I’ve been a student of IT organizational culture since I began my management consulting career some 30+ years ago.  It’s wrong, of course, to generalize too broadly, but I’ve worked with literally hundreds of large enterprise IT organizations (i.e., IT organizations of 250+ members) and have seen more commonalities than differences.  Of course, within any IT organization, there are sub-cultures – architects are not the same as operations people or as solution developers – but again, there are more common threads than sharp differences.

Prevent Bad Change…

For all the change that IT organizations bring about for their customers and clients, IT people are generally resistant to change.  I think this resistance is deeply rooted in a couple of factors:

  1. IT environments are full of technical complexity – layers upon layers of technology containing multitudes of interfaces and dependencies.  Change something over here and something over their is impacted – sometimes in subtle ways that may not be evident for some time, or until some other seemingly unrelated change is made.
  2. IT professionals thrive by taking complex situations and reducing them down – ultimately, to zeroes and ones.  There’s no room for ambiguity in a digital system – as such IT specialists are conditioned to abhor ambiguity.  And yet change is full of ambiguity – what ‘has been’ is no longer, and what ‘will be’ is not yet stabilized.  The natural inclination, then, is to drive out the ambiguity, and typically, the fastest, safest path to achieve that is to revert to the status quo – ending the change before damage is done (or the changed state it reached!)

Meet the Culture Where it is – Or Where You Want it to Go?

This inherent tendency to ‘prevent bad change’ creates some tough dilemma’s when introducing social networking and collaboration capabilities such as Wikis.  Wikis thrive best where a culture is open and emergent – “enabling good change,” if you will.  As you design the governance mechanisms for a Wiki, you have some interesting choices.  For example:

  • Do you allow people to create their own pages?  Or do you put controls on who creates and who edits pages?
  • Do you allow all spaces to be open to anyone in the organization?  Or do you allow for “private” spaces, where a select few (such as an IT leadership team) collaborate?
  • Do you allow people to display avatars that are humorous or ironic?  Or do you insist on “corporate photographs” from people’s security badges?
  • Do you allow people to write in their unique voices – even if a little rough around the edges?  Or do you have a Wiki Gardener monitor pages and clean up the rough edges?

To be clear, I’m not talking about allowing people to violate corporate codes of integrity – potentially offensive or inflammatory graphics or text is clearly out of bounds and violations of such codes of conduct should swiftly be managed as performance management issues.  I’m talking about an open and emergent Wiki environment – complete with the bumps and hiccups it may contain, versus a more closed and structured Wiki, protected from potential ‘voices of dissent’ or the raising of challenging or tough issues.

Governance Designed to Meet the Culture Where it is

You can take the position that Wiki governance should be designed for the current state:  “We are locked down, deeply concerned about security and privacy.  We have to have special ‘standards of conduct’ and controls to keep things structured and secure.”

Governance Designed to Help Shift the Culture

Or, do you take the position that the governance should be designed with an eye to the desired future state: “We encourage open dialog and a thriving ‘community of adults’ – keep within our corporate code of integrity and help make the Wiki a safe, valuable and fun place to grow and share our enterprise knowledge about IT.”

Given the people responsible for approving Wiki governance will probably not have significant experience with the more open model, their inclination will be to ‘play it safe’ and design for the current state.  Unfortunately, that is likely to perpetuate the current culture and probably prevent the Wiki from becoming what they want it to become.  It make take one or two strong, visionary leaders to take the leap of faith, and allow a governance model that reflects their aspirations for the culture.

Graphic courtesy of Positive Change

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