The Administrative Moat

There are many types of moat in our lives.

For example:

  • There’s the emotional moat – that’s the one that causes us to argue with our spouse during our worser moments.
  • Knowledge moats arise from intentional gaps in what we know about.

And then there’s the administrative moat, which quietly erupts from an office, a cubicle, a group of them, or a department / division of an organization which is large enough to have admitted people who are invested in moat-building as an alternative to rainbow-leaping.


I’m half kidding. And half my tongue is in half my cheek. The other half is not. 😐

What’s a Moat?

Moats create separation – that much is clear, but there are a few important things to consider regarding that opening passage. First, I hope you’ll agree that moats are built by people. That includes all types of moats. They are not natural entities which people just happen to discover within the DNA of an organization.

Second – there are only certain types of people who build moats. Or, more precisely, only certain types of people will build certain types of moats in particular sorts of situations. I think it’s fair to say that the people who notice, fill-in, and leap beyond any particular variety of moat are not also the ones who ever build that moat. i.e., Outsiders solve most moat problems. Moat builders build moats.

Is this Moat a Problem?

No moat is necessarily a problem, intrinsically – moat problems are not axiomatic. For example, emotional moats can be essential defense during a time of vulnerability, against an imposing emotional force. We all need that, at times.

Likewise, a knowledge moat gives its person-castle a chance to ignore an onslaught of information or gives protection against hobby-whoring (the tendency of some people to collect too many hobbies, and information). Again, the moat is welcome, since it is in the right context.

And.. an administrative moat can protect both an organization and its members from:

  • Overwork
  • Liability
  • Excessive change, thrashing, or brownian motion

But, being a human construction, it is important to understand its context and the mindset of the constructing moat-lover. Is it a trusted, productive member of your organization’s healthy team who made the moat? Or is it a reactive defense-monger who can’t live without moats? Or perhaps a guy who means well, works well as an independent, but has a tough time integrating his work process with what he see as a gaggle of moat-haters?

How to Move Forward

First, please note that I said “forward”, not “over” – we should think about moving forward, even if it avoids the glory of a persnickety battle. You should consider whether the administrative moat which is causing your problem is actually in your way, your path. It might not be. Perhaps you can turn to your left, and just walk past that darned castle, finding the goals you seek elsewhere, in easier lands. Perhaps you can find some other way to turn, which helps without hindering.

But sometimes you need what is directly on the other side of that moat. And if you truly do, you can try making a tunnel without a toll, or you can take stock of how many feet the organization has, and decide whether it is worth waiting to see whether the organization shoots itself in enough of those feet so that it stops walking long enough to notice your troubles (and hopefully see fit to help you with your moat trouble).

The tricky part, of course, is deciding which way to play it. You could take my old advice about bringing attention to an issue: “Burn a bridge, just to see which side people swim to.”

But you might not have the gumption for that (I often don’t).

What do you think? Got a great idea for how to breach or bypass your least favorite moat?

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