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Management Rules that Make No Sense #14: If You Have To Go Anyway, It’s Better To Lead Than To Follow

May 30, 2014

Can you win by losing?

Can you gain by giving up?

You can if you do it right.

We were moving into a new building. My company had purchased the building and completely redesigned the interior. One of the unique features were “team rooms.” These were conference rooms that were shared by the teams in the cube farms on each side. So, there was one team room for every 16 cubes; eight were on one side of the team room and eight on the other. The idea was that the two teams had nearly exclusive access to “their” team room. The plan was that the team rooms would NOT be schedulable in the Microsoft Exchange system.

It was a terrible plan.

Oh, it had the best of intentions. But, in practice it fell apart. My messaging engineering team shared a team room with our Program Management team. We worked very closely together, but like two good friends who decide to date, we could NOT share a bathroom. . .I mean team room. When I wanted to have my team meeting, Brandt would be in the team room on a conference call. When Brandt wanted to use the room, I’d be in doing a 1:1 interview with one of my engineers.

We decided that if our two teams couldn’t peacefully coexist in the “unscheduleable” team room, no teams would be able to. So, what to do?

I got with the PM and we decided that the best solution was to make the team rooms schedulable. However, we put some rules in place to keep them exclusive. Only people sitting around the team room could schedule it. And they had the right to kick out squatters.

We took the plan to the CIO’s chief of staff, Jeremy.

Jeremy, we want to make the team rooms schedulable.

But, we decided they would be open.

Right, but our two teams couldn’t make it work, we’ve got a plan to keep them for the exclusive use of the intended teams.

He signed off on the plan and I got busy implementing it. Everyone loved it.

Everyone except Marcus.

Marcus was a director over 40 or 50 people. He insisted that HIS team rooms not be scheduleable. This was a mistake and I knew it. But, he also outranked me.

I explained our reasons. I explained how only his teams would have access to them. I explained our experience.

Marcus wasn’t buying it.

I went to his team. They begged me to keep the rooms scheduleable. One of them literally promised me his first born child if I would keep them scheduleable. (Yeah, I’ve had kids that I’ve wanted to give away too.)

Marcus wouldn’t budge.

I tried to ignore him and wait him out.

He escalated.

Now, some of you might be asking why I didn’t tell him that Jeremy, the chief of staff had approved it? Because executive sponsorship is like air cover. You really want to have it, but don’t want to use it. It became clear that Marcus was willing to spend a huge amount of political capital to keep the rooms off the schedule. I realized that he would escalate as high as he needed to to get his way. I realized that he was going to win.

So, I did the smart thing, I let him.

Your team analyst can go in and remove the users associated with each team room and they will appear in the address book, but no one will be able to schedule them.

I don’t blame you if you are confused. Did I no longer care? No. I cared a lot. Was I suddenly convinced of the rightness of his position? No. I think he was going to cause his teams unnecessary grief. So, why agree with him and give him what he wanted? Because I was going to lose. He outranked me in the organization and he was willing to push this as high as necessary. So, I could have stuck to my guns. I could have fought to the last out. But, to what end? It would have ended up in front of the CIO as he explained to me that Marcus’s team rooms were going to be taken off the calendar.

Why accept a loss if you don’t have to?

By agreeing with him, he comes away thinking that he eventually convinced me. He’s not my enemy. He might think I’m a little slow on the uptake. (He might be right.) But, what report will go back to the CIO?

Everyone’s happy with the state of the team rooms.

Who was responsible for making everyone happy with the team rooms?

Yep. So, I get credit for a successful rollout, and at the same time avoid wasting political capital in a losing cause.

If you have to go anyway, it’s better to lead than to follow.

Rodney M Bliss is an author, columnist and IT Consultant. He lives in Pleasant Grove, UT with his lovely wife and thirteen children and one grandchild.

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  1. Shanna permalink

    Good explanation all around. You don’t even mention the issue of engineers storing plans on the white boards so that no one else could use them. It was very much like roommates sharing bath or kitchen.

  2. Yep. Those whiteboards that had “SAVE” written in the corner. . .in permenant marker. LOL

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