by Lyria Charles

How to stay sane in a dysfunctional environment

Oct 19, 2015
CareersCIOIT Leadership

Working in a dysfunctional environment? The key to your success is to understand your sphere of influence and control, and do your best within those boundaries.

It’s happened again. The craziness at work has you frustrated, angry, and maybe even ready to quit.

It seems like the decisions being handed down are not well thought out and are causing more problems than they were meant to solve. Morale is low and some of your key players may have left the company.

As an IT leader you’re trying to keep your game face on for your team, but you’re finding it harder to do these days.

Headed for a shipwreck

You used to enjoy your IT leadership job. You were motivated to get up in the morning to go to work.

But things began to change. Perhaps it was a reorganization, outsourcing, or consultants coming in with a new way of running things. Whatever prompted the change, your world is different now. And what used to work smoothly before is now fraught with confusion, roadblocks, and unreasonable expectations.

Work and projects may be falling behind as the organization tries to cope with these new changes.

The people may have changed too. They may be uncertain of how they’re supposed to act in this new paradigm, and how these changes might impact their jobs.

Sharing and collaboration has been replaced with self-preservation. Rather than collectively finding ways to solve problems, people are playing the blame game to protect their jobs.

Executive management appears clueless about how their decisions are impacting the rank and file. From their viewpoint once a decision is made, the rank and file should just “get in line” and move forward.

You’re not the captain of this ship

Your situation is quite common in the IT world.

CIOs want and need to find ways to bring value to the company. They’re being asked to impact both the top and bottom lines financially. This includes delivering innovation to drive revenue and finding ways to cut expenses.

So as CIOs pursue these opportunities, it might be necessary to do a reorganization, implement new processes or even outsource some functions.

Yet these types of decisions can be disruptive and hamper IT’s ability to be successful if the change is not managed well.

Man your stations

So what should you do in this situation? How can you be most effective in your leadership role? How can you get your groove back so that you’re feeling positive about your job again?

The key is to understand your sphere of influence and control in your current environment, and then do your best within those boundaries.

My diagram below shows the spheres of influence. The further out you go from the center ring, the less opportunity for you to exert your control or influence.

Lyria's sphere of influence and control Lyria Charles

The inner ring is where you have the most influence and control. This typically includes oversight of your team and the projects you are leading. Here, you’re setting the direction and making the decisions. You rarely need someone else’s permission as there is minimal or no impact to other stakeholders outside of your area of responsibility.

The middle ring provides you some level of influence and control but requires collaboration with others. This might be a project where you are not the project owner, and the project requires resources or input from you or your team.

The outer ring are those areas where you have no influence and no control. The decisions made here may have a significant impact to you or your team, but no one’s asking for your opinion about it. A reorganization is an example of a decision being made in the outer ring.

So how do you keep your frustration level low and perform at your best within these boundaries?

Set your course to success

Ask yourself the following questions:

Why do I care?

When you feel yourself starting to get frustrated or angry at an issue, find out what triggered your response.

  • Is it because you would have handled things differently?
  • Maybe you see the impacts the decision might have downstream.
  • Or perhaps you don’t think the decision was an ethical one.

There could be many different reasons – the important thing is that you recognize why it triggered you, and if your reaction warrants further consideration.

What ring is this issue in?

Next, identify the ring the issue falls in.

  • If the issue is within the inner ring, you have the ability and the responsibility to affect positive change.
  • The middle ring may provide some opportunities for you to make a positive impact depending on the situation.
  • The outer ring is most likely totally out of your sphere of influence or control. Expending any effort in this area is only going to frustrate you, or even worse, make you appear as insubordinate if you continue to complain.

What are my options?

Now that you know why you care and which ring this issue is in, it’s time to consider your options.

Depending on the situation you could:

  • Take action to make the situation better in cases where you have the influence and control to do so.
  • Comply and do your best to support the decisions that were made without your input.
  • Raise the issue with your manager or other appropriate parties and collectively pursue resolution.
  • Do nothing. Sometimes doing nothing is the best approach, especially in situations that belong in that outer ring where you have no influence and no control.

Remember the Serenity Prayer? Next time you’re faced with a frustrating situation, ask yourself the three questions above, and then read the Serenity Prayer.

How do you handle a dysfunctional work environment? Share your thoughts with us!