Conflicting Orders

August 21, 2017

You can be Caught by Conflicting Orders

You’ve just come from an all-staff meeting. The CEO seems great. She’s all fired up about a new approach to teamwork which encourages employees to work across silos to share expertise and resources. You’re eager to give it a try.

You’re walking back from the meeting with your boss, Sean.

You: Boy, that was a great, don’t you think?
Sean: Yeah, sure, Angela.
You: I mean, we need to break down silos across the company.
Sean: I guess so.
You: So what do you think we should be doing?
Sean: I think you should keep doing what you’re doing.
You: But Ms Danvers—
Sean: Yeah, same old, same old.

Back at your cubicle, you’re a little nonplussed. Sean is usually quite a good guy. Maybe he just got out of the wrong side of the bed. Your office neighbor (Lori) comes back to her desk.

You: What did you think of the meeting?
Lori: That Danvers—she can really get everybody fired up.
You: Yeah, I thought so. But Sean didn’t seem to.
Lori: (shrug) I don’t think he likes Danvers.
You: How come?
Lori: Well, we got hit pretty hard on the last round of cuts.
You: But this working across silos might help us.
Lori: I guess.

So both your boss and a co-worker are lukewarm about the CEO Danvers message. But you still think it’s got legs.

You have the chance to put your belief in operation the next day when approached by a buddy from the company soccer league.

Ethan: Hey, Ange, how’re things?
You: Great. What are you doing in this neck of the woods?
Ethan: Were you at the Danvers thing yesterday?
You: Yeah—
Ethan: Great, wasn’t it? It made me think of the project you and I were cooking up last year—you know—the commuter app?
You: Oh yeah, I’d forgotten about it.
Ethan: Why don’t we go ahead and do it?
You: Well, I—
Ethan: It would be great.
You: For sure, but my boss isn’t that keen—
Ethan: But don’t you see, we don’t need our bosses’ permission—Danvers has already given it to us.

What should you do?

  • Ignore your boss Sean’s lack of enthusiasm and go ahead anyway. After all, Ethan is right. Ms Danvers said that you should not allow the silos preventing you from doing your best work and this commuter app could be great. And good for the company.
  • Ask Sean’s permission for the project. But he’s likely to say no. On the other hand, isn’t there something about asking forgiveness afterwards? But Sean is still your boss.
  • Refuse the project. Since you know what Sean’s reaction is going to be, maybe it’s better not to stick your head above the parapet.

I’ll spend a post on each of the possibilities when you have to deal with conflicting orders.

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