Le blog d'Archiloque

Trusted peers network

I’m thinking of this article by John Cutler, and especially this part:

People who understand the architecture, who influence who, and who can barter favors with other groups can remain effective for much longer. They also tend to have more influence in the organization overall, so their perspective of the situation often carries much weight. These are people who don’t need to file a ticket (“we didn’t do that back in the day when people just got stuff done!”). They’re valuable due to their contextual understanding, so they build a fair amount of social capital (though sometimes they can dismiss newcomers). They simply don’t know or understand the experience of arriving as a fresh set of eyes and trying to make sense of the organization, its architecture, and how things get done.

The large organizations I worked at had at least one informal trusted peers network (TPN): reliable people that knows each other, that often share the same kind of world view, and that can be called for help.

Tapping a TPN

When working in a new organization reaching one of these networks is an important goal. It’s true as an employee who plan to spend some time working there, but even more as a temporary consultant who has a limited time to reach some goals: being able to tap in an existing network can make a big difference when you try to gather information or to build some momentum.

I suspect knowing how to do it is a skill that can be honed up to a certain point: how to identify people who have high chance to be in this kind of group, and from there how to find a way into it.

Up to a certain point only unfortunately, because personal characteristics like your gender can make joining the network easier or harder depending on the organization.

Being in the network vs. being glue

A few months ago there was a lot of talk about being glue. Being a part of a TPN is very helpful, and probably a prerequisite to be an efficient glue, but it’s useful even if you’re not glue and don’t intend to become one.

I’m mentioning it because I’m a bit afraid that the glue discourse could discourage people that want to avoid the glue track to join a TPN as a preventive measure.

The temptation of going peers-only

Being in a TPN has a drawback: when you have a set of unofficial shortcuts that enable you to make things done, it can be tempting to rely on it as much as you can and thus to only use the official processes when you can’t escape it.

People have valid reasons to do it, but it can be bad for the system as a whole.

People in a TPN often have some political weight in the organization because of their TPN membership but also because of the same characteristics that allowed them to be part of it.

When an official process is not working as intended, or when its becoming worse, these people have two ways to deal with it:

  1. Use their TPN to skip the official process more or less entirely

  2. Try to use their political weight to try to improve the process

The first one will get things done, is low effort, and makes the person look valuable for the organization.

But it also means that the process won’t improve for the other people. And there is a possible vicious circle where the worst things become, fewer people that could improve the system try to do it because the work and political requirements increase, which means less pushback against processes going worse.

Even if being in a TPN can give some level of protection against the global system, it is not total, and working with miserable people can feel bad even if you’re the hero. Also people will notice there are rules for them and not for you, and they will resent it.

Systemic solutions for systemic issues

The solution is not individual: you can’t ask people to do something that goes against their self-interest. I mean of course you can ask, but don’t be surprised if it doesn’t work.

What is possible on a system level is to reward people that try to improve processes, and to try to not reward people that get things done by using their TPN unnecessarily.

If you’re senior enough and member of a TPN, it can be good to check if other members don’t tap too much into the TPN when the normal process would be enough.

Showing to people that are not in the TPN that you mostly follow the official process and only call your peers when needed can also protect you against resentment.