A couple of weeks ago a couple of colleagues asked to talk about a big project: a website overhaul. They wanted to hear about the process my organization had recently undergone to see how it applied to their plans. As they framed their process-to-date to open the conversation, it became clear to me that we weren’t going to be talking about a redesign. Today we were talking about an organizational infrastructure of work, team dynamics, and process.
Organizational Infrastructure of work: My colleagues were struggling as they began to wrap their minds around a comprehensive website redesign and I could see they were struggling with organizational infrastructure. There are two types of organizations I’ve repeatedly seen struggle with this:
1. complex governmental or privatized organizations most of which have evolved as “sprawl,” adding components to the business as funding allows or having purchased other companies
2. tiny non-profits that work with bare-bones staff and have had to chase funding in order to survive.
So what problem am I referring to with “organizational infrastructure of work”? In web design, it would be labeled “information architecture.” It’s a broad-based understanding of what the organization does, broken down into understandable and relatable components and pieces. It’s an overall vision and mission that is then supported by pillars that make sense, that explain what the organization does and how it does it. It’s a systematic categorization of work. And it’s damn hard.
Properly done, an organizational infrastructure explains itself to everyone, from clients to employees, to leadership, to funders. It’s a framework that helps define, orient, and move an organization forward. It has to have buy-in, support, and involvement from every level within the organization. If an organization doesn’t have this, it needs it. It won’t only be your website that thanks you.
Team Dynamics: Another issue that was at the heart of what my colleagues were asking was team dynamics. Unfortunately, they have a player that’s not interested in varying perspectives, doesn’t have the patience for a long process, and is unable or unwilling to move outside of that all-to-detrimental comfort zone. Needless to say, this is not good. Especially since this team member has a skill set that the team needs to get this project done.
I, and probably many others, enjoy open, exploratory dialogue in team meetings. It’s particularly free-form in early meetings, as we explore options to get to our desired end. In the case my two colleagues presented, many options and avenues are going to have to be explored prior to the meetings because more fully-formed thoughts and ideas will be needed to introduce conversation. Hopefully, the extra thought and research will equip my colleagues with more questions and examples that help get the difficult team member thinking in different ways, more objectively weighing alternatives. This is important because his advice is crucial to success.
Process: The third piece of the puzzle was process, but I’m not referring to the steps required to get this job done. We talked about process in a much larger, more theoretical sense. The challenging team member wanted to build this website without involving very many people. He was afraid the process would be dreadfully slow. All of us, I’m sure, can relate to this concern. But for this group, the first handful of meetings had been held as closed-door meetings with only certain people (that the difficult team member wanted) invited.
Those that have read very many of my blogs will know that one of my rules is the rule of transparency. It builds trust; it builds teams; it builds organizations. I don’t think you can build a website, a website that’s going to succeed beyond its launch, without having people in your organization buy into it. This is a tool that represents these people. This is a tool that will need content and input and promotion from those people. You cannot build it in a vacuum.
Of course, you do need to set a framework for involving people because it can get very unwieldily and slow the process down or kill the project altogether. But the key stakeholders need to be involved, and it has to be real involvement.
When we headed out of the office, I felt like we had touched universal truths — ones that can be hard to coalesce but that are essential. It doesn’t matter if you’re building a website, a strategic plan, a brand new product, or a recruiting a new board member, you need patience, persistence, and communication if you’re going to succeed. Building an organizational infrastructure of work, building team dynamics, and establishing your process protocol will require your vision, coupled with flexibility, to get to your goal. And you’re going to have to take every opportunity presented to you to educate people at all levels in the organization about what you’re doing and why you’re doing it.
I wish my colleagues the best of luck. All steps are steps forward, and I look forward to seeing how far they can take this one.