How to deal with the Treacle People
Teams working within an organisation often become frustrated and irritated at the ‘illogical’, ‘stupid’ and ‘bureaucratic red tape’ that plagues their development. Teams know the needs of their users, they know the tools they want to work with, they’ve been given the go-ahead by the senior management to go-forth, “move fast and break things”, so why do things keep skidding to an unfortunate halt?
They encounter what was recently described to me perfectly as ‘the treacle layer’.
The ‘treacle layer’ is the part of the organisation which intentionally slows things down, stopping the smooth movement from the top of the organisation to the base. Sometimes it can be maneuvered through smoothly, sometimes it’s a sticky surprise that makes a mess and sometimes it’s just generally unpleasant and everyone’s asking who invited them to the party. However as cakes grow they need help sticking together, which like it or not, means that treacle is necessary. So before I bend this analogy so much that it screams let’s move on to find out how teams can deal with the treacle people.
I’m not suggesting that every large organisation has an entire department of wonderful Northern felt puppets from an overlooked CITV series which I woke up to many early weekend mornings before going to switch the ovens on at Greggs, however many teams will encounter teams levels which may slow down their progress. So instead of calling them names I’ve heard in a previous workplace such as [REDACTED] let’s call them ‘treacle people’.
How do you deal with the treacle people?
Plan your route
Before you start digging in, know exactly what’s going on. You wouldn’t dig in to something if you didn’t know exactly what was in it, so before you get straight in there - know what you’re dealing with from an organisational standpoint. When you engage with the treacle people understand exactly who you’re dealing with and their motivations. Don’t just dive in and become surprised later on when you hit a sticky roadblock. Fail to prepare, prepare to fail, this also applies to dealing with treacle people.
Warm it up
Treacle is a sticky substance but it becomes a lot easier to work with the more you heat it up. Now although I know many of you would love to boil middle management in a pot, but really by warming it up I mean engage with the treacle people early and appeal to their nature. Involve them in the process, the art of charm goes a long way, but if like me you find yourself to be incredibly awkward and want to avoid deer in headlight conversations, why not start a working relationship with the treacle people early?
Warm them up by engaging them before you need to. Take them on the journey with you so when the gatekeepers processes are there, they’re easier to navigate, more malleable and you encounter less friction.
No one man can eat an entire centre of a cake, or at least they shouldn’t. Everyone should bear the load of dealing with the treacle people, whilst some may be better at navigating it, the whole team should be involved in the process. Whilst it may traditionally fall to a Product Owner, Delivery Manager or Scrum Master to ensure the team can progress in their work and avoid getting stuck, spreading the workload to others in the product and development sides of teams. Everyone gets sticky, but it’s easier to get through together as a united front, pulling people out as you go.
And there we have it, plan it, warm it, spread it. After reading this it may surprise you to know that I’m not the biggest fan of cake and don’t have a particularly sweet tooth. I’m also aware that not all cakes have treacle, syrup or icing, but you know, not all organisations have a massive layer of treacle, but many will encounter some resistance when building products and services.
How do you deal with ‘treacle people’? Let me know. Oh, and here’s the wonderful theme song!