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Sometimes You Just Need to Punt

May 7, 2013

“In theory, theory and practice are the same.

In practice, they are not.

– Albert Einstein”

In theory, it made perfect sense. We were moving into a new building. One where the cube-farm had been specifically designed for us. Each floor was divided into clusters of six to eight cubicles. Two clusters shared a common team conference room. The team room literally had a door on each side that opened into the cluster of cubicles. In addition we had large conference rooms located elsewhere on the floor. This meant that the ratio of conference rooms to people was close to 1:10. If you’ve ever worked in a cube farm, you know this is a low ratio, and that’s a good thing.

Each team room was for the exclusive use of the two teams who shared it. As a team manager, this was great, especially since the managers didn’t have offices. In order to prevent team rooms from getting “hijacked” they were specifically NOT schedulable. All we had to do was coordinate with the team on the other side of the team room.

I managed the Messaging and Collaboration engineering team. We were going to share a team room with the Messaging Program Management team. Brian, the PM manager and I got along really well as we were rolling out the new Microsoft Exchange system. Our teams were two of the first to move into the new building.

In practice, our theory started to break down. Problems started almost at once. My first team meeting was Tuesday at 10:00am. At 9:55 I noticed that Brian had plotter paper spread across the conference table and was in the middle of an animated discussion with his team.

“Hey, Brian. . .ah. . .are you guys gonna be long?”

“Well, we’re trying to put together next year’s project plan. It’s probably going to be a while.”

“No problem.”

And with that we promptly hijacked one of the team rooms that was not yet assigned. Clearly if Brian and I, who got along really well, couldn’t share a room, other teams who were not as in sync with each other would have a worse time.

“Brian, I want to make the team rooms schedulable.”

“But the CIO expressly said they were NOT going to schedulable.”

“Yeah, I need your help to change his mind.”

The CIO had delegated the coordination for the move to his chief-of-staff, Jerry. Brian and I spent a couple of days working out the details of the plan. We decided that we would make the rooms schedulable, but limit the permissions to just the teams who were sitting next to that team room. We also made everyone who could schedule a team room an owner of that team room. That way, they could grant additional people access. Finally, we made the Administrative Assistants and me owners of every team room so that we could also grant access.

Jerry understood the problem immediately and we got his approval for our plan. My team created the team rooms as resources and then I spent a couple days with the seating chart adding everyone into the rooms they were assigned to; Eight Hundred people. Finally, I created a SharePoint site with instructions on how to schedule team rooms.

I completed this just as the bulk of the teams were moving in. Everyone loved our plan. They agreed that our new plan still allowed the teams to get the advantages of the team room, but also made it workable.

Everyone except, Matthew. Matthew was a director, meaning he had his own office and he did NOT like the fact that his team rooms were now schedulable. I talked to him about the problems we had encountered. He didn’t care.

I explained that I’d talked to members of his division and his engineers were requesting it. (Actually, they promised to give me their first born child if I made the rooms schedulable. The engineers REALLY wanted to be able to schedule the rooms.) He didn’t care.

He wanted me to remove “his” team rooms from the address book.

You are probably thinking, “Rodney, you had the chief-of-staff’s approval. Use that!” That’s the thing about political air cover, it’s important to have, but you never, EVER want to use it. I really didn’t want to get into an “escalation.” Remember that originally NONE of the team rooms were schedulable. While I didn’t think Matthew would get the entire building policy reversed, as a team manager, I didn’t want to force the CIO to choose between my plan and a director. It wasn’t worth the cost.

Matthew would not relent. He was convinced that the original plan to make the rooms not schedulable was the right course. Finally, it became obvious that he was willing to take his objections as high as necessary.

What would you do?

I punted. My final email to Matthew said,

“Since your team members are owners of the rooms, any of them can restrict access to the team room in the Calendar program. Simply go in and remove everyone’s name from the permissions list. The team room will stay in the address list, but anytime someone tries to schedule it, they will get a message saying, “You do not have permission to schedule this room.” Hopefully, this works for you.”

I had to go back to the engineers in his division and explain that their team rooms would no longer be schedulable. They knew that I’d pushed hard on their behalf, and appreciate my efforts.

We each have a certain amount of political capital to use in our jobs. In this case I decided getting 90% of the rooms schedulable was the most I was going to get. I didn’t want my plan to go from being a positive for my career to a negative. And, I’m pretty sure that his team eventually made him change his mind.

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