Friday, November 14, 2014

Creating Good, Only to See It Vanish?

So we’re in one of those endless series of reorganizations at work. My department has more than doubled in size; my team initially shrank, then plateaued, then grew some. It will likely grow more in the coming weeks and months.

I’m trying to remember if I’ve ever seen a reorganization that was led well, or at least managed well. I can’t think of one. I do recall an expansion a few years ago that went extraordinarily well, primarily because the people who actually did the work and knew where both the problems and opportunities were designed it.

In other words, upper leadership stayed out of it. My purpose isn’t to indict upper leadership, but in many organizations, upper leadership rarely knows the details of what’s happening.

All of the teams in the department were to grow. Our team grew from 11 to 25 people in a matter of about three months. We had the most new positions to fill, double that of any other team, and we filled them faster than all of the others. We knew what needed to be done, and we knew what skills and experience we needed. And we were fast.

My team was managing new functions, new media, and new ways to communicate. We faced new challenges that were beginning to look insurmountable – including well organized and funded campaigns against the organization. The landscape where we had to operate was entirely new.

Remember that word “new.” “New,” when it works, is disruptive. It challenges conventional thinking. It has little patience with “that’s the way we’ve always done things here.”

It simply arrives and starts making things happen. In our case, it was good things.

It also makes people outside the organization uncomfortable. Change always brings discomfort. Someone is always going to dislike it. Someone will feel threatened by it.

We became known as the part of the organization where “work gets done.” Within the team, everything was shared – information, opportunities, support, backup. And the amazing thing was that it all worked. It was as if we could survey what was happening, look at the work that was being accomplished, the achievements that were being made, and say “it is good.”

And that became the problem. It’s always worse when the change is good, and when it works even better than promised. What we were accomplishing had implications for our entire organization. Uncomfortable implications. Some people felt threatened.

One statement I made often to our team was that we were to enjoy every minute and every day, because we didn’t know when it would end.

It took just under a year.

The blow didn’t fall all at once. It happened in three phases. First, one team was moved outright to another organization, and then a second team was moved. The teams were so integrated that it tore the larger team apart. Finally, a new supervisor was brought in.

The cost was huge. The results led to disaster. It is no comfort to me to know that the current reorganization I’m living through is exactly what we did six years ago – same idea, same strategy, same understanding. The difference is that it’s six years later, and everything has changed.

What we had created lingered for a while, but eventually it disappeared. Or so it seemed.

Not long ago, someone who had been part of what we did six years ago said this:

“For a year, we worked like work is supposed to be. It was challenging and hard and difficult. But how we worked together is how it’s supposed to be. It was the best job I ever had. None of us will ever forget that. And I think all of us will try at some point to recreate it.”

Perhaps that was the point. Creating good, and doing it, can become more than a dream. Doing it turns a dream into a hope.

The High Calling has a community linkup this week on “Creating Good.” If you have a story that you’d like to share, visit The High Calling.

Photograph by Rudiger Schafer via Public Domain Pictures. Used with permission.

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