ITAM Colours

On 2013-05-21, the following e-mail was sent to the head of the committee whose purpose was to recommend a product to be the standard method of tracking inventory across the University. There were representatives from all faculties and major departments, each chosen by their organization as best able to understand the principles involved and to best defend their self interests.

I've become very sensitive to caffeine, so eating too much chocolate Friday evening left my brain in gear for the rest of the night. During that time, I came to the sudden understanding of why these ITAM meetings are so unexciting (e.g. no disagreements) and why the whole process is taking so long to get anywhere. (The RT project might have had similar problems, but because of the differences in the people that deal with internal inventory systems and front-line help services I suspect the effect was much less.)

A few years ago I attended an HR session by Katrina Di Gravio, on True Colors, a personality type system (my summary of it).

Everyone has four basic personality aspects that determine how we expect the world to be, but we all have a different balance between how important each one is to us.

After testing us to determine our dominant types, Katrina divided us into groups where each group consisted of the same type, and then gave us a small project to prepare and present to the others. Every group had trouble finishing and the presentations were wildly different, from the Greens with pie-graphs and other things that were mostly incomprehensible to the other groups, to the Blues who simply sang a song (Barbra Streisand's Evergreen). Really. And that was all for what was basically the same topic.

She then divided us into groups again, this time with at least one of each type in each group. This time the assignment went quickly and smoothly, and the presentations were very similar.

When all four types were present in a group, everything went well. The Greens analyzed the information, discovered cause and effect relationships, and understood the underlying principles of the topic; the Golds gathered and organized data; the Oranges pushed us all to get on with it and made the presentations entertaining, and the Blues helped resolve the inevitable conflicts.

My Friday night epiphany was that the selection process for the members of the ITAM group was almost certain to select people with nearly identical personalities, thereby producing one of the disfunctional groups from the demonstration. In this case we were selected because we are the people most interested in software packages and in keeping track of inventory. There's one in every organization, and for this project, that's exactly the one you got.

Most of us are highly Green, with a strong Gold secondary. Those that aren't will almost certainly be Gold, with a strong Green. And that explains why things are not going nearly as well as they should.

As I said in the item referenced above about Greens:

Some people are very analytic. They need to understand why things are the way they are, why things go wrong, and why decisions were made.

They will appear judgemental, to enjoy attaching blame, though that is seldom their real motive, and will appear to have a superior attitude, though that is seldom how they feel. They are often not good at initiating new ideas or making decisions.

They may sit silently through most of a meeting, but by the end will have filtered out all the irrelevant details and will be able to provide a concise summary of the essential ideas and conflicts, and be able to say, objectively and unemotionally, what problems are associated with each of the various proposals under discussion.

A team made up entirely of this kind of person will spend far too long analyzing the problem and looking for larger more general solutions and will have difficulty making decisions.

The most significant part is the last sentence, and in particular: will have difficulty making decisions. That's exactly the kind of team that you are working with.

I'm glad it's not me in charge of this, but I'm sorry it's you.

I do have some suggestions though. To get actual answers from us:

To make progress with this project:

And I have one additional piece of advice, a trade secret of successful management and decision makers everywhere. Whenever a decision maker is presented with a list of choices you can be sure of two things: any choices the presenters think are bad would have already been eliminated, and any choice they think especially good would be presented in a way that makes it obvious that it's the one you are expected to choose. I.e. you have several choices, none of which are especially good or bad, so if you think about it, what that means is that it really doesn't matter which one you choose, it won't be perfect and it won't be fatally flawed. Flip a coin if you have to. Your real task as decision maker is to be able to justify your choice, and most of that work has already been done for you. What the group really needs to do is find all the negative aspects of the decision and explain why we find them acceptable. Any future criticism can be diverted by referring to the fact that it is a known problem and has already been considered.

If you were a psychopath (as many organization leaders are) you'd find this whole thing a lot easer. (Un)fortunately, you aren't.

Bonus list (top 10 occupations for psychopaths):