Category Archives: Teams

A Well Argued Decision

“Let’s take meetings,” Pablo suggested. “Lots of managers AND their teams work hard to gain concensus, avoid conflict, at times even attempt to make decisions democratically.”

“I have seen that,” I said.

“And that manager of the team, also has a manager, let’s call that role, the manager-once-removed, the manager’s manager,” Pablo described the setup. “If the team and their manager engage in democratic decision making and make a bone-headed decision, who does the manager-once-removed hold accountable?”

Manager-Once-Removed (MOR)
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Manager
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Team

“Well, I assume it would be the whole team, manager included,” I observed.

“Who is the manager-once-removed going to call into the office to discuss this bone-headed decision, the whole team? If we are going to call in the whole team, what do we need the manager for?”

“I’m listening,” I said.

“And, what of the dynamics in the decision meeting? If the decision is to be democratic, then team members will lobby their own agendas, sometimes hidden politics emerge to gain support from other members, perhaps a little arm-twisting. The manager almost becomes a bystander. And, yet, at the end of the day, it is the manager called to account for the bone-headed decision.”

“And?” I asked.

“It is only when the manager becomes accountable for the decision, that we can make headway,” Pablo described. “Team members now show up to provide feedback and support to the manager, who will make and be accountable for the decision. The team will play devil’s advocate, argue this position or that position, in short, create conflict. The point of the meeting is not to manage conflict, but create it, for the benefit of the decision. Don’t manage conflict, manage agreement.”

“And, the benefit?”

“A well argued decision,” Pablo said. “This only happens when we understand the working relationship between the team and the manager, with the manager accountable for the output of the team.”

Change the Context

“And, to promote the social good for the team employed by my company,” Pablo said, “I have to believe in the good inside each person. I have to create managerial systems that support that belief.”

“What you say is counter to many managerial practices,” I said. “In my travels, I see compensation systems, bonus and incentive programs that rely on greed and competition over compensation. I see team members with a narrow focus only on the next promotion, hidden agendas, backdoor politics, even backstabbing. I see a general mistrust of authority inside the company.”

“Yes, often that is what you see,” Pablo replied. “And, it is through no fault of employees. They engage in behavior to survive inside the system in which they live. If we create a system that relies on greed, we will get greedy behavior. If the only way we acknowledge contribution is by status, if the only thing that feeds a person’s self concept is a promotion, then you will get politics based on power. If you want to change the behavior, change the context in which they live.”

Important Connection

“What would be valuable for you to know about a team member, as a manager?” I asked.

“Well, what motivates them. What makes them want to come to work,” answered Nathan.

“There is a story about three men who were working together, each doing the same job. When asked about their work, each replied differently. The first said that he was breaking rock. The second said that he was constructing a building. The third said that he and his colleagues were building a school in their community so their children would have a place to learn to read.”

I watched Nathan’s eyes absorb the story. Finally he spoke.

“I suppose it would be valuable to know what is important to each of my team members.”

“Why would that be valuable to know?”

“I have to find the connection,” Nathan started, “I have to find the connection between what is important to them and their work.”

“And if you can find the connection?”

“Then we are in. The sky turns blue, the flowers bloom and the birds sing.”

“And if you cannot find the connection?”

“Then the work will be repetitious, the work will be like breaking rock.”

“And?”

“And, so, I have to keep searching to make the connection.” The conversation became quiet. Nathan was searching, perhaps thinking about his own connection.

Is Money the Answer?

Nathan had some time to think this one over. Giving people more money wasn’t the answer. Compensation is necessary, but seldom a driving force for performance.

“I guess I would have to find out what people really want from their job,” Nathan answered.

“And how would you find that out?” I asked.

“Sometimes, our company puts out an employee survey.”

“And how helpful is that survey to you as a manager?”

Nathan grinned. “Not really helpful at all. The wording on the survey is usually very generic and heck, I don’t even know if the responses are from my team members or someone else’s team.”

“So, how would you find out?” I repeated.

“I guess I would have to just ask them,” Nathan finally concluded.

“All at once, or one at a time?”

“I don’t know, it is kind of a strange topic. I can’t ever remember any of my bosses ever asking me what I wanted out of my job. Maybe I should tackle this one on one.”

“Good,” I nodded. “Now let’s think about what that conversation would sound like.”

Is It All That Interesting?

“What does interest have to do with the behavior of your team members?” I asked. A smile crept across Nathan’s face.

“It’s pretty obvious isn’t it?” he replied. “When someone is interested, they sit up straighter, they pay attention, they have a skip in their step, they ask questions.”

“Is all the work that we do around here, interesting?”

Nathan was quick to reply. “Not really, I mean some things are interesting, but some things are repetitious and only mildly amusing.”

“So, as a manager, how do you keep someone’s interest in a role where the tasks are repetitious and only mildly amusing?”

Nathan had to think on this one. “I’m not sure. I mean it is hard to be interested in some of the assembly work we do.”

“So, if it is difficult to raise someone’s interest, how do you get them to sit up straight, pay attention, have a skip in their step and ask questions?”

Nathan searched his mind for a response, but came up empty. I asked an opposite question. “Let’s look at the other extreme. How do you keep someone from actually resenting the work that you have them doing?”

Nathan’s brow raised, “Well, they do get paid.”

“Yes, but they could take your money and still resent the work that you have them doing?”

“More money?” Nathan floated.

“You could even give them a raise and they might still resent the work that you have them doing? How do you raise the level of interest in tasks that may be repetitious and uneventful? How can you, as a manager, turn the tide of resentment for that type of work?”

Breaking Dependence on the Manager

It was late in the afternoon when I stopped by to check on Nathan. We agreed that he would circulate with his team, asking a variation of one simple question –

“When things are going well, and your job is going well, how do you do what you do?”

“That’s a great question,” I said. Nathan was beaming. I could tell the response from his team had been positive.

“It’s funny,” he shook his head. “When they describe how they do what they do, sometimes they get it right, and sometimes they get it almost right. But since I gave them the chance to tell me first, when we talk about the almost right stuff, it comes a lot easier. They are much more willing to listen.”

“So, what is the lesson for you?” I asked.

“It’s not so important that I be right, or that I be in control, whatever that means. What is important is that my team members are thinking about what they are doing. They are thinking about what they are doing that is right and thinking about what they are doing that needs improvement.”

Nathan stopped cold. A new niche just opened in his thinking.

“It’s like before, they just depended on me to tell them what they were doing wrong so they never had to think about it. They knew that if they were doing something wrong, they would get a lecture from me and that would be that, so they didn’t have to think about it. When I stop giving the lecture and ask them, they suddenly begin to think.”

Tell or Ask?

“I think, when I tell people what to do, acting like a big shot, that does not create trust,” Nathan started. “In fact, I don’t even have to act like a big shot to be perceived as a big shot.”

“Why do you think that?” I asked.

“It seems that no matter how tactful I am, or how I sugarcoat it, when I tell people what to do, I sound like a critical parent.”

“That is quite a discovery,” I remarked. “So, how do you tell people what to do, without sounding like a critical parent?”

“I don’t think I can. I can’t tell them, they have to tell me.”

I knew Nathan was on the right path, just curious if he was putting it all together. “What do you mean?”

Nathan thought for a bit. “Instead of telling my team member what to do, I should ask them how they intend to accomplish the task at hand. Instead of me telling, I want them telling.”

Nathan waited for my response, but he didn’t get the advice he was looking for. “So, let’s go try it out,” I said.

Before Anything Else

Nathan waited for me in my favorite place, the coffee room. “What are we going to talk about today?” I asked.

“You said we were going to talk about the Prime Directive,” Nathan responded.

“Which is what?”

“My role, as a manager is to add value to the decision making and problem solving of my team members.”

“And you were going to bring me a list of ways you could do that.”

“Indeed,” Nathan announced, proudly producing a single sheet with several items on it.

“So, look down your list and pick the top three items that make sense to do first,” I directed.

Nathan was proud of his list, but he had not considered that some things made sense to do before other things. Finally, he spoke. “Well, I have twelve things on my list, but the thing I need to do first isn’t on here.”

“Which is?”

“I think before I do anything, I have to create a sense of trust. In fact, without a sense of trust, none of the things on the list are possible.”

“In your meetings, you invited Rachel, Edward and Billy to run certain parts. Does that create trust or distrust?”

“Well, trust,” blurted Nathan.

“So, you have already started to build the trust that is required to be effective. What’s next?”

What Else Can You Delegate?

It was a big difference in Nathan’s meeting. Instead of barking out the quota numbers for daily production, he had assigned that task to Rachel. The team had responded.

“What else could you delegate during the meeting?” I asked.

“Well, when Rachel announced the quota number, the first questions were about raw materials and machine setups. So, I was thinking about asking Edward to get with Rachel before the meeting so he could report on the status of raw materials. And I was thinking about Billy, he is our line mechanic, to get with Rachel to plan the machine setups for the day. So he could report those in the meeting.”

“Sounds like an agenda is coming together for this daily meeting and you are having other people become responsible for each line item?”

Nathan laughed. “You know, I thought, as the manager, that I had to do all the talking in the meeting. I am beginning to think, maybe, I should just call the meeting to order and sit at the back of the room.”

They Began to Ask Questions

“So, what was the big difference?” I asked. Nathan was getting pushback in his production meeting whenever he went over the schedule. Especially when he talked about the daily quota number for production.

“I assigned Rachel to announce the number,” Nathan replied. “It was the funniest thing. When I talk about production, people grouse and mumble. When Rachel described the quota number, people began to ask questions. Did we have enough materials on the floor and how many different setups would be required on the machine. It was like they wanted to do the work.”

“So, what did you learn?” I asked.

“I learned that I don’t have to do all the talking. I can delegate out important stuff. Instead of me telling people what to do, when they become involved, they actually step up and participate.”