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Understanding Our Organizations & Ourselves through Dichotomies


I haven’t blogged much here lately, but a lot’s been changing in my life, both professionally & personally. Over the past few months, I’ve been adjusting to my new role featuring a return to service desk leadership and starting to channel my strategic planning energies toward that capacity. 

In short, I’ve been gradually losing altitude in terms of the ‘Bird’s Eye View’ while gaining an opportunity to utilize more of my full potential. Of course, I’m delighted in my new role, but it’s taking time & effort to shift my perspective as needed. In the meantime, I’ve been learning a lot about the culture of the team I supervise & the ways in which my talents & perspectives may fit. 

As I’m settling into this new role, I’m thinking a lot about dichotomies that I keep noticing in the workplace. I normally focus more on ambiguity & middle ground than I do on dichotomy, but the juxtaposition is proving to be a helpful lens to characterize what I’m seeing unfold around me.

The first of these relates to the confluence of my strategic role & my new role: the dichotomy between the agile world of tomorrow & the siloed world of yesterday. At first glance, this dichotomy seems pretty cut and dry. I do think it’s important to de-silo when in a particularly siloed environment. I also think that agile organizational structure or practices would be particularly suitable for the bring-your-own-device (BYOD) culture that comprises most of the support environment for most of us currently doing IT support. However, it’s not that simple.

At least in this particular case, my “both/and” perspective is proving pretty useful. In some environments, which side of this dichotomy your organization falls will determine your entire structure & how you go about providing services. Some environments, like mine, will always need elements on one side of this dichotomy so a both/and situation arises if the other side of the dichotomy starts to have value. 

Higher Education, no matter where your work places you within that arena, will probably always be siloed. The very term for many of us conjures up images of the ‘ivory towers’ commonly associated with the Ivy League. However, that aforementioned BYOD culture is rapidly expanding everywhere technology travels. 

When you’ve got new portable devices popping up all the time, new methods of support must be constantly evaluated & frequently implemented. In such a world, a more de-siloed agile model where layers of bureaucracy & red tape are dismantled to facilitate a quicker change process & update schedule would seem to be the most effective. If we de-silo too much, however, we’ll lose part of what makes our culture unique & we otherwise wouldn’t mesh well with the university we support. So, there’s a balance between those sides of the dichotomy that we need to reach.

The other dichotomy characterizing my work life is proving to be a pretty useful lens in my new role: Self-care vs. what I’ll call Self-motivation. I’ve been spending a lot of time working with my team on what I’d call life-work balance. To that end, my mantra has already become “be kind to yourself.” As I prepare for my own impending medical leave happening sadly so soon after I stepped into this capacity, these words are resonating a lot in my own life. Of course, it’s a mantra I really need to work on applying to myself.

The employees I manage seem to often struggle with both sides of this work-life balance-oriented dichotomy. I’ve been reminding people to take time for self-care while also focus on the level of commitment I’d like to see while on the job. Like the other dichotomy, this one’s also very much a both/and situation. 

With that being said, I’d consider coaching that focuses on one thing at a time to be the most successful. As a result, the both/and in theory, at least in this case, becomes an either/or situation in practice. Identifying who needs coaching on which side of that dichotomy would be one of my primary goals at this point.

Now that I've written all of this out, I suppose I’ll always focus more on ambiguity & middle ground than I will on dichotomy, after all. At the very least, I’ll probably always search for a way to strike balance through revealing the big picture instead of settling in for hibernation on one dichotomous pole. If there’s a lesson here, I think that’s the one.