Getting Stuff Done Across Teams
August 18, 2014 6:35 AM   Subscribe

What concrete steps can I take to drive change? Have you ever been charge with driving change with little authority involving people who may be more senior than you are? How can I define and solve problems across multiple teams in a chaotic environment?

I have just accepted a role as Program Manager in a 1000 person software company. In my organization, this role has a lot of accountability but not a lot of authority. My main responsibility is to develop and drive cross departmental process / best practices / initiatives. What I am struggling with is the most effective way to get this done. Time and energy are at a premium with everyone. There are problems that people don't even realize exist. Simple things like roles and responsibilities are a mess. My boss is giving me 4 problems to solve and given me carte blanche to drive them forward.

As an example, between Product Management, Product Operations, and Engineering there is a lot of finger pointing as to who does what. It is my responsibility to carve out who does what and then get everyone to fall in line. I don't even have a list of roles and responsibilities to start with. Obviously this is a pretty thorny problem. I am starting from square one. This is one example of problems that have a lot of ambiguity, politics, and organizational dysfunction baked in. I am looking forward to the challenge but feel a little frozen on where to start.

Where should I start? Can you recommend any steps / books / articles / ideas on tackling cross departmental problems. I know I need to gather data / opinion. I know I need to sell the problem and sell potential solutions. I guess I just feel frozen on how exactly to do this when everyone is busy and chaos reigns supreme. How do I promote the pain of these problems and get traction on solving them? How do I do this the right way? Help me get stuff done with competing teams and competing interests.
posted by jasondigitized to Work & Money (9 answers total) 16 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: We had an external company come in and do some Change Management training where I work. One of the things the training went over (in very cheesy terms, so I apologize in advance) was how to drive change when people just don't want it, or don't care. The training we had recommended sorting people into roles in your head related to the change. Campaigners are those on the side of the change. Torpedoes are totally against it. In the middle you have Skeptics, who worry it may not be best for the company, and Windwatchers, who end up going with whatever those in power decide is best. The idea is to work on changing the Torpedoes and Skeptics into Campaigners. There is also a whole thing about figuring out who the Key Influencers are and tackling them first. If you can find people who are socially influencing others, get to them, get them on your side by showing them the details of the issues you're addressing.

The company we used was Orchango. The terminology made me cringe, but the ideas were sound. Engagement rather than Communication; Understanding the Windwatchers were pointless to chase down, since they will switch alongside the key influencers. Etc. They refer to the problems you're solving as "the Abyss" which I found quite suitable.

Get some good books on Change Management. The Change Monster, by Jeanie Daniel Duck is good. If you feel frozen, and you're responsible for role assignment, don't be afraid to find someone else to be on your team to help you lead this change.

As for competing teams and interests - find the common ground. Find where you all can agree, even if it is a small piece of the change. Then you can build traction and momentum from there.

Hope this helps.
posted by routergirl at 6:51 AM on August 18, 2014 [11 favorites]

If you don't have the authority that your job requires you're going to find it very hard to get your job done. I'd attack that first: figure out who the power players in your organization are, and align your interests with theirs. Figure out how to ingratiate yourselves with them, so that you can show them how getting on board with your program will enhance their own position/further their agenda.

This is all very political and requires very strategic, somewhat long-term thinking.
posted by dfriedman at 7:00 AM on August 18, 2014

You didn't recieve "carte blanche" to drive change if you don't have the authority to call a meeting.

Your first question to the boss should be: do I have the authority to call a meeting? I want the authority to call senior level folks into a meeting.

With or without that authority, document document document. For example: "contacted Mr Senior Level's scheduler on the following dates: [list dates]. Reviewed no response.
posted by vitabellosi at 7:10 AM on August 18, 2014

I'd set up meetings with the head of each department and ask them for the roles and responsibilities of everyone in their department by category. You might ask to shadow one person in each role for a day or half a day (or longer) or to interview someone in each major role. Your ideas will grow out of suggestions made by these people or from their ideas of what needs to change.

You also need someone higher up in the organization who is willing to go to bat for you: start fostering relationships with your manager or the person who does have the authority and get them on your side.

Be very diplomatic.
posted by theredpen at 7:22 AM on August 18, 2014

Alarm bells started going off for me when you said you have very little authority. Driving change is hard period, but when you can't actually make anything happen unless everyone cooperates, it's a huge hurdle. At my last job, I was given the responsibility along with other staff of implementing some changes in technology. However, all the power laid with two members who just kind of did what they wanted to do in the end despite the fact we had all these meetings to accomplish this goal.

I was often given tasks to do that were dependent on convincing people it was a good idea. I had no authority to say for example, "we're all going to phase in X, there will be training on these dates, and come to me if you have any concerns." Instead I had to individually convince people that X was a good idea.

So who does have the authority? If that's your boss, great, because he's probably already on your side. If it's someone else, you need to convince them why you want to move in a certain direction, and how to give you the proper support.

The bottom line is, people can figure out pretty quickly when you can't actually make them do things.
posted by Aranquis at 7:43 AM on August 18, 2014

Your profile says you're in Austin. Get your company to send you to "Advocacy: Championing Ideas and Influencing Others" at the McCombs School of Business. There's one next month. Dr. John Daly, who teaches it, has literally written the book on selling your ideas to others (they'll send you a copy when you register).
posted by IanMorr at 8:06 AM on August 18, 2014 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Congrats on the role! I just finished a stint in a very similar position. I don't know what is your background. I started from NOTHING--so I will write my response as if I am writing to my former self.

Check out John Kotter's works (Leading Change, WHy Transformational Efforts Fail, etc.) He introduces key concepts of change management like engineering quick-wins and overcommunicating your vision.

"Change management" is a good catch-all keyword to use.

There are a lot of Lean tools that can help with the challenges you describe - defining roles and responsibilities, mapping out processes and creating visibility.

Much of the value you will bring in a high-responsibility, low-accountability "influencer" role is simply to drive the conversation forward. Set up meetings, with everybody. Understand inquiry vs. advocacy: sometimes the best thing you can do is simply be seen to be listening to the concerns of others. Once you understand the issues, start mapping your key stakeholders and commit to update them regularly.

In a relatively short timespan you will have a BROADER understanding of the issues facing the organization than anyone else. But people who live with the day-to-day effects of these issues arguably have a much DEEPER understanding. Again, inquiry vs. advocacy: here it is key that their unique concerns are heard (even if you recognize them from a hundred other interviews)

Be patient. Tremendously patient. You will be living and breathing and sleeping these challenges. Solutions will become apparent to you long before anyone else is ready to accept them. Things I recommended 6 or 8 months ago, people (even my own boss) are only just now starting to come around to.

And take your ego out of it: when they finally do come around, it won't be your idea--it will be theirs. That's the point. You are a steady drumbeat for change. Your measure of success is that people are using your vocabulary, your concepts, your paradigms, without even recognizing where they came from. It can be tremendously rewarding (you will have to trust me on this).

Be confident that if you truly understand the issue and truly are interested in solving it, eventually others will come around to a similar line of thinking. Your presence is simply to speed up that process.

ANother way to look at it is that people are lazy. Make it as easy as you can for others to get on-board. (Canned slidepacks, soundbites for leaders...) If you persistently confront them with a readily-available solution to a problem that won't go away, odds are good they will eventually come around. Or at least engage you constructively.

Finally, the two things I wish I'd had sooner:

1. A vision statement - If you want people to follow you, they need to be convinced that (A) you want what they want and (B) you have a plan. You need to prove both.

2. Organizational Effectiveness coach - if your company has anyone of this title, enlist them. They have training and can help guide you on (almost) everything above.

More generally, push hard for the resources you need: it's one thing to say, "we could have accomplished this but we didn't have the resources" but ultimately, YOU are the one with the best understanding of the problem, and so YOUR job is to advocate for what you need.

Feel free to memail me... I am by no means an expert, but I know plenty about what doesn't work!
posted by ista at 9:03 AM on August 18, 2014 [3 favorites]

A couple good links here in ref to my post-

Inquiry vs. Advocacy-
Vision Statements -
John Kotter - Why Transformation Efforts Fail -

Again good luck!
posted by ista at 9:16 AM on August 18, 2014 [1 favorite]

Best answer: This is hard work, but if you ever want to get anything done in an institutional setting, these are skills you need to learn, so I suggest you look at this as a learning opportunity. You will stumble at times - everyone who's doing this kind of work does. Just make sure you're learning from your failures and keep going.

Another author to add to the pile: Ron Heifetz, who writes about "adaptive leadership" - ie, leading through change. He writes a LOT about leading when you don't have the official authority to do so - in fact, he believes that those who are not the official "leaders" are often better at this than those who are, for a variety of reasons.

An approach you might want to consider taking:

1. Spend your first period of time (up to a few months if your boss will allow it) collecting information, both about the problems and about people's attitudes towards the problem. ie, for your problem involving who does what, really dedicate yourself to figuring out what's happening now: who IS doing what? where are the communication breakdowns? who's unhappy about the situation and why? who's HAPPY about it? who does it serve? (this is a big thing that Heifetz talks about - even in the most dysfunctional settings, the situation is working for someone or it wouldn't be happening)

2. Find a few people you trust that you can consult. These should be people who are stakeholders in the problem/solution, but who seem willing and open to listen and give you honest feedback. Cultivate these folks.

3. Find the people who have the power to change things and figure out what they want, what their interests are. Make sure you keep these folks involved in the process. Involve your boss in this step. The dance here is that your solution needs to fix the problem without being too threatening to the people with power. This may actually be impossible, in which case your boss' support will be important. An important thing to note is that those with power might not be the managers. The executive assistant who is beloved and trusted by her powerful boss and schedules all executive meetings may be just as powerful for the change you need to make as her boss is.

4. If you can, put together a working group or task force to figure out what changes are necessary and figure out how to implement them. You may work at a place where these kinds of committees aren't done, or are totally useless, in which case you may need to just have a group of people you consult on a regular basis - but don't skip this part. You need a wide variety of organizational knowledge and expertise to make this happen. And buy-in.

Steps beyond that are impossible to suggest without more specifics of the problem. But this might help you get started. Basically, you want to really understand the problem, and consult with a variety of stakeholders to come up with a good solution and plan for implementation.

Good luck!
posted by lunasol at 8:20 PM on August 18, 2014 [1 favorite]

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