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The Fiefdom Syndrome:  Cliques and Turf Wars in Bureaucracies

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  There are cliques in America as elsewhere, Lady Hunstanton. But true American society consists simply of all the good women and good men we have in our country.

Oscar Wilde
  A Woman of No Importance
 

  Those who, like myself, have an active and intimate association with the caucus and the Federation know that in practice the new system, so far from destroying the rule of cliques, merely substituted one set of cliques for another...

-Wemyss Raid in Memoir of Sir Wemyss Raid

Fiefdom:

Territorial games (aka turf wars) and cliques (informal groups) are important features of modern organization. I would say both immanent features of modern bureaucracies. Like any social construct it can serve good or bad purposes. So we should distinguish between cohesive and toxic cliques and  constructive and destructive territorial games. 

I would like to avoid simplistic attitude: tear down those walls. It might be much smarter to try to exploit those walls and covert channels of communication to your advantage. 

I disagree with Herbold, former COO for Microsoft, that "fiefdoms" --  groups who control the flow of information out of their offices as a way of gaining agency or power  -- are one of the most dangerous problems a company can face. This is just one mechanism people inside bureaucracies try to protect themselves and enhance their status.  After all information is power. He correctly states that there are three basic human tendencies that naturally result in creation of fiefdoms in bureaucratic organizations:

  1. We have an innate need to control the data or information that reflects on our work.
  2. We have a natural desire to be independent and in control of our destiny.
  3. We have a natural tendency to exaggerate the quality of our work and its importance to the organization. This tendency is called  Collective narcissism, a type of narcissism where an individual has an inflated self-love of his or her own ingroup, a group in which an individual is personally involved.  Collective narcissism asserts that one can have a similar excessively high opinion of a group, and that a group can function as a narcissistic entity.

But the key ingredient here is the competence of the manager who is trying to protect his/her turf. And areas in which he/she is trying to do so:

As M. Cullinan noted in his review:

Herbold is correct in his assertion that fiefdom behavior impairs the profitability of corporate America. However, I think his methods may be worse than the fiefdoms.

After reading this book, I get a picture of Mr. Herbold's consulting path through major corporations, slashing staff and dismantling existing structures wherever he goes. As an experienced professional who has lived through the pain and chaos of layoffs, I believe that it is immoral for corporate executives to regard staff as throw-away cost generators.

I was brought up to believe employment involved a certain amount of loyalty on both sides. That's not the case in Herbbold's world.

We can distinguish several distinct types territorial games (strategies directed in protecting area of authority you acquired as a manager of particular unit):
  1. Strategic Noncompliance. Agreeing upfront to take action while having no intention of taking that action, or cooperating in order to buy time to find a way of avoiding taking action. When you cannot easily refuse, then the simple response is to say yes then to delay and diminish your delivery. Make excuses, do the wrong thing or become unavailable. You can even band together with others to say 'no' in a collaborative voice (this is what Trade Unions can do).
  2. Information Manipulation. Withholding or putting a spin on information, or covering up or giving false information. As a manager of information, you first hoard it (not sharing it), for example by gaining expertise in areas that may be of value in the future. You can also gain control of the gateways to that information. When you hold the keys, you can also bluff that you know more than you actually do. The key here is always to use information whilst giving away as little as possible. Information is power, and an information manipulator uses it in any and every way possible. If other people use information against you, you seek to discredit both the person and their information.
  3. Occupation. Marking territory, maintaining an imposing physical presence, acting as the gatekeeper for vital information, and monopolizing relationships, resources or information. In this games, your mark out your territory, such as putting your name on everything or grabbing intellectual leadership in a defined area. You then act vigorously to defend your territory, patrolling the borders and guarding the gates. A tiger response to attacks will put off other possible attackers. You can also spend time looking for other areas to occupy.
  4. Shunning. Subtly or overtly excluding an individual in a way that punishes him or her, or orchestrating a group's behavior so that someone is obviously "out-group." This is the classic game of ostracizing people, 'sending them to Coventry' or a host of other ways of casting them out socially. This is a severe punishment for social beings. It can also be done in small ways, such as avoiding eye contact or being 'unavailable'.
  5. Discrediting opponents. Using personal attacks or irrelevant criticisms to create doubt about another person's competence or credibility. When others have power, you can drain it away by discrediting them. You can find their dark secrets or even create them with seductive traps, then expose them - it's called 'entrapment'. Be careful to stay clean yourself, getting others to do your dirty work and using 'humor' and 'truth' to deflect pointed fingers.
  6. Intimidation. "Growling," yelling, glaring or making threats to scare off an individual. In this game, the objective never to fight by showing how dangerous you can be. Using such tools as sarcasm and cynicism can make you a feared opponent. You may well want to build your reputation as a dragon-slayer. Just a threat from you is enough to make most people back down.
  7. Filibuster. Using excessive verbiage to prevent action, out-talk objectors in a meeting or monopolize, and thereby exhaust, meeting time. This is the game played by politicians everywhere, as they grab the talking-stick and then keep talking until there is no time left for anyone else to say anything. It can be a fine delaying tactic if this is necessary.
  8. Invisible Walls. Actively instigating actions or creating counterproductive perceptions so that an argued directive will be, if not impossible, extremely difficult to implement. Building invisible walls around your territory makes it difficult for people to find their way in and attack you. Mazes and false pathways help them to get lost, tired and dispirited. You can then be kind and show them the way out.
  9. Camouflage. Creating a distraction, emphasizing the inconsequential, sending someone off on a wild goose chase or deliberately triggering someone's anxiety buttons. This game is about distracting and confusing them to keep them away from your position. It is like the Invisible Wall game but played at a greater distance, hiding yourself before they even come close.
  10. Powerful Alliances. Using relationships with powerful people to intimidate, impress or threaten others; engaging in name-dropping and strategic displays of influence over important decision makers. If you do not have power yourself, you can find it in other people who wheedle thier way into powerful circles, ingratiate themselves to the brass and use this as a weapon of choice. This also stresses the importance of informal networks, which you can call on in times of need.
  11. Nasty tricks: Such as blackmail and bribery.

Simmons identifies three key emotions that drive games

The big question is what you can do about these games if you are on the receiving end. Simmons recommends one of three tactics:

  1. Refuse to play the game: It takes two to tango, and if you (and others) won't play they may have to give up.
  2. Name the game: Exposure, so everyone knows the game, is a great way of neutralizing tricksters.
  3. Change the game: Taking control yourself allows you to reframe and redirect the energy of the situation.

Michael Crouch in Quality Turf Wars is less realistic but some of his advice can be taken, if only with a grain of salt: 

Forget the word "should"

They shouldn't be doing that, should they? No, but they are. So forget the word "should." Stop yourself every time you think, "They should be able to see …" or "The negative long-term implications are ..." or "The quick fix costs them more in the end." If the evidence tells you they don't see, use that as constructive data! You will fare much better by understanding what they do see before you begin swaying them toward your viewpoint.

Focusing too much on "should" distracts you from correctly addressing the emotional dynamics at play. People are people. They can get territorial about anything they perceive as valuable. These days, this includes many intangible things -- relationships, authority, information -- and these territorial feelings will cause employees to protect their turf. Your efforts to implement quality changes will create territorial games. They shouldn't, but they will.

Pre-empt the games

...Territorial feelings are easy to anticipate. Whenever an initiative involves any kind of change in resource allocation or redefines a process so that a treasured "right way to do things" becomes the wrong way, you can expect some territorial games. Figure out who might feel as though the initiative is invading their territory. Then make some upfront agreements about cooperation that specifically address the anticipated games.

Because these games often are linked to ego protection, I like to establish a group agreement against game-playing that overrides the group ego's initial impulse to protect their turf through games. For example, I recently worked with a group where downsizing was part of their future plans. I anticipated that the needed reduction-in-force was more easily embraced as a concept than a reality. Several senior managers were already taking steps to protect their departments (territories). Before we even began discussing specifics, I introduced the 10 territorial games to the entire group and facilitated agreements to minimize game-playing.

During the relative calm before the stormy reality, all senior managers agreed: They would not play any of these territorial games. However, once the plan narrowed to whom, specifically, would be losing staff, the inevitable impulses to make everyone look busy (occupation), rehire someone as a consultant (strategic noncompliance) or bully the human resources people until they stopped asking for job descriptions (intimidation) had to be reviewed consciously against the list. This tactic doesn't always work, but it allows you to highlight previously covert game-playing in a way that renders it ineffective. It is much easier to get away with a strategic noncompliance when it doesn't have a name.

Keep in mind that if you are implementing long-term quality enhancements, you may want to concentrate first on creating a culture where game-playing is more the exception than the rule.


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[Sep 10, 2011] The Financial Zoo An Interview with Satyajit Das – Part I «

naked capitalism

SD: Fraternities; ‘frat boys’ (and they are mainly boys) as the Americans would say. It’s a monoculture. They generally go to the same schools, the same universities; they have similar backgrounds and spend time with each other reinforcing their narrow worldview. Even the few outsiders who make it in – usually by dint of sheer desire and skill, usually in making money – seek to be ‘insiders’. It means that they can only see the world through the same lenses and perspectives. They can’t think outside the consensus – whatever it is at a given time. They can’t see that things could be different to what they perceive it to be.

They also see themselves as superior beings – ‘God but with a better suit’. The reason for their superiority is that they make more money than anyone else which in my view is purely accidental. But in their minds they see money and brilliance as synonymous. David Hare captured this neatly in his play ‘The Power of One’. He has a character, who looks remarkably like Gillian Tett from the Financial Times, say: "These people genuinely believe they’re masters of the universe. And why are they masters of the universe? Because they’re paid fifty times as much as anyone else. So they must be cleverer than anyone else." Unfortunately, as subsequent events demonstrated, they weren’t that clever; they were just in the right place at the right time, at least for a while.

This culture creates a kind of ‘financial nihilism’ – those on the inside can’t see the consequences of their actions on other people at all. That’s because other people are inferior – outside the bubble. Justin Cartwright in his novel ‘Other People’s Money’ has one of his characters describe how financiers see ordinary people: "The rest of us are just the extras, without speaking parts, just fill in the blank spaces in the frame." I think that’s accurate – these people really have a weird sense of being always right, not to mention generally superior. They can’t see what damage they have caused. They still think that they were right. The fascinating thing is that ordinary people and even powerful people like politicians actually believed that they were really special. Maybe, they still do.

[Sep 10, 2011] Cliques and Exclusionary Behavior in the Workplace

Jun 22, 2011 Achieve Solutions

The workplace is filled with networking opportunities, networks that enhance career advancement, build social connections, and provide emotional support. Among these networks, cliques develop. As a manager, how you model appropriate boundaries, embrace diversity, and recognize the early signs of toxic clique behaviors can be critical to a team’s success.

Cohesive vs. toxic cliques

While cohesive cliques boost morale and foster team camaraderie, toxic cliques breed workplace conflict and exclusionary behaviors. This leads to distrust among employees and frequent team in-fighting. Examples of toxic clique behaviors include purposefully withholding information, delaying projects, and engaging in negative workplace gossip.

"Cliques can foster alignment with a shared vision and can help break down silos," says Scott Anderson, executive director of the North Carolina Association of Educators. "The challenge is to ensure that cliquish behaviors do not lead to fragmentation in an organization with reduced employee boundaries and failure to grow."

Impact of toxic clique behaviors

Even in the most diverse workplaces, subconscious stereotyping or aligning with one clique may occur. While many toxic clique behaviors typically manifest from employee perceptions, management may unknowingly contribute to the problem. Some management behaviors to avoid include:

If you don’t confront toxic dynamics, exclusionary behavior may become exacerbated, causing turmoil among the team. This turmoil could lead to extreme dissention, decreased productivity, and ultimately the loss of top performers who become alienated by peers. When anger and rejection broods, there is an increased potential for workplace aggression and violence.

"LOCAL VETOES AND TERRITORIAL GAMES" by Benjamin Slotznick

Territorial games are characterized by the interaction of the power to enact and the power to prevent. This broad class of games (which includes simple games) provides particularly appropriate ways to model public choices in which individuals also have civil rights.

What distinguishes a winning coalition in a territorial game, is that a winner might not be able to do everything -- but only some things. Although the complement of a winning coalition is a losing coalition, to the extent that the winning coalition's power is limited, the complement of that winning coalition has become invested with the power to constrain the outcome of the game. The outcomes which such a limited losing coalition (or indeed any coalition) can prevent (or veto) constitute its territory.

This terminology recognizes that the power to exclude is one of the primary aspects of private property and individual rights. Importantly, in many of the most commonly examined performance situations in the collective choice literature (e.g. convex preference sets or a sufficiently unattractive status quo), the introduction of the exclusionary aspect of property rights can only add to the core, and in this sense, can only increase stability. On the other hand, for games with NIMBY preferences ("not in my back yard") most often associated with public bads, the introduction of property rights can also be destabilizing.

Quality Turf Wars

How turf battles undermine quality improvement -- and what you can do about them.

Turf battles are a fact of life -- and all too often a way of life -- in many organizations. But they are particularly destructive for companies involved in quality improvement. Turf battles can debilitate and defeat quality initiatives, and are often responsible for lost business opportunities that exact a high cost from the entire company. This article will take a look at some of the more common territorial tactics and suggest countermeasures to create a healthy and cooperative atmosphere while implementing quality changes.

The practice of turf warfare is ancient. One of the earliest examples on record is a 15th century B.C. tussle between a pharaoh who advocated adopting sun worship and high priests who were committed to maintaining Egypt's pantheon of gods. (The priests ultimately won; evidence suggests the king's early demise was not from natural causes.) The first textbook detailing how actually to conduct such battles was The Prince, written by the Italian "diplomat" Machiavelli in 1517.

The guerrilla tactics implicit in turf battles are devious in nature. Because most modern sensibilities are offended by such conduct, few people will acknowledge engaging in such practices. As an indication of the sensitivity of this topic, only three of 15 current and past senior managers and quality directors interviewed for this article would consent to be identified, much less quoted. Most shared their experiences only on the condition of anonymity. But evidence suggests the overwhelming majority of people in today's workplace have witnessed, participated in or been victims of fratricidal organizational turf battles.

After several years studying the phenomenon that everyone talks about but no one acknowledges doing, Annette Simmons, head of the Greensboro, North Carolina-based Group Process Consulting, is shedding some light into this dark corner of human organizational behavior. Her new book, Territorial Games: Understanding and Ending Turf Wars at Work (AMACOM Books), identifies the 10 most common turf tactics and offers some strategies to mitigate their impact.

Turf vs. turf

The following two illustrations of turf battles came from the collective experiences of Sharon Shehdan, former quality manager at Broadband Technologies and examiner for the North Carolina State Quality Leadership Foundation; Jane Martin, president of Martin & Co., a performance consulting firm; Winston Hodges, formerly with AT&T and now vice president of Professional Value Added, a management consulting firm; and me.

Illustration 1 -- After sidestepping several months of intensive lobbying, the CEO finally was graced with the light of understanding. He ordered a "quality strategy offsite" meeting for senior management, at which he expounded his newfound wisdom and commitment. The senior management team then convened as the quality council and unanimously voted to start a companywide total quality management effort. All professed their absolute conviction and pledged their commitment. "This is too good to be true," thought the quality director. It proved a prophetic insight.

Three weeks later, the quality director walked into the first cross-functional process improvement team meeting. The council had selected nine people for the meeting, yet only four were seated around the table. "Where are the sales and marketing reps?" he asked.

"Sarah called down a few minutes ago," came the response, "and Ed [vice president of marketing] told her he had other things they needed to do. They won't be here."

Marketing had a huge stake in the current process. They also believed -- correctly -- that they had the most to lose if the status quo changed. The quality director stormed into Ed's office. "What gives, Ed? You agreed at the management offsite to create a team to improve the prototyping process. Now you're pulling your people off?"

Avoiding eye contact, Ed responded: "We moved too quickly. We need to rethink whether now is the time to look at that process. After all, the old system has worked pretty well in the past." Then came the actual reason, as he turned to take a call. "Anyway, I have real work for those people. The annual sales meeting is only seven weeks away."

Outranked, outflanked and angered, the director stalked out of the office. Ed had just handed him a "Go to Jail" card, and he had to figure out how to get back on the board. As he plodded down the hallway plotting his revenge, he recalled the words that announce the start of the Olympics: "Let the games begin!"

Illustration 2 -- A large multinational corporation created a cross-functional, cross-national group to put a major quality initiative back on track. Months behind schedule, the project was virtually stalled. While investigating the causes, a consultant discovered that one department, which should have been a major contributor, had been sidelined due to a reputation for ineffectualness. Any suggestion of including the department in planning or implementation was met with a chorus of "Remember the Revision Episode." Two years ago, the department had mistakenly released a product without confirming it was, in fact, the latest revision. A big mistake, certainly, but the only black mark marring an otherwise excellent performance record.

Other departments, concerned with maintaining the status quo, wanted to minimize this department's ideas and influence. They emphasized the mistake at every opportunity, keeping it foremost in everyone's mind as evidence of the department's incompetence: "They will screw this up, too, just like the Revision thing." Once branded with the scarlet "R," the department was unable to contribute to quality problem solving.

The "R" department's natural response compounded the situation. They were deliberately less than helpful to those who continued to deprecate their image. The situation spiraled downward. Though, ultimately, events forced cooperation and a solution to the quality issue, the damaged reputation of this department continues to make it difficult for them to do their best work.

The above represents two classic turf battles, but as Sharon Shehdan asserts: "People are becoming more sophisticated and covert. This is especially true when there is strong senior management support [for TQM]. People have become more subtle with their resistance."

I asked Annette Simmons to consider these examples in light of what she has learned about turf warfare and suggest ways to reduce or eliminate this sort of behavior. She begins with an overview of her research.

Games people play

For you to understand territorial games, you must look at your company differently. Pretend it could be mapped into regions and countries, each with distinct boundaries and terrain. Where are the lines drawn? Every company has areas that people come to think of as their own. Such areas may be sales, marketing, operations, engineering, accounting and senior executives, or they could be divided by regional lines (north and south) or relational lines (family, old mergers). Regardless, you will find that territories develop ownership of "their" area and "their" way of doing things. They even develop their own language and jargon.

Every quality initiative implemented must, by definition, be an invasion of someone's territory. Sometimes the people within that territory recognize the benefits and welcome the "invaders" as valued visitors there to help. Even so, quality managers often assume the benefits of quality philosophy and new processes are obvious to others, and barge into claimed territory uninvited. With the best intentions, they begin analyzing the territory and suggesting improvements to existing systems. Predictably, the territory's "owners" feel attacked and respond with territorial games. They treat the quality manager like an outsider.

Pursuing a continuing quality initiative is the same as constantly saying "It's never good enough" to people whose egos not only insist that they are good enough but strive to be the best. When things get personal (and don't we all draw self-esteem from our feelings of competence?), people start playing games.

Scan the following 10 territorial games and see if you recognize any of them from your own experiences.

  1. Strategic Noncompliance -- Agreeing upfront to take action or cooperate, then waiting until the last minute to back out (as in Illustration 1).
  2. Information Manipulation -- Withholding or interpreting information in a way that keeps the initiative from progressing.
  3. Occupation -- Monopolizing resources (people, time) to prevent them from being reallocated to the initiative
  4. Shunning -- Socially excluding an individual in a way that brands him or her an outsider to the rest of the group.
  5. Discredit -- Using personal criticisms (as in Illustration 2) to diminish the competence or credibility held by "those quality people."
  6. Intimidation -- Using scare tactics or veiled threats to warn off perceived invaders. A "back-off" stare is often enough to sabotage another's efforts to implement an initiative.
  7. Filibuster -- Talking long and hard enough in order to squander development time, leaving issues unresolved.
  8. Invisible Walls -- Covertly blocking forward momentum by creating logistical impossibilities.
  9. Camouflage -- Diverting people with irrelevant issues or projects to keep them away from quality initiatives.
  10. Powerful Alliances -- Using relationships to stimulate games in areas outside an invaded territory.

Do any of these games sound familiar? "Owning" decision-making territory, information and influence has replaced old notions for determining employees' chances of survival and success in a corporation. Psychological impulses now generate emotions formerly reserved for physical survival. Once emotions kick in, behavior often becomes irrational. And that is when, with a nod to the Olympics, the "games begin."

If a group of employees feels you are invading their territory, they may react in an instinctive, emotional way. All the logic in the world will not help you, or them, understand these emotions. Emotions are not logical. Department heads might begin mindlessly protecting territory, losing sight of organizational goals, sabotaging needed changes, even destroying a carefully designed quality initiative before it gets off the ground.

So what do you do?

Forget the word "should"

They shouldn't be doing that, should they? No, but they are. So forget the word "should." Stop yourself every time you think, "They should be able to see …" or "The negative long-term implications are ..." or "The quick fix costs them more in the end." If the evidence tells you they don't see, use that as constructive data! You will fare much better by understanding what they do see before you begin swaying them toward your viewpoint.

Focusing too much on "should" distracts you from correctly addressing the emotional dynamics at play. People are people. They can get territorial about anything they perceive as valuable. These days, this includes many intangible things -- relationships, authority, information -- and these territorial feelings will cause employees to protect their turf. Your efforts to implement quality changes will create territorial games. They shouldn't, but they will.

Pre-empt the games

There are ways to build a quality implementation plan that pre-empts much of the game-playing. Territorial feelings are easy to anticipate. Whenever an initiative involves any kind of change in resource allocation or redefines a process so that a treasured "right way to do things" becomes the wrong way, you can expect some territorial games. Figure out who might feel as though the initiative is invading their territory. Then make some upfront agreements about cooperation that specifically address the anticipated games.

Because these games often are linked to ego protection, I like to establish a group agreement against game-playing that overrides the group ego's initial impulse to protect their turf through games. For example, I recently worked with a group where downsizing was part of their future plans. I anticipated that the needed reduction-in-force was more easily embraced as a concept than a reality. Several senior managers were already taking steps to protect their departments (territories). Before we even began discussing specifics, I introduced the 10 territorial games to the entire group and facilitated agreements to minimize game-playing.

During the relative calm before the stormy reality, all senior managers agreed: They would not play any of these territorial games. However, once the plan narrowed to whom, specifically, would be losing staff, the inevitable impulses to make everyone look busy (occupation), rehire someone as a consultant (strategic noncompliance) or bully the human resources people until they stopped asking for job descriptions (intimidation) had to be reviewed consciously against the list. This tactic doesn't always work, but it allows you to highlight previously covert game-playing in a way that renders it ineffective. It is much easier to get away with a strategic noncompliance when it doesn't have a name.

Keep in mind that if you are implementing long-term quality enhancements, you may want to concentrate first on creating a culture where game-playing is more the exception than the rule.

Create a culture that doesn't play games

Easier said than done? Sure. Impossible? No. Along with the tangible aspects you target in your organizational culture, more subjective norms and values determine internal behavioral boundaries. In some organizations, personal ego battles, old turf wars or long-standing rivalries are not only tolerated but celebrated like sports contests. Unfortunately, product and service quality usually suffers as a result.

Only in a company where these sorts of games are considered unacceptable can real quality survive. Building such a culture requires a determined, positive examination of the organization's underlying assumptions, creating powerful feedback that demonstrates how counterproductive these games can be and building new norms into the system.

Creating a culture that values the different contributions of "us" and "them" means that groups can concentrate on the real enemies: poor quality and the competition.

About the author

J. Michael Crouch, CEO of LEADS Corp., has 27 years' experience in the field of change management, the last 12 years specifically in TQM. He was corporate director of quality management at Blue Bell Inc. for three years, where he directed a TQM effort involving more than 20,000 employees. Blue Bell is a large textile manufacturing firm that makes Wrangler blue jeans and Jantzen swimwear.

Since 1987, Crouch has been a principal and officer with LEADS Corp. He became president in 1993 and CEO in 1996.

Crouch is the author of An Ounce of Application Is Worth a Ton of Abstraction. He is a member of the ASQ, AQP and QPMA.

Excerpt The Fiefdom Syndrome The Turf Battles That Undermine Careers and Companies -- and How to Overcome Them

Fast Company

There is a potentially infectious condition inside virtually all organizations that can cause more damage than economic downturns, management upheavals, or global business shifts. Until now it has had no name. But this condition has been an enormous problem in all facets of business. It has impacted some of the world's leading companies, including Procter & Gamble, IBM, Coca-Cola, and Microsoft.

I call it the "fiefdom syndrome," and it happens to all organizations, large and small, profit and nonprofit. It occurs at the individual level as well. And it can significantly decrease an individual's, and a company's, effectiveness. In extreme cases, it has shaken entire industries and taken down major corporations.

The problem begins when individuals, groups, or divisions--out of fear--seek to make themselves vital to their organizations and unconsciously or sometimes deliberately try to protect their turf or reshape their environment to gain as much control as possible over what goes on.

It is a natural human tendency, probably dating back to the origin of our species. But if this human tendency isn't managed properly, the damage caused by these "fiefdoms" can begin to undermine an organization. Left untouched, fiefdoms can toll the death knell of what should have been a strong and vital organization...

In the early '90s, Microsoft's sales subsidiaries in most major countries were feeling very confident in their abilities to run their businesses. They enjoyed impressive revenue and profits. When Microsoft started these subsidiaries in the 1980s, they were intentionally made independent to ensure they could grow fast, unencumbered by directives from Redmond, Washington, headquarters. It was the perfect environment for fiefdoms to take hold...

Subsidiaries came up with their own ways to analyze their business, methods that tended to emphasize how well they were doing. They institutionalized those new measures and used them to report on their business... In one country, employees' personal computers might be charged to the department in which the employee works, while in another country, they might charge all PCs to the information technology group. In some countries, revenue was certified and officially booked on a weekly basis.... In another country, revenue might be booked on a monthly basis.... Comparing the performances of the subsidiaries was like comparing apples and oranges. Getting all of this data sorted out at the end of a quarter to form uniformly defined corporate financial figures was a nightmare...

You can imagine what a mess this created for the corporate finance folks at the end of the quarter. The number of frantic phone calls and e-mail messages flying back and forth between the subsidiaries and the corporate controller and his department was phenomenal.

I remember during the first week of January 1995 walking into the office of one of the financial analysts who was trying to pull together all the European results. I had been at Microsoft for only a few months, and as the new chief operating officer, I was making the rounds to see how the place operated. The analyst was on a speakerphone in the midst of a screaming match with the Italian subsidiary about why they seemed to change each quarter how they categorized marketing costs for shipping promotion materials and what they classified as cost of goods sold... It was clear to me that there was no discipline in the system. The Italians weren't trying to be difficult--they felt that they were running their business smartly. The problem was that the corporate folks didn't have a focused, disciplined approach toward the basic elements of the company's financial structure. It would drive Bill Gates nuts that it took weeks for the company to figure out what the quarter was going to look like. Not that Bill was overly interested in the short-term financial results. In fact, he absolutely wasn't; he was focused on designing and developing great software. But he was very concerned that we didn't have the information systems in place to make the financials fall into place in a timely manner. After all, we were the world's foremost software company. He expected the company to have superb systems.

A couple of weeks after the end of the October-December 1994 quarter, I was meeting in my office with Mike Brown, Microsoft's chief financial officer. Bill stuck his head in and said, "So where are the results? I know you must have the raw data by now. Come on, guys, do you want me to go in there and figure out how to piece it all together myself? Do you want me to write the code? I'll do it over the weekend." This undisciplined behavior on the part of Microsoft's overseas subsidiaries was not unique to Microsoft. I saw the same kind of behavior at Procter & Gamble, where I had worked for twenty-six years. The heads of the sales organizations in the various countries eventually positioned themselves as president of the company in their respective countries. And clearly a president needs his own finance, HR, and IT personnel. Before long, they were developing their own marketing efforts, often out of sync with the overall strategic and marketing direction of Procter & Gamble's products and services...

At Microsoft, the true impact of the geographical fiefdoms that had grown up over the years and the financial challenges they posed to the company hit home when Microsoft had to embarrassingly make excuses to its customers when they asked to see how Microsoft managed its financial systems. Our customers were expecting to learn the best practices from a global leader in information technology. After all, they reasoned, a totally networked high-tech company with offices throughout the world must have the most sophisticated financial reporting system

on the planet, right? Later in this book, I'll describe what Microsoft did (in record time) to break up its fiefdoms and truly turn itself into an incredible showcase of financial-systems excellence. Today the company can close its books each quarter in a couple of days.

There is a potentially infectious condition inside virtually all organizations that can cause more damage than economic downturns, management upheavals, and global business shifts. Until now it has had no name. But it has impacted some of the world’s leading companies, including Procter & Gamble, IBM, Coca-Cola, and Microsoft.

Robert J. Herbold, the COO who brought corporate discipline to a young Microsoft organization and helped to transform it into a mature global giant, calls it the Fiefdom Syndrome. And it happens at organizations large and small, profit and nonprofit, at the individual level as well as the group and divisional level. It can undercut a company’s effectiveness, and in extreme cases it has shaken entire industries and taken down major corporations.

The problem begins when individuals, groups, or divisions—out of fear—seek to make themselves vital to their organizations and, unconsciously or sometimes deliberately, try to protect their turf and others’ perceptions of them. It is a natural human tendency, dating back to the origins of our species, but if it isn’t managed properly, the damage caused by these "fiefdoms" can spell the death knell of what should have been a strong and vital organization.

People who create fiefdoms can become dangerously insular, losing perspective on what is happening in the world outside their own control. They hoard resources. They are determined to do things in their own way, often duplicating or complicating what should be streamlined throughout the company, leading to runaway costs, increased bureaucracy, and a loss of agility and speed.

We all occasionally meet exceptional people who seem to be able to master just about anything that comes their way: the astrophysicist who's also a triathlete and dazzling piano player; the surgeon who writes children's books and is the featured singer at her church; those extraordinary Olympic athletes we watched last week who compete with such unbridled power and ferocity and moments later praise their opponents with complete spontaneity and thank their parents, coaches, and teammates with profound sincerity and grace.

Well, I read a book last week by a person who seems to fit into that rarified class, and I would urge all of you interested in improving your career, your group, your division, or your company to immerse yourself in this book. Due for release next month, the book is called "The Fiefdom Syndrome," and it describes the traps lying in wait for individuals or organizations that allow complacency, risk aversion, and insularity to obscure corporate goals and customer-centric thinking. On top of describing those dangers, the book also does its readers the great service of relating in considerable detail how to destroy those insidious fiefdoms and build organizations focused on innovation, growth, and financial success.

The multitalented individual who wrote this highly useful book is Bob Herbold, who served as the chief operating officer of Microsoft from 1994 until 2001, which were years of enormous growth and change at the company. In the 6-1/2 years he was there, revenue increased 400% and profits 700%. Over that time, Herbold was responsible for finance, manufacturing and distribution, information systems, human resources, corporate marketing, market research, and public relations, so he had plenty of opportunities to witness firsthand how overly cautious and internally directed thinking could have hamstrung the company.

But that's where Herbold's singular experiences and insights proved to be so valuable: Before joining Microsoft, he was with Procter & Gamble for 26 years, handling a range of assignments from brand manager to advertising manager to CIO to—and get this title, particularly at one of the world's foremost consumer packaged-goods companies—senior VP of advertising and information services. One anecdote from Herbold's P&G days powerfully underscores the link between these seemingly disparate disciplines, and it occurred in 1987 when Herbold was CIO. Wal-Mart founder Sam Walton had invited P&G's executive team to come to Wal-Mart headquarters in Bentonville, Ark., and share their insights on "total quality" with Walton and his colleagues.

Herbold recalls that the P&G team, naturally quite proud to have received such an invitation, jumped at the opportunity and quickly put together a massive presentation that would serve as an eight-hour training program. He further recalls that Walton was more than a little jolted at the thought of an eight-hour training session: "Sam impatiently fidgeted in his chair as the trainer painstakingly droned through the material." After the first hour, Walton tried to get the P&G execs to jump ahead to the conclusion, but they convinced him to stick with their program; after another hour of overhead slides, though, he had had enough: "He took the felt-tip pen and started drawing boxes on the flip chart that represented P&G computers, Wal-Mart computers, Wal-Mart distribution centers, P&G warehouses, and Wal-Mart stores.

He then proclaimed, 'Why can't we just have your computers and our computers talk every night and place the order for P&G products to be shipped to Wal-Mart distribution centers automatically?'" Waving off the P&G requests that everyone sit down so the presentation could continue, Walton turned up the intensity, according to Herbold, and explained his frustration with having to deal with seven operating divisions with separate products and separate business processes, which required Wal-Mart to have separate buyers for each P&G salesperson, along with separate business processes, including invoices and purchase orders and merchandising and return policies and so on. And therein lies the critical point of Herbold's book: "Sam was asking that we break up the P&G sales fiefdoms and that he break up the Wal-Mart buyer fiefdoms that had developed to meet with the P&G fiefdoms."

Sure, this is a classic supply-chain issue—Sam Walton drawing boxes on a flip chart showing warehouses, customers, distribution centers, and computers. But at another level, it's more about people and business processes and the corrosive effects of insular thinking. Does any of this sound familiar? Can any of us think about our organizations and recognize the sclerotic characteristics of a group or an individual that resists change, fights to preserve the status quo, always has an excuse, and has built up an isolated workgroup deemed above and beyond the rules that exist for everyone else? If so, Herbold warns early in the book, get out the bulldozer: "The behaviors that characterize the fiefdom syndrome lead to a culture where ego and bureaucracy consistently trump common sense and innovation. They lead to turf wars. And they are almost always destructive."

To readers who are uncomfortable with frank self-analysis, the book can be more than a little discomforting: "Human nature is such that we are always trying to convince ourselves that we are more important than the rest of the group, company, or world believes we are." Or a related point: "The problem begins when individuals, groups, or divisions—out of fear—seek to make themselves vital to their organizations and unconsciously or sometimes deliberately try to protect their turf or reshape their environment to gain as much control as possible over what goes on."

But to readers who are more open-minded, the book will offer extraordinary insights into not just the problems but also some specific ways to combat these insidious clusters and behaviors. And while "insidious" is a deeply negative term, it is nevertheless quite appropriate, according to Herbold's analysis of the destructive effects of fiefdoms, which he says (1) lead to inefficiency and ineffectiveness, which cut market share and profit; (2) stifle creativity and innovation; (3) lead to staleness and insularity; and (4) cripple execution, which leads to mediocrity.

Throughout Herbold's lucid and engaging book, he sprinkles occasional references to two other powerful books on leadership and management: Lou Gerstner's "Who Says Elephants Can't Dance?" and Larry Bossidy's "Execution" . These connections are neither forced nor superfluous, and the external perspectives reinforce the fundamental points Herbold is making. They also give readers some great incentives to add those books to their reading lists as well.

While I enjoyed the entire book immensely—I read it in an afternoon, and I am generally a remarkably slow reader—my favorite portion was "Part III: Overcoming The Fiefdom Syndrome," in which the three chapters are "Balancing Discipline And Creativity," "Achieving Discipline," and "Fostering Creativity." Herbold offers not only anecdotes but also detailed lists of how to proceed.

And such specifics are essential because the problem, Herbold says, is so widespread: "Because the fiefdom syndrome has its origins in basic human nature, the challenges it poses are universal. The fiefdom syndrome is not tied to good or bad economic conditions or to particular managerial approaches. It can emerge in any environment. But the good news for organizations and individuals is that there are ways to deal with the fiefdom syndrome. And deal with [it] you must."

Happy reading and good luck, fiefdom fighters.

"The Fiefdom Syndrome: The Turf Battles That Undermine Careers And Companies—And How To Overcome Them" is published by Currency/Doubleday.

"Turf wars and bureaucracy can undermine even the strongest corporate strategies. Drawing on lessons learned throughout his distinguished career, Bob describes innovative and practical ways to tackle this pervasive problem – and beat The Fiefdom Syndrome." --Bill Gates, Chairman and Chief Software Architect, Microsoft Corporation

"A vitally important business book. As Bob Herbold, longtime COO of Microsoft makes clear, the battles over territory and turf stem from basic human behavior. Uncontrolled, they can be incredibly destructive, yet they are inherent in every organization. In The Fiefdom Syndrome, Herbold shows how fiefdoms can hamstring a company's operations, and how to break through them. I strongly urge people of all organizations, large and small, profit and non-profit to read this book." --John Chambers, President and CEO, Cisco Systems

The turf battles and territorial "fiefdoms" that undermine so many companies—and how to break through them, by long-term Microsoft COO Robert J. Herbold

There is a potentially infectious condition inside virtually all organizations that can cause more damage than economic downturns, management upheavals, and global business shifts. Until now it has had no name. But it has impacted some of the world’s leading companies, including Procter & Gamble, IBM, Coca-Cola, and Microsoft.

Robert J. Herbold, the COO who brought corporate discipline to a young Microsoft organization and helped to transform it into a mature global giant, calls it the Fiefdom Syndrome. And it happens at organizations large and small, profit and nonprofit, at the individual level as well as the group and divisional level. It can undercut a company’s effectiveness, and in extreme cases it has shaken entire industries and taken down major corporations.

The problem begins when individuals, groups, or divisions—out of fear—seek to make themselves vital to their organizations and, unconsciously or sometimes deliberately, try to protect their turf and others’ perceptions of them. It is a natural human tendency, dating back to the origins of our species, but if it isn’t managed properly, the damage caused by these "fiefdoms" can spell the death knell of what should have been a strong and vital organization.

People who create fiefdoms can become dangerously insular, losing perspective on what is happening in the world outside their own control. They hoard resources. They are determined to do things in their own way, often duplicating or complicating what should be streamlined throughout the company, leading to runaway costs, increased bureaucracy, and a loss of agility and speed.

In The Fiefdom Syndrome, Bob Herbold exposes the myriad ways such fiefdoms can compromise a company’s effectiveness—as well as show what managers, companies, and individuals can do to break up fiefdoms and conquer the turf wars. Illustrated with countless examples from Microsoft, Procter & Gamble, IBM, and other corporations, The Fiefdom Syndrome is an essential tool in every manager’s toolkit.

Territorial Wars

"Once people start wrangling for a territorial advantage, pushing their hidden agendas, and undercutting their peers, no one is focused on organizational goals."
Territory and Survival Needs : "Without territory we have to start over every day to find new ways to meet our needs."

A New Environment: "Corporate survival requires psychological survival."

Understanding and Accepting "Irrational Behaviors": "If you want to understand territorial games, you have to accept the fact that the behaviors you observe do not reflect rational behavior."

Territorial Games: "Territorial games and tactics focus on winning ownership of coveted turf."

The Line Between Competition and Territoriality: "Where does competition end and territorial games begin?"

The Occupation Game: "Efficiencies that could be possible through work redesign or streamlined processes are sabotaged by managers whose fists are so tightly wrapped around their resources that only plastic explosives could break their grip."

The Information Manipulation Game : "Imagine the productivity drain when everyone is convinced that up to half of the information they receive is pure bull."

The Intimidation Game : "A strongly territorial manager can train his subordinates to shut down with only the slightest intimidation warning."

The Powerful Alliances Game : "When a turf war erupts, people choose sides. Whether they are aware of it or not, relationship building comes into play."

The Invisible Wall Game : "Turf mongers who find intimidation distasteful may find invisible walls more to their liking."

The Strategic Noncompliance Game : "A highly effective territorial game is to agree up front to cooperate, lull the perceived turf invader into a sense of false security, and default on the agreement at the last minute."

The Discredit Game : "Once caught up in a tit-for-tat exchange of discrediting comments, the productivity of any work group quickly goes down the drain."

The Shunning Game : "Little kids, dogs, factory workers, and CEOs can all be shunned to the point where they give up ground."

The Camouflage Game : "To win a turf war, a territorial player faced with a freight train invasion need only orchestrate a small detour."

The Filibuster Game : "The decision to go ahead on a project, to stop a project, to fund or not fund development may all represent emotionally charged territorial wins or losses to someone."

Serious Sabotage : "The important point to remember is that sabotage is a good indication that territorial urges have gotten out of hand and have probably eclipsed rational attention to the organization's goals and objectives."

Tearing Down the Walls : "Hoarding information, excluding workmates, and covert sabotage only destroy our changes for success in this new environment."

What Doesn't Work: Mandating Cooperation : "It is pure fantasy to believe that a vision statement and a list of values distributed throughout the organization and pasted on the walls can successfully mandate collaboration across territorial lines."

Making Them Want to Change Their Behavior : "Rather than setting out to make anyone change, set out to make that person want to change."

Designing Your Intervention : " Change only happens when enough people want it to happen."

Ripping Up the Foundations : "There is no way to bring down internal barriers without some people feeling scared, others getting angry, and a select few rubbing their hands together to grab what they can."

Belief 1: I Have to Play Territorial Games : "You and your behavior can be the experience that disconfirms their belief that they have to play territorial games."

Belief 2: We Pretend We Aren't Playing Territorial Games : "The reason territoriality has been such a drain on corporate resources is that it has been invisible."

Belief 3: "They" Are the Problem : "Part of the blame stage in changing territorial behaviors means deriding all those Neanderthal turf mongers, office politicians, and sharks out there."

Building a New Map

"No matter what you do, people still have emotions of fear, anger, and desire."

Using Company Structure and Policy as an Experience

"With the best of intentions, many managers set up internal friendly competitions that incite all-out-turf wars."

New Games to Replace the Old Ones

"People who play the trust-building game are building bridges for the future."

Being Cooperative but Avoiding Exploitation

"When tackling territoriality in your group or organization, there are some clear guidelines to follow so that you end up expanded rather than exploited."

Getting to the Root Cause

"Calling attention to territorial games without educating people in the root causes of territorial drives and emotional triggers is a bad idea."

Recommended Links

Softpanorama hot topic of the month

Softpanorama Recommended

Recommended Books

Informal Groups: An Introduction (Prentice-Hall series in sociology)

Territorial Games: Understanding and Ending Turf Wars at Work by Annette Simmons

territorial games analyzes 10 of these insidious and instinctual acts of gamesmanship -- such as camouflage ... occupation ... shunning territorial behavior.

Written from the perspective of a behavioral scientist and drawn from in-depth interviews with corporate managers, the book explains how to:

** understand the roots of territoriality
** recognize the signs and symptoms of territorial games
** focus on organizational goals rather than individual turf wars
** promote teamwork throughout an organization
** apply counterstrategies to change destructive behavior.

The Fiefdom Syndrome: The Turf Battles That Undermine Careers and Companies - And How to Overcome Them (Paperback)

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Last updated: March 28, 2016