Stuck in the Middle: Fence Mender

I appreciate [tag]Robert Frost[/tag]’s questioning of why fences make good neighbors in [tag]Mending Wall[/tag]. It seems like a construct at opposition to getting along and a free existence. It is however, not so in more effective business, groups and organizations.

Many leaders and individual contributors are very focused on building, mending and extending their fences. This too seems oddly inconsistent with a friendly little workplace, but alas it is how it is. Perhaps fence mending is a corporate culture issue as much as a personnel concern.

So what type of fences exist in corporations? Organization, process and the ad-hoc fence – all of these magically remove accountability of ownership when someone throws something over the fence. The fence mender can be a leader or a individual contributor, as a mid-level leader this is an persona which if effectively dealt which can dramatically improve the execution and [tag]cross-functional[/tag] execution.

The fence mender is consistently proving the value of fences for lack of ownership, since they are consistently defining the fence with forwarded emails and copious “cc-ing” of folks, hoping that someone will pick it up.

Real easy to improve interactions in this mode – just ignore it or follow up with the mender and clarify alternative next steps for that person to work. The other way to change this organizational behavior is to find revenue risk or to optimize the process (less boxes and arrows). This behavior existing in both Product and Process roles, which I’m not sure I agree with some of the conclusion/assertions, I do like the construct, since in Howard’s description most Fencer Menders are in product jobs, from what I have seen, but the most damage (revenue or risk can be done process-centric roles.

Since a fence mender can be a worker bee too, it’s just an opportunity for growth. If you manage the fence mender, it represents an opportunity for embracing accountability and personal ownership of an issue which has found it’s way to you.

As a rule, if a customer, team member or manager (actually these are all customers if you think about it) reaches out to you it is implied that they are looking for the Menders assistance – and assistance to closure. So in fact a fence mender is anyone in the organization who is willing to flip things “over the fence” and use the fence or the public throwing over the fence as an excuse for why something didn’t go well.

In the Vassal organization ( A Vassal leader is not one we have examined yet – but think BIG organization), there are even fences in the same organization and even within smaller groups/team. Typically these organizations are horribly overstaffed and each person has a very small zone of ownership, skill requirement and little to no accountability.

In principle, a Fence Mender organization is overly [tag]process-centric[/tag] (way too many [tag]swim lanes[/tag] and boxes), lacking creativity (I do what is in my box) and generally the domain of the mediocre (just get it out of my box). To that end:

‘Why do they make good neighbors? Isn’t it
Where there are cows?
But here there are no cows.
Before I built a wall I’d ask to know
What I was walling in or walling out,
And to whom I was like to give offence.

– R. Frost

It appears the only person who is given offence is the “customer” in need of something. So why is it that fences make good neighbors?

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  • Reply spatially relevant » Blog Archive » Stuck in the Middle: Got MBIFM? November 22, 2007 at 6:23 pm

    […] several leadership personas (the geologist, collaborator, Visualist, Vassalizer, amoeba and the fence mender) – to date these were leadership styles which represented themes in execution – today’s […]

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