Massive Update to Time Span 101

Just wanted to tell you about a massive content update to Time Span 101.

New Video Content (2-1/2 hours worth)
Time Span 101 now contains video from our most popular workshop Management Myths and Time Span. We recently produced this recording, and embedded more than 2-1/2 hours in 23 video segments into the learning platform at Time Span 101. If you attended one of my live workshops over the past ten years, this is your chance to re-capture the things you discovered about your organization.


New Updated Workbook
Subscribers will receive our pdf workbook, based on the workshop handout, to help organize your notes as you go through the program.

Old Subscribers
If you already have a subscription to Time Span 101, your login still works. You will receive a separate email with more details, including the pdf workbook.

New Subscribers
Get your login, now, for only $100. Register here – Time Span 101.

Learn the Way You Want to Learn
It’s up to you -

  • Follow the program – Timespan101.com is built in a logical sequence, so that one principle builds on another. It’s a no-brainer.
  • Random Access – You might have a particular interest. You can access any of the topics out-of-order based on your own interests.
  • Just Watch the Videos – If you just want to watch the videos, there is a link in [How to Use This Program] to just watch the videos. There are (23) video segments in the playlist. More than 2-1/2 hours of embedded videos.

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If you know someone else, who might also be interested in the Time Span research of Elliott Jaques, let me know. If you have any questions, just Ask Tom.

The Uncertainty of the Future

“You look absorbed in something,” I observed.

Abbe looked up from her desk. “Yes, I have this project coming up. Never worked on a project like this before. Don’t know anyone who has worked on a project like this before. Risky. Not devastating risk, but this project could go sideways fast.”

“And?” I asked.

“I am trying to think about projects we have completed in the past that could help me figure out this new project,” she replied.

“Looking for patterns in past projects will only help you so much. It helps you understand the past. But we live, going forward into the future. And we cannot predict the future. There is uncertainty and ambiguity. Planning helps, but even the best plan rarely survives its train-wreck with reality. We cannot control the future. The best we can do is be clear about our intentions. And prepare ourselves for that uncertainty.”

Before the Team Can Get Better

“I am really disappointed in my team,” Carole began. “I really need to get them to step up their game.”

“Whenever I watch a team,” I replied, “to see how it is performing, I always end up watching the leader. Most times, the competency of the team reveals the competency of the leader.”

“Are you saying that the lack of performance of my team, is my fault?” Carole defended.

“No, I am saying, before the team can step up, it’s the leader who has to step up. Before the team can change, the leader has to change. The team you have right now, is the team you deserve. If you think your team should be more effective, you have to become more effective. Your team and their output is the product of your effectiveness as a manager.”

Sort of Restless

“I have been sort of restless,” Miguel started.

“Drop the sort of,” I clarified. “You are either restless or not restless, which is it?”

“I am restless.”

“About what?” I probed.

“I have been a supervisor, here, for three years, now. Things are running pretty smooth. At times, I am a little bored. Ready to tackle something bigger,” Miguel thought out loud.

“So, why haven’t you done anything about it?”

“Well, that would be, like asking for more work to do, a complicated project. Right now, I have it pretty easy, not a lot of risk.”

“Some people are satisfied, living with a problem,” I stared at Miguel, “rather than creating a solution that would require them to change.”

Responsibility, Accountability and Authority

Words mean things. One of the biggest problems with managerial practices and the concepts constructed to support them, is the lack of clarity. And whenever things are not clear, people make stuff up, like holacracy, self directed work groups, management by objective, results based performance.

My thanks to Nick Forrest and his book How Dare You Manage, to bring some clarity to three words, responsibility, accountability and authority.

You see, you may think you have a communication problem, but you more likely have an accountability and authority problem. You may think you are observing a personality conflict, but you more likely have an accountability and authority problem.

Accountability, or an accountability is a contract between a manager and team member related to an agreed upon output. An accountability is a contracted output.

Responsibility is a feeling of obligation, created and maintained within an individual to perform or take action. It is a feeling generally connected to a contracted output (accountability). Responsibility that is NOT connected to an accountability can be a recipe for disaster, because noble action may be taken without regard for a defined objective.

Authority is a limit. Authority is a limit, within which an individual has the freedom to use their discretionary judgment to make decisions (even the wrong decision) and control resources to reach a defined objective (goal, task assignment).

Whenever I see some management fad, like holacracy, emerge, it is likely because these three words have never been accurately defined. And in that void, people make stuff up. And sometimes, that stuff is nonsense. And sometimes, the nonsense can lead us astray, waste resources and in the end, destroy the organization that we were trying to build in the first place.

Are There Limits to Creativity?

“I think we need to create a circle,” Russell explained.

“What’s a circle?” I asked.

“I was reading about this new management thing called holacracy. It’s a group of people in the company who get together to solve a problem,” he replied.

“Why do you call it a circle, rather than a project team?” I wanted to know.

“A project team is too limiting. It stifles thought. This circle would be free to think in brand new ways, without limits,” Russell smiled at his new idea.

“So, if the circle thought the best way to solve a problem would be by embezzling a million dollars from the company checking account by submitting phony invoices, that would be okay?” I queried.

Russell chuckled. “Aw, come on. That would never happen.”

“So, there are some limits to the solutions?”

“Well, yes, but I want the circle to be free to be creative,” Russell insisted.

“But, just to be clear. The circle (project team) would have discretionary judgement within limits?” I looked straight at Russell.

Russell was quiet for a moment. “I suppose so,” he relented.

Holacracy, the Latest Management Craze

I have been reading about this latest management fad, holacracy, for some months now, but it was Gregory Ferenstein’s post on July 11 that finally sent me over the edge. For the record, here are two other articles that tee up this management craze. Zappos says goodbye to bosses by Jena McGregor and a more reasoned explanation, published in the Economist, The holes in holacracy.

Also note that the word holacracy is a registered trademark. It is a brand, which always raises red flags in my world regarding its methods. Is it really something new or is the word made up to muddy the already turbid waters in management consulting.

But, I promised to talk about what Tony Hsieh is doing at Zappos and provide a more reasonable context for the structural decisions he is making.

First, “getting rid of bosses.” Boss-ing is something siblings do to each other. Indeed, it is a power struggle. The descriptions of holacracy appear to equate boss with the word manager. I am always amused at where the power lies in the manager-team-member relationship. It is like telling a kid that they have to eat broccoli. But, it is the kid who will determine if broccoli will, in fact, be eaten. Being an effective manager has very little to do with power.

“There are no managers in the classically defined sense. Instead, there are people known as “lead links” who have the ability to assign employees to roles or remove them from them.”

When I look at the “classic definition” of a manager, that person is vested with some very specific authorities. How is this “lead link” different?

  • Determine who is on the team.
  • Determine who is off the team.
  • Set the objective.
  • Assess the team member’s effectiveness in the context of the objective.

“Zappos and Robertson are careful to note that while a holacracy may get rid of traditional managers (those who both manage others’ work and hold the keys to their career success), there is still structure and employees’ work is still watched. Poor performers, Robertson says, stand out.”

So, now I am curious. Just exactly who is it that is doing all the watching if it’s not the manager? Is “lead link” another word for manager?

So, what is all this talk about abolishing managers?

“while the system lacks traditional managers, it does not mean that leaders won’t emerge.”

No shit. Leadership is an observable phenomenon, it happens. And when an organization selects its managers, it had better be paying attention to qualities of managerial leadership (as opposed to political leadership, parental leadership, spiritual leadership).

Apparently, Tony wants to provide the appearance of the absence of managers, by defining broad latitudes of discretion within the various levels of work at Zappos. That is what hierarchy is all about. Hierarchy is not about being the boss, it is not about command and control. Hierarchy is about establishing the boundaries of discretionary judgment within a level of work.

Discretionary judgment is required to make decisions and solve problems appropriate for that level of work. And most teams can handle the problems and decisions that sit within their level of work.

Here’s the pinch. When the problem is difficult or the decision is hard, on the upper end of that level of work, who does the team go to? That would be the manager. Being a manager is NOT about telling people what to do (boss-ing), it is about bringing value to the problem solving and decision making of the team. And that’s the role of the manager. At Zappos, those people exist, and Tony knows exactly who they are. I don’t care what he calls them.

“Zappos just abolished bosses” – Baloney

“The latest management trend to sweep Silicon Valley requires CEOs to formally relinquish their authority and grants special protection for every employee to experiment with ideas. It’s called holacracy and big name tech leaders have jumped on the bandwagon,” proclaims Gregory Ferenstein in his post on Vox, July 11, 2014.

“Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh announced that he will transition his entire Las Vegas company — with a billion dollars of revenue and 1500 workers — to holacracy by the end of 2014.”

Holacracy is described as the latest management craze and it is just that – craziness. The problem with craziness is that a manager or CEO will read his article and naively follow a prescription that will cost hard dollars and create untold havoc. Following Ferenstein’s prescription could be fatal.

Holacracy is a weasel word. It attempts to use new (made up) terminology to mask a vague notion of contrived credibility.

“Holacracy is management by committee with an emphasis on experimentation. The CEO formally relinquishes authority to a constitution and re-organizes everyone into decentralized teams that choose their own roles roles and goals,” explains Ferenstein. Think about this. What is delegation? Delegation is the assignment of accountability and authority to complete a task. Delegation shifts the accountability and authority to a “decentralized” team that chooses to complete the task (or not).

And believe me. If the “decentralized” team chooses not to complete the task and adopts a six hour lunch break, some manager will step in and say “Guys and gals, that is not what we had in mind.”

If you read this column regularly, you know I am a structure guy focused on the research of Elliott Jaques. This notion of giving a team direction (an objective) and providing them latitude (time span of discretion), within limits, to solve a problem is not a new notion. Holacracy is baloney (weasel word).

Ferenstein would argue with the words “within limits.” He would argue that Hsieh would set those limits free. That will not be the case. Hsieh will define those limits (discretionary authority). Holacracy obscures what is really happening using words without meaning.

“Advocates for holacracy argue that centralization of power suffocates innovation.” Here is the biggest problem with Ferenstein’s description – most managers, CEOs and writers about management DO NOT UNDERSTAND the purpose for hierarchy. They believe that management is all about centralization of power. Hierarchy has little to do with power. Hierarchy has everything to do with accountability and authority.

So, is Tony Hseih misguided in his actions and decisions related to his management structure? No. What IS MISGUIDED is the understanding of what he is doing and its description as holacracy. Over my next few posts, we will look closer at what Tony is doing and see that it is nothing new. And if Tony understood his decisions more clearly, in the context that I will describe, those decisions would be more effective in creating his image of an organization.

The purpose of an organization is not to broker power, but to get work done. I know that is what Tony wants to do. The question is, what does that structure look like? It ain’t holacracy.

How to Build a Team, Where to Start?

“So, Roger. I am not going to give you all ten projects,” I repeated. “Not yet. Before I do that, we have some growing to do. You handled three projects superbly, the fourth you began to be late and by the fifth project, things really began to slip. But, you have potential. Ten simultaneous projects will require a different approach from you.”

“You said I would have to build a team,” Roger replied.

“Yes, and building a team is more complex than building a checklist.”

“I think I can step back from all my projects and see the things about those projects that are identical, the things that are similar and the things that are different. That’s why my checklists are helpful. But building a team, I am not sure where to start,” Roger admitted.

“At the beginning, of course,” I smiled. “Let’s start with something you know how to do. You are good at making a list. I want you to make a list of everyone on your current team.”

“I can do that,” Roger agreed. “Any particular order?”

“Yes, you know that some of your team members are more capable than others. You know that, because you have worked with them, watched them make decisions and solve problems. I want you to put your team members in order, with the most capable at the top and the least capable at the bottom. When you have finished that list, let’s get together and you can tell me about each one.”

The Shift in Becoming a Manager

“What would you have to do differently to accomplish ten projects in the same time that you now run five projects? No overtime,” I challenged.

“One thing is for sure, I can’t keep it all in my head,” Roger mused. “You know, some projects, you can manage with sticky notes. When you gave me my third and fourth project, I had to start making lists. When you gave me my fifth project, I realized my lists had similarities and I created a template with all the possible elements. Given another project, I can start with my template rather than creating a list from scratch.”

“But if I give you ten simultaneous projects, what would you have to do differently?” I repeated.

Roger shook his head. “I can’t manage ten projects at the same time, even with my templates,” he concluded. “Something would always be falling through the cracks. I would need some help.”

I nodded in agreement. “Roger, we didn’t start working with you because you could manage a project, or two projects. To manage ten projects, you will need some help, you will need a team. The reason we want to assign you ten simultaneous projects is not so you can build a better template (though that is helpful), but so that you will build a team. This is a dramatic shift from being a supervisor, to becoming a manager. It’s a higher level of work.”