Buzzwords don’t have to be long to be grating.

Take, for example, the word “team,” which I freely confess appears quite often in this space.

Only my use of “team” doesn’t grate at all, because (1) I rarely couple its use with even-more-grating sports metaphors, and (2) I’m (usually) careful to limit its usage to denoting collections of people who are working toward the same goal, and who trust each other to be working toward the same goal.

Use #2 comes from an old but very useful model developed by a researcher with the unfortunate name of Bruce Wayne Tuchman, unfortunate because, in addition to being named after Batman’s alter ego he also shares a middle name with a disproportionate number of murderers, not that he was ever suspected of such villainy; not that any of this has much to do with the point of what follows; also, if your middle name also happens to be “Wayne” I hope you haven’t taken offense; and if your middle name happens to be “Wayne” and you have taken offense I sincerely hope you have no murderous tendencies.

Where was I? Oh, yes, “team” and its misuse.

Regular readers, and even more so those who have read Leading IT: <Still> the Toughest Job in the World will recall that one of the eight tasks of leadership is managing team dynamics. Even the less-enlightened usually understand teamwork matters, and so use “team” where “group,” “bunch,” or “committee” might be more accurate.

For that matter, propagandists sometimes disparage team-ish collections of people who are aligned to a shared purpose the propagandist disagrees with by using terms like “crowd,” “gang,” or “mob” to deride them.

So if you ever read something about the “KJR crowd” to refer to those who don’t accept the notion of internal customers, you’ll know what’s going on. I haven’t, but I’d like to. Persecution is good publicity, after all.

Huh. I keep sliding away from the point. Let’s get back to it.

To be more exact than I usually am, all teams are groups, not all groups are teams. It’s a square/rectangle kind of thing.

What distinguishes teams from other groups is that they’re populated with people who both trust each other and are all trying to accomplish much the same thing.

Like, for example, the exact opposite of our current Congress … a point I make not to lose subscribers who are tired of my alleged political commentary but to illustrate with a well-known example. Once upon a time, most members of Congress really did share the common purpose of wanting to improve this country and really did trust each other to have this shared purpose, no matter how much they disagreed about how to improve things.

It’s an important distinction for all teams, whose members aren’t expected to agree with each other about everything, but whose members are expected to reach compromises they can all agree to.

While we’re at it, let’s look at other sorts of group that are common in business situations to see how and whether they should differ from teams.

Start with committees. As with teams, members of effective committees trust each other. Unlike teams, they generally lack a shared sense of purpose: Members of committees are there to represent their own team’s interests. See “Congress,” above, only with trust restored.

Then there are departments … under the best of circumstances, teams of teams. It’s an interesting dynamic. In a department, all members of all teams should share the department’s purpose — its charter and goals.

But individual members of one team need not trust individual members of other teams, not that this would be a problem if they did. But they do need to trust the other teams that make up the department taken as a whole.

Similar logic applies as you move up the organization, from departments to divisions, divisions to business units and so on.

So when an executive refers to the enterprise and everyone in it as a team, there are three possibilities.

One is that everyone does trust the parts of the organization they aren’t personally members of. The second is that the executive would like it if they did.

The third? A sports metaphor is in your future.

Trust me.


Well this is gratifying, other than getting no credit: According to a story in Bloomberg News,White House, Equifax Agree: Social Security Numbers Must Go” (Nafeesa Syeed and Elizabeth Dexheimer, 10/4/2017).

While I’d rather my vindication came from a more credible pair of sources, I’ll take it where I can get it.

Speaking of revisiting a subject, as regular readers know, one of my hobbies is collecting sources of market failure. Another one has just popped up, and like the others it’s relevant to you: ATM fees are going up, and have been for 11 straight years, this according to a recent story in Bloomberg, “ATM Fees are Out of Control” (Susan Woolley, 10/2/2017).

I know you, as a regular KJR reader, are as astonished as if you’d read “Sun sets in west for 11 straight days” or “Helium balloons continue to rise.” Let me reassure you. The rise has been at roughly three times the overall rate of inflation. It’s real.

Still, inflation is an average — the price of different products rises at different rates. So it isn’t that ATM fees are increasing that’s interesting. It’s why: ATM fees are rising because demand has been steadily falling.

The interrelationships among supply, demand, and price are supposed to be governed by a universal and inviolable law.

But it’s only inviolable until we violate one of its underlying assumptions.

So just as the second law of thermodynamics (entropy, which states the net disorder in a system must always increase) only applies when the total amount of energy in the system remains constant (snowflakes can form when it doesn’t), so the law of supply and demand only works when the cost of supply is variable.

But as much of the cost of banks’ ATM networks is fixed, supply is, in the short and medium term, fixed as well. Demand, on the other hand, changes one consumer purchase at a time. Over the 11-year span in question, consumer purchases have steadily switched from cash to plastic, and, for that matter, from plastic to on-line.

A fixed number of ATM machines divided by fewer cash withdrawals means a higher amortized cost per withdrawal.

Viola! Market failure at its finest.

But it isn’t just that the cost of supply is fixed in this system (or semi-variable for those of you who insist on such matters). There’s another, hidden assumption this system violates: The law of supply and demand assumes whoever is selling a product is competing for customers’ business … not only against those who sell highly similar wares, but also against those who sell equivalent wares.

Which is to say, banks aren’t in the business of selling cash to consumers, so they have no particular reason to make cash a more attractive payment vehicle than credit and debit cards.

So I suppose it’s equally valid to say cash isn’t a product, so there’s no market here to fail.

What do these perspectives have to do with running an IT organization, or, for that matter, any cost center in a large business?

It has to do with how too many executives in large enterprises think about supply and demand: Just as banks, faced with a decreasing demand for cash money, will eventually shrink their ATM networks until the cost of supply is more in line with decreased demand, so large enterprises, when faced with decreasing demand for their products and services, tend to invest far more time and attention to decreasing supply than increasing demand.

That is, they lay people off, diminishing delivery capacity, with far more gusto than figuring out why they aren’t selling enough products and services, and what they can do to fix the problem.

This can and does enter the world of the absurd, where cost-cutting includes shrinking the sales force and reducing the advertising budget.

Not to mention the IT budget, much of which, in this day and age, is devoted to acquiring and retaining customers, and increasing their walletshare.

What can you as an IT leader do to prevent cost-cutting as a way to deal with declining revenues?

If you’re facing this situation, nothing. It’s too late. But if the business isn’t in crisis, here’s what you can and should do.

Businesses can invest in only four areas: Revenue enhancement, cost reduction, risk management, and mission. Your job: Recommend that all strategy discussions start with deciding how to allocate the company’s investment budget among these four bottom-line goods.

It’s a way to make sure the company’s management culture includes a revenue focus. Because it is, after all, always the culture.

Not that I’m going to say I told you so.

But I did.