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Use the 4Is, or expect our history to repeat itself

| May 10, 2016

by Jim Bruce

Today’s Tuesday Reading – Use the 4Is, or expect our history to repeat itself – is an essay by Richard Knepper, Manager, Campus Bridging and Research Infrastructure, Research Technologies, University Information Technology, Indiana University.  His original essay first appeared as a program reflection last year.


At the beginning of this year I was coming off of an inter-group hangover.  My team of sysadmins supports a team of application developers for multiple groups of researchers.  Sysadmins and developers get along as well as might be expected, but there were times in the past year that “getting along like a house on fire” seemed more like a literal description of the situation than a figurative one.

My relationship with the developers’ manager didn’t help the process. We tended to stumble over each other a lot.  We mandated separate systems for documentation for our respective teams.  The goal set for the developers was to seek out new projects and make the researchers associated with them happy.  My goal was to deliver services in a secure and sustainable way.  I found myself saying “I get along with every other person in the organization except for this guy.  What’s wrong with this picture?”
When I encountered the four I’s – Initiate, Inquire, Invest, Influence – in the first MOR session, I understood a lot more about what went wrong.  Even in our earlier conversations, I tended to focus on expressing what my goals for the joint work and ideal outcomes would be.  I believed I listened to the other manager, but I wasn’t really getting invested in the relationship.  As things developed, neither of us was even initiating real discussions.  So you can imagine the kind of atmosphere that persisted.  Midway through the spring, the manager moved on, and I realized that if I didn’t take the opportunity to build the relationship with the group and the incoming manager, I could expect the same kind of headaches into the future. 
To help with the group relationship, I initiated short, weekly standups, so that all of the developers could discuss what they wanted done and what took priority out of the list.  And, when a new manager was selected, I contacted him well before he started work to ask to meet with him.  At the end of his first week, we had a phone meeting, and I started off by asking about his history, his perspectives, and his interests.  A week after that, I met with him to walk through our team processes and describe the activities we do from our team’s point of view.
There hasn’t been a lot of time to move this forward, but I am attempting to follow the four I’s.  I can see how they work, and I hope to be able to do some investment in this relationship to improve the situation.  I really feel like working together is the only way to make things go forward, and so I’ve got to commit to building this relationship in order for the overall organization can accomplish its goals.
Six months later, I feel like we have made some inroads.  My counterpart and I both have a tendency to go for walks around the building and we have done a couple of meetings on the hoof, which has been fruitful for us.  We certainly don’t always agree on things, but the dynamic has shown signs of change – there’s a lot more emphasis on what we can accomplish together rather than the breakdowns our teams tend to experience.  We have gotten through a couple of service migrations and some outages and maintained a collegial atmosphere throughout.  It’s not a picnic every day, but I’m starting to feel like I might be escaping the cycle I was in earlier.

Richard clearly was in a situation that wasn’t working well for anyone.  He stepped up his listening and took the initiative in beginning to develop a relationship with the developers’ new manager.  I think that the lesson for all of us here is to pay attention to what’s going on in our environment, diagnose what’s not working, and use the tools we have to make it better.  And, be patient, change requires time and constant attention.
Make it a great week.  .  .  .     jim
Jim Bruce is a Senior Fellow and Executive Coach at MOR Associates, and Professor of Electrical Engineering, Emeritus, and CIO, Emeritus, at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, MA.