Looking for the bottleneck in your company? It most likely is technology. We all know, IT people can be difficult to work with. Hating the IT folks is a common sentiment in almost every business. But the truth is, it’s not the IT people’s fault. In fact, a despised IT department is a symptom of a management team who doesn’t understand their culture and psychology. It is a corporate dysfunction for which management, more than anyone else in the organization, is responsible.
Why do the IT folks drive everyone crazy? The answer lies deep in our primal need to contribute to our tribe. The workplace is our modern-day clan. We come to the office with the same mental hardwiring we acquired 200,000 years ago when our species emerged. Back then, tribes with individuals creative enough to make new discoveries survived better than less innovative groups. Today, our workplace is our tribe and our impulse to create is no less important. Evolution gave us the mental machinery to seek to improve the welfare of our social groups through discoveries made by each individual.
When creativity is stifled, we become frustrated, unfulfilled and complacent. Unfortunately, in most organizations, workers blame the most obvious bottleneck, hence, they point the finger at the IT folks.
In actuality, the complaints are a result of a broken feedback loop and the discontent can be explained by unraveling the blockages to innovation.
Employees today are inundated with messages from management to “be innovative,” “think outside the box,” “spot good ideas when they see them,” and most of all “get stuff done.” The message to employees is “if you contribute innovative ideas, good things will happen to you and your tribe.”
If employees do not receive positive reinforcement for their efforts, or even worse, are forced to comply with endless documentation requirements, long development cycles, and corporate politicking, their natural instinct to contribute shrivels. Creativity soon morphs into dysfunction.
It begins with a management team woefully unaware the process is broken. Next, non-technical staff, unable to produce quality output, learn to shirk responsibility as they throw tasks over the fence to IT. Unwilling to place blame on management, business staff point the finger at IT ranting about why a task is late, again. Employees begin to see the company not as one, but two tribes. The business people are seen as those charged with generating ideas while the IT folks are the methodical implementers, cranking out instructions verbatim.
Everyone suffers from this scenario as members of the IT department are held hostage by endless product backlogs, leaving little room to contribute their own creative wisdom. When faced with a long list of tasks and the manic pressure to complete every request urgently, IT folks find themselves plugging away instead of taking the time to understand what’s truly important to the business. This endless, and often mindless, drive to complete the next item on the list isolates the IT folks from customer-facing employees who could help them better understand what the product actually needs to do for the user. Business people view IT folks as lazy code monkeys and IT folks view business people as unskilled taskmasters. This familiar pattern perpetuates in-fighting and destroys creativity and initiative.
The way to bring innovation back is for management to ensure that employees are rewarded for their attempts to improve the company. While the reward of social recognition or monetary incentives is nice, often the satisfaction of simply knowing their idea was implemented is sufficient to fulfill our human need to contribute. When good ideas languish in bureaucracy, the feedback loop stops, and so does innovation.