I Should Have Learned This Sooner

It’s all about a phenomenon called “the frozen middle”.

This wasn’t that big a deal in the 2 startups that I’ve worked with, but in a large company the middle managers make a complex network of crossing accountabilities & dependencies that have to be traced & addressed before they will feel comfortable about signing up for big changes. In startups the “middle” is a lot more flexible because there are a lot fewer of these informal contracts.

I developed a blind spot to its importance and it’s expressed itself in the way I’d conduct decision making meetings, like for strategy, processes, project portfolios, and so on. In fact I may have come across as insulting at times. What’s mildly horrifying is that this is part of my personality and I didn’t even notice it until recently.

So I pass this along; when you see obvious ways to address the situation and are all too ready to share with others, but you can’t get it done without the help from everyone at the table you had better be sure that they feel that their own thoughts and concerns were part of that solution, not yours. And you’d better be able to draw out their thoughts and concerns too, it may be some work, but work that must be done.

This is just one of the many searing insights I’ve had since following the work from Leadership Strategies (http://www.leadstrat.com/). There’s a lot of really interesting free reading there and I’ve just bought the book, The Secrets of Facilitation, Second Edition, by Michael Wilkinson.

A little background. In my last job I’d hired on as a change agent. I was woefully unprepared for what I encountered. Way back in Houston, before I came up here to Seattle, I was a hotdog in a couple of adventurous startups, and had the experience of being deep in the middle of an early, less visible software driven business disruption in the oil & gas industry that happened in the 1980’s and early 90’s. With everyone else in the company I learned a lot about software engineering too. Yeah, I was flyin’. In fact all my offerings were so attractive that we were invited to drive the changes with all blocks removed.

Boy has that FUBARed my effectiveness since I’ve come to Seattle. Oh well. Better late than never.