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I'm having a hard time describing the phrase I'm looking for, so I think the best way to ask the question is to simply present the problem.

At work I've been tasked with merging the guidelines (the topic is technical, so for the sake of this question let's assume the topic is on "HR ethics") used by three major branches of an organization into a single guideline. Sounds like a great idea, right?

The problem is that each office (one branch has several offices) has their own set of rules pertaining to HR ethics.

So I'm now trying to make a "master" guideline in a system where everyone has their own rules anyway. Is there a phrase that would summarize this paradox?

I think the phrase I'm thinking of would be (I think) the opposite of the one discussed here:

Phrase for focusing on unimportant details

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@cornbread: Sweeping it under the rug is perfect for what I asked for, I guess I didn't ask for what I needed. This is sort of iterative. Based on the suggestions, I think I've finally zeroed in on what I'm looking for: I'm looking for a phrase to describe the stupidity of 'ignoring the underlying'. "Banging my head against a wall" maybe? Something like that. I feel like I'm in a Dilbert comic strip, or a scene from Office Space. – Matt Vee Mar 21 '12 at 12:48
let's go smash a printer in a field with a baseball bat. – cornbread ninja 麵包忍者 Mar 22 '12 at 15:24

Looking at the big(ger) picture seems appropriate.

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@beadles I'm not sure. I'm being asked to look at the bigger picture, all the while ignoring the underlying (if not insurmountable) problems. It's the 'ignoring the underlying' that I'm trying to, uh, encapsulate... I think. Thanks! – Matt Vee Mar 20 '12 at 20:23

Don't sweat the small stuff.

Ignore the minutiae.

Agree to disagree. See Wikipedia entry. (That would imply that there is tension that the lower levels are not all following the same rules.)

Agree to differ — to end a discussion amicably while maintaining differences of opinion; discussed in same Wikipedia entry

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It's the 'ignoring the underlying' that I'm trying to, uh, encapsulate... I think.

Sounds to me like they're sweep it under the carpet, where it is the group of underlying problems.

sweep something under the carpet (British, American & Australian) also sweep something under the mat/rug (American & Australian)

to try to hide a problem or keep a problem secret instead of dealing with it

The incident has forced into the open an issue that the government would rather have swept under the carpet. The evidence was on film and the police couldn't just sweep it under the rug.

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Ironing out the differences.

The fact that you are ironing rather than, say, patching suggests that the differences are small wrinkles that are easily smoothed over.

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Answering my own question here... I think I'm going to go with "Sweeping the elephant in the room under the rug."

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There is precedence for "sweeping the elephant under the rug." I'd suggest deleting "in the room" from your phrase. Glad you arrived at a solution. – JLG Mar 22 '12 at 14:11
Don't be surprised if your mixed metaphor is met with a laugh. – Robusto Apr 8 '12 at 13:23

Abstraction and focussing on the essentials are two terms that come to mind.

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