In a world where Professional Individual Contributors work so closely together, then conflict between someone who thinks outside the lines and someone who thinks inside them is inevitable.
In a recent example I was a party to, I wanted to provide a response to a problem that was comprehensive and included information about areas outside of our responsibility. My co-worker and I were asked some questions and we worked together on the answers so we were both on the same page when it came to any follow up. My coworker, who in their defense was more attuned to organizational norms than I was, was felt strongly about not sharing any information other than a suggestion of other places to go to get it. In the interest of maintaining a strong working relationship, I acquiesced. After reflecting a bit, I realized that in this one little moment there is so much that can be observed.
The decision is a microcosm of committee decision making
First, It’s about the process of conflict, or possibly the tendency built into all of us at avoiding conflict, that comes when working together. It’s rare to have two people with strongly differing opinions to get together, battle it out, have one win the argument and have no longer term negative consequences to the professional association. You really have to have a very tight relationship like a work spouse with your co-worker for that to be the case, and those are indeed rare.
The decision is a microcosm of committee decision making, even when the committee is a group of two. Instead of having a bolder response, one that could potentially affect change, we watered it down. We didn’t influence.. we let others add their little bit. Rather than define a path to move forward on, our micro committee followed the safe route. Rarely does great things happen when a person or an organization moves cautiously.
Thirdly it shows just how quickly an organization can go to bureaucratic and slow in an instant, or more likely a thousand instants. I know the information I was trying to share was probably 100% correct. By by only offering the information we were responsible for, and saying ‘go someplace else to talk to someone else who has an area of responsibility that is not ours to get the rest’ we effectively slowed down the project. We added steps for someone else to do. In larger organizations this effect is magnified by a thousand. Eventually it’s how once dominant companies can lose their way. How do you provide quick turnaround when that is the case?
It’s really a tough situation when you think about it. You go from being an effective, free thinking individual to a member of the system, but you make your workplace more pleasant and agreeable in doing so. What professional doesn’t want to work in an agreeable environment? I believe this happens more and more as we are given more and more responsibilities and forced to interact more and more.
I don’t know how to work around it.. it’s simply a conflict. I’d like to find a creative answer to this problem, something I can use for my book.
Maybe I can find someone to work with me on it.