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“Hey left hand, you know what right hand is doing? Oh, no?”

Here’s a quick little story.

I tutor at an inner city elementary school on Tuesdays and Thursdays.

Yesterday I go over there for a 8:45am to 9:35am shift.

I go to pick up my second grade student.

His homeroom teacher is like “Oh no, you can’t do this time on Tuesdays anymore.”

“OK. Why?”

“We have this new program (name of program) and I need this time to execute it and use the computers.”

“OK, cool.”

I went back to the program I tutor with. They had no idea.

Some people who lead the school had no idea.

Now, ultimately I adjusted the Tuesday time and we good. It took all of six minutes.

But I kept thinking about this “left hand, right hand” concept.

Doesn’t that seem to define most of work in some ways?

What is “left hand, right hand?”

Jeff needs someone to work on Project A.

Tom feels Project B is the priority.

Everyone that comes in contact with Jeff and Tom for the next four weeks will be told something entirely different, even though they have the same title and work in the same department.

Jeff is the left hand.

Tom is the right hand.

Never the twain shall meet.

And everyone else gets run in 7,228 circles.

Why does this happen?

A bunch of different reasons:

  1. Unclear priority
  2. Too many stakeholders
  3. Generally shitty management
  4. Multiple bosses on every project
  5. General lack of self-awareness throughout white-collar work
  6. Silos
  7. A lack of understanding around what the project objective of any given project might be

Can we fix this?

Nope.

It can be fixed at the individual manager/team level, yes.

“This is a priority and that can wait.”

“The difference between A and B is this…”

Unfortunately, that almost never happens.

Communication at work is a giant cluster mess. 

That usually happens because work is not really about productivity.

It’s about control.

People need control over their pockets, which is why the left hand (said pocket) doesn’t want to communicate with the right hand (another pocket that threatens their sense of control).

Until we admit that work is largely an exercise in personal validation, we can’t solve any of these issues.

“Left hand, right hand” will continue unabated until the robots come for all our jobs.

What’s so sad is this:

This is a relatively easy problem to fix.

We just need to communicate priorities and goals better.

But we can’t, because we need to flex OUR zone of control and KEEP THE OTHERS AWAY.

Le sigh.

Left hand, meet right hand. You’re probably not too well acquainted.

Ted Bauer

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