Management Speak: Our division initiatives will be successful only if we act together across the company, managing cross-organizational dependencies and maximizing the synergy based on the company’s broad assets.
Translation: We need to get another cost center manager to pay for them.
– IS Survivalist Kerry Leeburn shows how to elicit cooperation.

Humans choose sides and hate the other. It’s built in. Ethnic groups deprived of outside disdain fragment into ethnic subgroups that insult each other. Religions deprived of religious persecution fragment into religious factions that persecute each other. Minnesotans tell Iowa jokes.

A business deprived of strong competition isn’t immune to this human tendency either – it fragments into departments whose members make snide comments about each other while their managers vie for budgets and other resources. If you want to see an example of this, chances are the only tool you’ll need is a mirror.

I received a bunch of mail following a recent column recommending that IS establish multiple PC standards based on different kinds of work habits. Most of my mail makes it clear that lots of IS professionals still view the rest of the business with disdain and classify end-users into three groups: Idiots, troublemakers, and what was your name again?

Before you accuse me of IS-bashing and throw aside your issue of InfoWorld in disgust, ask yourself this: Do you or your analysts tell dumb-user stories? If they snicker at white-out on the screen, photocopied diskettes, and mistaking an answering machine for a modem, you have a problem.

Do your end-users snicker at the “Helpless Desk,” call outside consultants instead of IS analysts, and sneer at your pocket-protector-wearing chip-heads? If so, you have a problem, and if you don’t know whether they do or not you have a bigger problem.

As an industry we tend to focus on technologies to solve our problems, and when technologies alone aren’t enough we apply new methodologies or write new policies and procedures. Throwing technologies, methodologies, and policies into an atmosphere of mutual distrust has a predictable result: Zilch.

The psychological cause of the mutual distrust between IS and the rest of the business is the same xenophobia that afflicts us socially and internationally. Fortunately, within a corporation it’s curable.

How? Glad you asked. Here are some concrete actions you can take to create a cooperative atmosphere between IS and the rest of the company:

Trust-builder No. 1: Don’t be part of the problem. It’s easy to instill loyalty and esprit de corps by fostering an us vs. them attitude. Often, the process is unconscious. Watch your own behavior. Never disparage other parts of the company.

Trust-builder No. 2: Stamp out the word they. Insist on we: “They haven’t told us what they need,” becomes “Let’s figure out what we need.” If you can’t use “we” you don’t have the right people in the room. Get them there, or at least put a name on whatever part of “they” doesn’t turn into “we.” “They won’t let us do what we need to do,” becomes “How do we persuade Jim Smith of what we need to do?”

Trust-builder No. 3: Foster mutual problem-solving. “You” becomes “we,” too. “You need to do this,” becomes “We need to do this.” Include both end-users and IS professionals in your teams so it’s always “we.” Working together builds trust.

Trust-builder No. 4: Don’t allow blame. Don’t allow its synonyms, either. “Who caused this mess?” is usually a waste of everyone’s time and energy. “How do we fix it?” takes care of problems and builds trust in the bargain.

Trust-builder No. 5: Replace requirements with design. When you determine requirements, you ask, “What do you need?” When you design you ask, “How can we make this work?” It’s a joint effort now. You’re a partner, not just taking dictation.

Trust-builder No. 6: Foster xenophobia. People distrust members of other groups. You can’t eliminate this very human tendency, so exploit it instead. “How can we make this work?” becomes “How can we turn this into something that helps us beat those schlemiels over at the XYZ Company?”

Distrust between IS and the rest of the business is bad and getting worse. Whose fault is it? See trust-builder #4 for the answer. What’s important is that you … sorry, we … need to fix it. It’s our job.