Is your IT department your savior, your enemy or something in between? It might be all those things, but have you ever compared your Head of Technology to Sauron, the bad guy from Lord of the Rings?
I was talking to a client the other day about the challenges remote workers face and the subject of IT came up. The client made an observation that I hadn’t heard, but it struck a chord in my little nerd heart. “Our CTO is like Sauron. He’s looking for one ring to rule them all.”
If you’re watching the new Amazon series, The Rings of Power, or you’re a fan of The Lord of the Rings movies (or books. You remember books, right?) you might know that way back in the mists of time, the different races of creatures—humans, elves, dwarves, those scabby-faced, nasty orcs—each got a ring so they could choose their leaders and work amongst themselves. But the wizard Sauron had something special. He forged the one ring that ruled all the others.
Is there some truth in the comparison?
Now, comparing the well-meaning and very nice person in charge of your organization’s technology lifeline to one of literature’s most feared villains is going a little too far. But consider the circumstances. You had disparate groups of beings, each with their own needs and personalities. Occasionally war would break out when things got tense. Is it any wonder that someone would think it’s easier to just have one source of power. Nobody gets everything they want, but there’s less chaos.
How your company resembles Middle Earth
Now, read that again, using the various departments of your company as the various beings. The Marketing department needs a system that will send emails to the outside world that don’t get caught in spam filters. Sales wants something simple. Your Security people want something impregnable, and your engineers want something efficient and doesn’t need a lot of that touchy-feely stuff. Each of these groups has communication and collaboration needs that are met by certain tools. Odds are, they aren’t all the same tool. One group likes Slack, another likes Teams, someone else wants Salesforce while another group heard about some cool tool that’s free so why not give that a try?
Now imagine you are responsible for choosing, paying for, and maintaining the digital lifeline. It is natural, in fact it’s essential, to find the fewest possible solutions that will meet the most needs for the most people. Ideally, you’d find one tool that serves everyone. You’re seeking the one ring to rule them all.
What we learned during the pandemic
This was most noticeable during the early days of the pandemic when people were scrambling to find anything to help their teams be productive and connected. Zoom was free, so kind of came out of nowhere. That was great, but what about when Marketing was using Zoom and the engineers were on WebEx, and someone had to manage all those licenses?
That’s how all-in-one solutions like Microsoft Teams gained a foothold and kind of took over. It’s not that they were the best presentation tool (they’re not) or had the best features (they don’t). What they had was a simple way to pay for and integrate with other tools the company was already using (assuming they were using Windows and Office products and software). Teams was pretty close to being the One Ring.
So, it was a simple decision to make, but now the IT director is the evil Sauron because the team can’t use the product they prefer. Sometimes, it’s a simple matter of preference. Sometimes, a group has needs that the all-in-one product can’t meet.
Whether you are making the decision or left to live with it, Here are some factors to consider:
If you’re selecting software and making rules
- Do you really understand the day to day needs of the various teams? Dwarves work underground and mine jewels and fight with axes. Elves spend all day singing and being beautiful and are big on archery. Odds are they need different tools. People who do complex presentations like trainers and sales engineers may need a more robust tool than IT uses to share screens.
- When setting permissions, are you flexible about allowing the right people to work in the right way? Recording meetings may be unnecessary for some groups, but essential to people who work across time zones.
- Provide training. Real training. A huge amount of technology investment is lost because of slow adoption or people not using the tools as anticipated. It’s a legitimate expense that pays off.
If you lead one of the groups being ruled by the One Ring
- Do you really understand the features and capabilities of the new tool? Often people pine for a feature of their old technology only to discover the new tool does the same thing but it’s called by a different name or hidden on a different menu.
- Have you advocated for permissions, capabilities, or tools in a way that makes sense? Sauron—sorry , your CTO—is not unreasonable. They might not be aware of exactly what you need and why. Make your case to them clearly, logically, and unemotionally.
- If your people need training, provide it. Talk to your people to determine their needs, then invest in making sure they know how, when, and why to optimize the new tool.
Sauron didn’t set out to be the bad guy. He was just looking for a way to make sense of the chaos. Having one ring isn’t a bad thing, it’s how you wield it that matters.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Co-Founder and Product Line Manager
Wayne Turmel is the co-founder and Product Line Manager for the Remote Leadership Institute. For twenty years he’s been obsessed with helping managers communicate more effectively with their teams, bosses and customers. Wayne is the author of several books that demystify communicating through technology including Meet Like You Mean It – a Leader’s Guide to Painless & Productive Virtual Meetings, 10 Steps to Successful Virtual Presentations and 6 Weeks to a Great Webinar. His work appears frequently in Management-Issues.com.
Wayne, along with Kevin Eikenberry, has co-authored the definitive book on leading remotely, The Long-Distance Leader: Rules for Remarkable Remote Leadership. Wayne and Kevin’s follow-up book, The Long-Distance Teammate, offers a roadmap for success not just for leaders, but for everyone making the transition to working remotely.
The latest book from Wayne and Kevin shows leaders how to design a team culture that has a one-team mindset and gets great results under hybrid-work conditions. You can pre-order The Long-Distance Team: Designing Your Team for Everyone’s Success now.