Welcome to another installment of An IT Project Guy Book Review. Today, we are talking about Geoffrey Bellman’s book Getting Things Done When You Are Not In Charge. I referenced this book in my last post, Positive Politics.

The premise of Mr. Bellman’s book is that no one is really in charge. No matter what our position of authority or how many people report to us, we are always accountable to someone else. That goes for the CEO who is accountable to the Board of Directors and the Administrative Assistant who reports to her manager.

For those of us who struggle with implementing change or just trying to get our work done in a corporate environment, this book provides practical examples and exercises. Mr. Bellman starts by establishing a work\life is game metaphor. He provides five guides for his book:

  1. Create your life game. The secret is to establish a life larger than work, in which you are more in charge than at work. Without this larger, more important life game, you will end up playing by the rules of the work game, or reacting against them with no clear sense of purpose.
  2. Learn the work game. There is a work game where you work. It has its own rules and roles, goals and penalties—whether you are aware of it or not. There are ways for people to succeed. Certain behaviors are respected; others are disparaged. Learn this. It is not a matter of liking but of understanding how this work game works.
  3. Know your position in the work game. This allows you to know where you are starting from. Again, it does not mean that you like it, but that you understand what comes with the position you have. The best starting point for changing your position, or the work game, is to know what you are starting with. Of course, if you hate your position, you should not be playing here. Which leads to. . .
  4. Recognize there are other work games. There are other places in this world of work where you could be offering your talents. All of those other places have work games of their own. Choose the work game you play, always honoring your larger life game. If your life game is not being served by this work game, then go play somewhere else. Your ultimate power in the work game comes from choosing to play here, and knowing you make that choice daily.
  5. Play well and hard at both Work and Life. Concentrate. Keep reminding yourself of what is important. Know your skills and your aspirations.

The author invites his reader to pick and choose which chapters to read. This is not a linear book, but one in which you can pick out a topic of interest and delve into it.

The key message here is that even though you are not “in charge” you can be “in control.” You can implement change, choose your relationships and maintain a positive attitude.

The book works along the lines of three points of a triangle with YOU in the middle as shown in this figure:

Mr. Bellman walks you through each of the points of the triangle WANTS, PEOPLE, REALITY and YOU providing insightful explanations, exercises and examples. Briefly,

  • WANTS: This is the way you would like the world to be, the possible, the desirable, the potential world—and it is usually different from REALITY. The difference between WANTS and REALITY creates a tension.
  • REALITY: This is how things are right now, the day-to-day world in which you and others live, with all its comforts and discomforts, joys and sorrows, satisfactions and dissatisfactions.
  • PEOPLE: These are the individuals and groups that care about the world as it is (REALITY) and/or as it could be (WANT). They are a potential source of talent, energy, money, expertise, and other resources. They may be for or against what you want to do, and they are vital to it.
  • YOU: You are in the middle of all of this with potential connections to the PEOPLE, WANTS, and REALITY. You are not in charge but you definitely want to get something done. Connecting the dots will create movement and help PEOPLE change REALITY to what they WANT.

I recommend the book. I believe the reader will get the greatest benefit from it by focusing on a chapter at a time. Complete the exercises and put the lessons to work for you. Once you feel you have executed the recommendations, move on to another chapter.

I’ve just ordered another book called Results Without Authority: Controlling a Project When the Team Doesn’t Report to You. The title rings true for me since I’m immersed in what is currently a Weak Matrix organization. I’ll post my review in a couple of weeks.

Happy reading!