Why IT and business just can't get along

IT's unique culture frequently differs from that of the rest of the business. And when cultures collide, conflict is common

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Regrettably, they also lead to IT professionals thinking of everyone in IT as "us" and everyone else in the company to be "them." It's a dangerous state of affairs, as dividing the world into us and them is how tribalism happens -- how we come to consider our self-identified group to be the source of all that's right and good in the world, while all the others are shifty, dangerous, ugly, and (lucky for us) incompetent, too.

"We" can't trust "them," and the proof is that when we try to explain our position on an issue, they just don't get it, and when they try to explain their position on an issue, they're utterly incoherent, or else they just lie to us.

Oh, and by the way: It's worse -- within IT we have distinct subcultures that clash as well, as anyone knows who has heard Unix and Windows sysadmins go at it on an engineering issue. (Those who prefer Apple products aren't, however, a subculture. They practice a religion.)

Humans are intrinsically tribal creatures. Want evidence? Over and over again, when studying languages, it turns out the word people use to refer to themselves is "the people." Everyone else in the world? They aren't included.

So you aren't going to solve the inevitable clash of cultures by lecturing on the evils of tribalism. All that will do is reinforce the view held by everyone in your tribe that they're just fine. The problem, your fellow MoTs (Members of the Tribe) will conclude, is that "they" are so tribal, unlike us.

No matter where you sit, inside or outside IT, and no matter what your level in the organizational hierarchy, you have a role to play in solving this.

You might think the solution is tolerance, but it isn't. Tolerance just won't cut it, because all it requires is that you learn to put up with those idiots. That's what "tolerate" means.

No, what's needed is deeper and more difficult than tolerance. What's needed is respect -- the recognition that different doesn't have to mean better or worse. It can mean each tribe has something to learn from the others.

That's the short version. We're out of space, so the long version will have to wait until next week.

This story, "Why IT and business just can't get along," was originally published at InfoWorld.com. Read more of Bob Lewis's Advice Line blog on InfoWorld.com. For the latest business technology news, follow InfoWorld.com on Twitter.

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