Michael in Culture 10 minutes

Building Alliances

The other day I met with a friend and colleague about why a particular meeting went badly. The meeting was a few weeks back with a team that isn’t exactly thrilled about an initiative I’m championing. I knew this and basically did a demonstration of the proposed change, during which I was peppered with question after question. You know when you’re in a meeting and everyone is going along with it and the questions are constructive and getting everyone more excited about the possibilities? Well, this wasn’t that meeting.

So I’m following up with this friend, and he’s telling me that I should have met with him and his team before I met with the more hostile team. That way he could have known the context of my proposal and jumped in with his perspective in a way that didn’t make it the team vs. Michael but made it more of a discussion. It was as if I put my chess piece unguarded on the other side of the board; I’m going to get killed. I need to have alliances if I’m going to effectively persuade people, especially those more naturally hostile to my proposal.

I was reminded of this recently when I read through Mandi Walls really great and short book Building a DevOps Culture. She writes about the need to have a team of people around you that will help you roll out your DevOps initiatives:

This person, or team of people, will serve an important role, a combination of evangelist, tools expert, process subject-matter expert (SME), and buddy. They’re like your camp counselors. They’ll teach a little bit, answer questions, reassure the reluctant, and bring the marshmallows at the end of a long day. These folks are hard to find, and often aren’t who you think they are. The last person you want for a job like this is someone who’s smart but a complete jerk everyone hates but who happens to know how to use the tools. Find the people who everyone wishes were on their team, borrow some of their time, and form a working group to help other teams.

Mandi is right. At first I thought of myself as the champion of this thing. Then I very quickly met John who was better liked, more experienced, and more passionate about all of this than I am. John has delivered great results for both me and the company. He is so valuable to what we’re doing that I won’t use his last name, won’t link to his LinkedIn profile, and won’t even say whether I have changed his first name.

John is the type of person I want on my team. Going forward if I am going into a potentially hostile situation or into a group of people who aren’t naturally inclined to go along with what I’m trying to do, I’ll surround myself with liked, credible people who are able to fill in where I can’t.