare (and generally disastrous) when an impulsive child gets to be in charge, now, control freaks are another matter, and they come in varying degrees. The moderates tend to do well in this world, and that’s not necessarily a good thing.

How often have you been faced with an issue that a similar agency could help out with only to be told by either your own administration or that of the other agency that they could not help, even though both were being funded by the same body (often the taxpayers)? It’s bad enough when you know the inability is due to some lack of resources. You can accept that the other party is at capacity and, despite the fact that they have the expertise or equipment they simply cannot spare the use of it or the personnel. That’s fine. What really grinds you, though, is when you know that the lack of help is because either (a) their administration did not want to see your organization advance or, worse, (b) your own administration did not want to ask for help either because they would be under compliment to the other or because the decision makers, personally, would feel somehow weak.

What a waste! To have the resources available—elsewhere—and not draw upon them is not just wasteful but, perhaps, almost criminal as it results in either needed work being left undone or, perhaps, needless duplication of capacity.

Is this just an academic argument? Ask yourselves this about other organizations also funded by the same body as yours, specifically the public purse in your province, state or country—whatever funds your level of education:

  • Is there a particular piece of equipment already in existence that is not already at full capacity? A network storage device? A video switcher? An editing suite? Large-format printers? Vehicles?
  • Is there a surplus of physical infrastructure not at full capacity? Unused office space? Meeting, teaching or conference space?

This is not to say that we should all be prepared to turn into overbearing white knights, eager to fight not just our own battles but also those of others. Nor is it to say that we should all take it upon ourselves to write our own mission statements, to decide unilaterally just what it is we should take on regardless of what the stakeholders and bill payers say.

But we should remind ourselves that one of the responsibilities that comes with calling ourselves professionals is the requirement to render sound judgments regarding the things that are not addressed specifically in “the manual.” Every now and then the opportunity arises when we can assist other organizations whose mission and values, and most importantly capacities, sometimes align with ours. When those times occur perhaps we should consider it wise to lend a helping hand. It’s not just about reciprocity, although that’s certainly a consideration. It is, rather, about being more attuned to the big picture and recognizing situations in which synergies created by partnering organizations can radically increase the extent to which they effect needed change to the betterment of all.

And not being controlling, lazy, dull and stingy.

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6 thoughts on “ELTM13: Not in My Shop!

  1. I appreciated reading this post Maurice. I particularly liked your closing paragraph. I liked the call for cooperation. I liked the call to work willingly with others and do so not counting the cost to ourselves.
    I hope the weather is sparing you now. We returned safely from our trip and all is well. Have a good one today Maurice.

    1. Thanks, Martin. Our winter has been unsettled at best with a very cold start followed by an unseasonably mild few weeks–from one extreme to the other. Looks, at the moment, like we’re heading back toward the cold again, but we’ll survive!
      Yes, if only the big guys would learn to leave their egos at the door and play nice…or at least let the rest of us do so!

  2. Sounds like you’re grinding an axe and that your speak from recent, personal, experience … you have my sympathies. The reasons for lack of assistance are often more complex than the two you cite. Interpersonal, interdepartmental, interdisciplinary interactions being what they are! D

    1. No, as it turns out it wasn’t really recent experience, just the accumulation of a lot of frustrations over a long period of time. But with increasing complexity and more, more and more legislation it is getting harder to make sound judgments. Too much is dictated by policy and it’s far too easy to hide behind it when you just plain don’t want to get out of your own way.
      I can tell you, though, that in the job from which I retired last year we did have a very nice, mutually-beneficial arrangement with our university-equivalent. We shared equipment and expertise but most importantly had the opportunity for skills and knowledge to migrate back and forth between the two organizations. It was in that environment that I realized just how good it can be when people adopt a culture of cooperation.

  3. I couldn’t agree more! In addition to the “knowledge transfer problem” you have described in the next post the issue of location internal resources and internal experts is another familiar topic.

    Hadn’t I experienced it so often I wouldn’t had believed how difficult it is to find an internal expert in another corner of a large corporation (let alone “allowing” him to work with you “legally” – if there is no internal project number you can assign the costs to).

    In order to mitigate this, internal resource management systems, databases of experts, social-media style personal websites etc. had been setup… but the best way was still: Asking somebody who knew somebody or who knew whom else to ask…

    1. So very true. In today’s connected, process driven world sometime we play down the immense benefits that can be had from the more informal, behind the scenes, activities. While you’ll never hear me say that any organization should take an unstructured, “fly by the seat of your pants” approach to leadership and management, neither will you hear me say, “lock it all down; everything must have a formal process.” To do that is to, in the short term, squelch creativity and, thus, in the long term to doom the organization to stagnation or maybe even failure.

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