All companies have their organization charts: you know, those neat little boxes with the connecting lines? They map out who reports to whom, all perfectly aligned with their hierarchical elevations, neatly stacked to the top of the pyramid. It’s how things work.
On paper, at least.
But anyone who’s worked at a company more than a day in their life knows that the map is not the territory.
In reality, companies are living organisms, with twisting grapevine networks of people: influencers and connectors, all weaving their way between the procedures and the politics.
The grapevine is where you have “go to” people. It’s how work gets done.
It’s also responsible for spreading gossip and rumor.
When you hear things through the grapevine, it may be second or third or fourth-hand information. What do you do when you get it?
This past Tuesday, I got a text my colleague Simone: call me to talk about an issue with Peter.
I called. Simone told me that Daria (another colleague) told her that Peter had been pissed off with me all day Monday.
Peter had said nothing to me. And now here I was getting the information fourth-hand.
My initial reaction was to be triggered: What’s wrong with Peter?
I got more details of the fourth-hand story. It had to do with a large project team meeting we had Monday. Originally set to start at 7 am, I’d told the project manager (the week before) that I couldn’t show up until 7:30.
Peter showed up at 7 and had to wait for me to arrive to get his work done.
After a couple of minutes, I realized that I really had no facts here—just a lot of assumptions sent through the grapevine. Was this info really true, or not?
I called Peter. (I knew this was not a job that email could handle.)
I said, “I’m calling for 2 things. 1- The grapevine has been talking. I heard from Simone who heard from Daria that you were pissed off with me on Monday. I don’t know if that’s true or not, or even what is fact or opinion. And 2 – If you are upset, can we talk about this directly?”
Peter breathed an audible sigh.
“Thanks so much for calling. No-not upset at all. At 7 am, I said loudly in the meeting “Where’s Alain?”, because I was frustrated you weren’t there. But I found out later that the communication ball had been dropped by the project manager.”
In less than two minutes, we cleaned the whole thing up.
Grapevines can get tangled and strangle those trying to navigate their way through them.
Sometimes the best strategy is to hack away the tangles and go right to the root.
Do you have some grapevines that could use some cutting?