Do I Have the Authority?

“But, I am the manager, shouldn’t I have the authority to make some decisions around here?” Amber asked.

“Ah, yes. Authority,” I replied. “You must understand, however, that authority comes with accountability. Neither comes first. You cannot have the authority to make a decision without the accountability for the outcome of that decision. Conversely, you cannot be held to account for the outcome unless you have the authority to make the decision.”

“So, just exactly what decisions do I have the authority to make around here?” Amber pressed on.

“To know that, you have to examine your goals and objectives.” Amber had an unspoken question on her face. I continued, “Your goals and objectives, agreed upon by you and your manager, set the context for your accountability (output) and the authority you have to make decisions to reach those goals.

“In the beginning, that authority may be unclear. That is why you meet with your manager more frequently, to clarify the context, define the accountability and determine your authority. As time goes by, your confidence will increase and so will your understanding of the discretion you have to make appropriate decisions.

“The most important understanding, where you have authority to make decisions regarding the output of your team, you also have accountability for that outcome. Do not think you can have the authority without the accountability.”

A Team Member’s Perspective

James stared at the project on his desk. It was a tidy project that he could delegate, probably free up four hours of his time this week.

This is where most managers start. For the manager, delegation is your most powerful time management tool.

I asked James to make a list of the benefits of that delegation to his team member. The list was quick. The team member would:

  • Learn a new skill.
  • See their contribution as valuable.
  • Have a better sense of the big picture.
  • Experience more job satisfaction.

I asked James if the list had anything to do with time management. As he studied each item, it became clear that, from the manager’s perspective, we were talking about time management, but from the team member’s perspective, we were talking about learning and development. Delegation may be a powerful time management tool, but it is also your most powerful people development tool.

The Fear in Contribution

“Does anyone have any ideas about how we can solve this problem?” Wayne asked. The team just sat there, staring at him with lizard eyes, fixated, motionless. Sure, it was Wednesday (hump day), but the atmosphere was limp.

It was like throwing a party where no one shows up. You think you have done your job as a manager, assembling the troops to solve a problem, but you get no response from the team.

It’s not lethargy and your people are not stupid. I find the biggest problem is fear. Fear that their idea will be seen as inadequate or silly.

Prime the pump. Simple solution. Pair everyone up. Have team members work two by two for a brief period of time (brief, like 45 seconds), then reconvene the group. Working in pairs takes the fear out. People can try on their thoughts in the privacy of a twosome before exposing the idea to the group. Primes the pump every time.

Found Another Job

“I just wanted to tell you that I have to give my two weeks notice. I found another job that pays more money and I can’t turn it down.” There was an awkward silence as Barbara tried to gather her thoughts to respond to Howard, her best lead technician.

Her first instinct was to find out how much more money and counter the offer, persuade Howard to stay. Patience got the better of her and she replied, “Howard, I know this was a tough decision for you. I also know that decisions like this are complicated and rarely determined by a single factor. You said you were leaving for money, but I have to believe there may be other reasons, too. Since you have made a decision to leave, would you do me a favor and spend some time talking with me about things we could do differently around here. Your thoughts might make a difference to your other team members.”

Countering an offer for higher wages seldom works. There are usually other, more compelling circumstances that drive a team member to another company. As the manager, if you cannot improve those circumstances, more money will only delay the inevitable. First, you have to fix what’s wrong.

How to Move a Team from BAMS to Work Mode

This is the last of a series on Teal and Levels of Work. Here is the backstory for the series. The purpose is to explore the tenets of Teal through the lens of Levels of Work. Links to each post in this series, below.
—–
From the Ask Tom mailbag –

Question:
I have a question, what are the biggest challenges for companies starting self-organizing teams?

Response:
First, give any group of people a problem to solve and they will self-organize into a team to solve the problem. There will be discussion, disagreement, agreement and commitment. Some members of the team may fall out. A leader will emerge. Some would call this role a coach, others a manager.

You already have a self-organized team. The next step is to create an accountable team, where the team itself manages accountability. Some teams push accountability management to the leader (coach, manager) and given the opportunity, many leaders (coaches, managers) cannot resist. If the leader falls for (seduced by) it, the team easily succumbs into BAMS.

How does the leader/coach/manager resist the temptation? The most effective manager does not tell people what to do. The most effective manager asks the most effective questions.

Discontinuous Levels and Hierarchy

This is a series on Teal and Levels of Work. Here is the backstory for the series in case you are interested. The purpose for the series is to explore the tenets of Teal through the lens of Levels of Work. Links to each post in this series, below.
—–
From the Ask Tom mailbag –

Question:
In your post yesterday, you said that growth (of capability) is nested in discontinuous levels and that these discontinuous levels were readily observable. What did you mean by discontinuous?

Response:
An electric car has a continuous power-train and no gears. It goes from minimum to maximum in one continuous power curve. Humans are more like a multi-speed transmission, where each gear winds out to its maximum, shifting into the next gear.

Jean Piaget was the pioneer who observed distinct stages in childhood development.
Non-verbal sensorimotor stage (birth to 2 years), where objects that cannot be sensed (seen or heard) do not exist. I have five fingers on each hand, but hands behind my back means I have no fingers at all.
Pre-operatonal stage (2-7 years) where symbolic language emerges to indicate relationships, though relationships are ego-centric, the child is the center of its universe.
Concrete operational stage (7-11 years), where the understanding of tangible concrete elements are organized, and abstract, conceptual elements are barely understood. Attention span (timespan) at age 6 increases from fifteen minutes to one hour at age nine.
Formal operational stage (11-18 years), where cause and effect logic, abstract conceptual elements are recognized and assimilated.

Elliott Jaques continued these observations of discontinuous stages throughout adulthood (age 20 through age 70).

  • Symbolic Declarative (S-I) – Timespan – 1 day to 3 months
  • Symbolic Cumulative (S-II) – Timespan – 3 months to 1 year
  • Symbolic Serial (S-III) – Timespan – 1 year to 2 years
  • Symbolic Parallel (S-IV) – Timespan – 2 years to 5 years
  • Conceptual Declarative (S-V) – Timespan – 5 years to 10 years
  • Conceptual Cumulative (S-VI) – Timespan – 10 years to 20 years
  • Conceptual Serial (S-VII) – Timespan – 20 years to 50 years
  • Conceptual Parallel (S-VIII) – Timespan – 50 years to 100 years

Cognitive development is not simply how many problems are solved within a time-frame. All problems are not created equal. Some problems are more complex than others, and that complexity is discontinuous.

For example –

  • Problem solving at S-I – Trial and error.
  • Problem solving at S-II – Cumulative diagnostics, comparative.
  • Problem solving at S-III – Root cause analysis, cause and effect, single critical path.
  • Problem solving at S-IV – Multi-system analysis, capacity, dependency, contingency, velocity.

Each of these stages in problem solving requires capability at that level. Levels of capability are observable and distinct, become the basis to understand levels of work. Levels of work define the framework for organizational hierarchy.
—–
Here are all the links to this series on Teal and Levels of Work.
Teal and Levels of Work
Hierarchy is Just a Shape
All Problems Are Not Created Equal
The Question of Accountability
Teal and Theory of Constraints
Hidden Hierarchy in a Self-Managed Team
Accountability and Authority
Behaviorists Without Children
BAMS and Teal
Back to Hierarchy, For a Reason
Most Teams are Functional, Few Are Accountable
Manifest-Extant-Requisite
Stratified Levels of Self-Organization

Stratified Levels of Self-Organization

This is a series on Teal and Levels of Work. Here is the backstory for the series in case you are interested. The purpose for the series is to explore the tenets of Teal through the lens of Levels of Work. Links to each post in this series, below.
—–
Some interesting responses, as this series evolved. Over the next few posts, I will feature some of these with my own thoughts. This post comes from Jan De Visch in Belgium. More of his thinking is in his book Dynamic Collaboration: Strengthening Self-Organization and Collaborative Intelligence in Teams.

“A false assumption in the Teal movement is that every employee can grow to a level of self-awareness from which self-management becomes possible. Scientific research shows that this is not the case. One needs to acknowledge the variety in developmental levels of participants in self-organizing teams. An essential insight is that self-organization only works in larger contexts if you start to distinguish different types of dialogue spaces (We Spaces), which are nested in each other, and each with their own dynamics. Hierarchy is sometimes an effective answer to breaking through downward divided team dynamics. Thinking through the stratified nature within self-organization is the first step towards Teal’s sustainable development. This notion is not elaborated in the Teal movement.”

I would break this down, that a person’s self-awareness is a product of their capability (observed) and that self-management emerges (and blossoms) within that capability. Cognitive development within individuals translates into cognitive capability in the team.

De Visch’s description of dialogue spaces is consistent with Jaques observation that timespan and its concommitant evidence is language. Our ability to imagine into the future begins at a very young age with the simple words, “Once upon a time.”

Self-organization exists within stratified levels of work. Growth toward that self-awareness (and self-management) is nested within discontinuous levels. These discontinuous levels are readily observable and create the hierarchy that Teal might resist, except where it acknowledges hierarchy of recognition, influence and skill. Elliott would argue that hierarchy is more precisely identified as capability.
—–
Here are all the links to this series on Teal and Levels of Work.
Teal and Levels of Work
Hierarchy is Just a Shape
All Problems Are Not Created Equal
The Question of Accountability
Teal and Theory of Constraints
Hidden Hierarchy in a Self-Managed Team
Accountability and Authority
Behaviorists Without Children
BAMS and Teal
Back to Hierarchy, For a Reason
Most Teams are Functional, Few Are Accountable
Manifest-Extant-Requisite

Manifest-Extant-Requisite

This is a series on Teal and Levels of Work. Here is the backstory for the series in case you are interested in the context. The purpose for the series is to explore the tenets of Teal through the lens of Levels of Work.
—–
Who is accountable and what is the role of a manager? Teal would say the team is accountable and there is no manager, the team is accountable for the output of the team.

Jaques would ask the question again, who is accountable and what is the role of the manager? Laloux acknowledges that, on the nursing teams at Buurtzorg, there are nurses that contribute more than others, and that, on request, a coach can be summoned. There is no visible role of a manager, but leadership is certainly visible.

Leadership may be designated (in the role of a manager) or it may naturally emerge in a hierarchy of “recognition, influence and skill.” Jaques clearly addresses this issue, exploring three states of organizational structure. Organizational structure (hierarchy) is the way we define the working relationships between people.

The Manifest Organization is the structure of the organization represented on the official organization chart, “at best, only a very rough approximation to what is actually going on, if you can even make sense of it.” Laloux might argue, this is the documentation of the “chain of command” and serves to illustrate the evil in hierarchy.

The Extant Organization is the system as it actually functions, for better or worse. Misguided notions of “command and control” drive dysfunctional working relationships, AND also allow for the emergence of natural working relationships described by Laloux as “recognition, influence and skill.” Jaques describes that the Extant Organization “requires you to dig in and find who is actually being held accountable for what and what authority they are, in fact, able to exercise in relation to whom and to what.”

The study of the Extant Organization begins the quest, gives you clues “by giving you a picture of how people intuitively judge the place, and how it can be made to work best, in spite of confusions and lack of clarity – for, by and large, we do try to get our work done as sensibly as the situation will allow.”

Because the role of manager is “invisible” does not mean a lack of leadership. Indulge me (and Elliott) to make this distinction. Where Laloux describes the team as accountable, Jaques would describe the team as “managing accountability.” Managing accountability is different than accountability for output.

A manager is that person accountable for the output of other people. The manager controls all the variables around the team, they provide the system, the training, the tools, the facility. The manager (coach) intervenes when the team struggles. See my post on BAMS and Teal. All of these descriptions are consistent with “managerial” practices at Burrtzorg. The nursing teams attend training, work inside a structured system to solve problems and make decisions, are provided the tools with which to work and are supported by coaches and facilitators trained to assist the team to manage its own accountability.

Jaques holds the manager accountable for the output of the team. AND, the most effective teams are those that manage their own accountability. These statements are not exclusive, they are simultaneous. Further, the most effective managers are those that support the team to manage their own accountability.

Those teams that fail to manage their own accountability suffer from fight-flight-freeze-appease or dependence (on the leader). In Jaques world, these descriptions are all consistent with a set of requisite managerial practices.

My sense is this. Teal is an intuitive response against a conceptual construct of power and control. It acknowledges hierarchy of recognition, influence and skill. Buurtzorg created an inventive structure to ensure the absence of power and control and stimulate the emergence of recognition, influence and skill. This is not a designated (Manifest) organization, but one from the study of the Extant Organization.

Teal may be an effort in the evolution from Manifest to Extant to Requisite.
—–
Comments are welcome. If it is your first time posting here, your comment will go into a temporary queue. Once approved, future comments will post in real time. If you receive this blog by email, you will have to click through to the site to see posted comments.

Most Teams are Functional, Few are Accountable

This is a series on Teal and Levels of Work. Here is the backstory for the series in case you are interested in the context. The purpose for the series is to explore the tenets of Teal through the lens of Levels of Work.
—–
What’s the difference between a group of people, a team (functional team) and an accountable team? Give any group of people a problem to solve, a decision to make, a goal or objective and a dramatic transformation begins from a group to a team.

Think about any high performing team you were ever a member of, and think about these defining characteristics.

Characteristics of a Team (Functional)

  • Clear and agreed upon purpose.
  • Key measures that indicate if team is on track.
  • Competent system.
  • Competent people.
  • Shared fate (what happens to one happens to all).

Functional teams are found everywhere. What is the difference between a functional team and that rare accountable team?

An accountable team is a functional team that manages its own accountability.

Could this be the team dynamic that Laloux describes at Buurtzorg? My intuition tells me that Buurtzorg’s self-managed teams are one and the same as Jaques‘ accountable team. The dynamics in the design of Buurtzorg’s self-managed teams become clear in the light of Jaques’ accountability schema.

If we can temporarily set aside “who?” is accountable and focus only on how accountability is managed, we find alignment between Buurtzorg’s self-managed team and Jaques’ accountable team. And if there is alignment at the team level, could there also be alignment at the manager level, though Buurtzorg would declare there is no manager. I think I can put those two pieces together in my next post.
—–
Comments are welcome. If it is your first time posting here, your comment will go into a temporary queue. Once approved, future comments will post in real time. If you receive this blog by email, you will have to click through to the site to see posted comments.

Back to Hierarchy, For a Reason

This is a series on Teal and Levels of Work. Here is the backstory for the series in case you are interested in the context. The purpose for the series is to explore the tenets of Teal through the lens of Levels of Work.
—–
If the purpose of hierarchy is not a power-grab, then why does hierarchy naturally exist as organizations form?

I recently ran into this issue in an organization with nine levels of managers. Without a guidepost to levels of work, people got promoted by reason of longevity, title instead of pay-raise, geography, too many people under a current manager, favoritism, nepotism. Totally out of control. The solution to organizational complexity was to add more people, more titles, more layers.

When hierarchy is grounded in levels of work (not power and not in nonsense), those layers naturally appear in the context of problem solving and decision making. AND, when we can see the distinction in the level of problem solving and the level of decision making, who-becomes-whose-manager is now a matter of organization sustenance.

We have explored the structure at Buurtzorg over the past couple of weeks. As an example of Teal, captured in Frederic Laloux’s Reinventing Organizations, the who-becomes-whose-manager is left to circumstance, not clearly defined and when it happens, designed to be temporary.

In Requisite Organization, based Elliott Jaques‘ levels of work, the who-becomes-whose-manager is based on accountability. Indeed, Elliott describes Requisite Organization as a Managerial Accountability Hierarchy, “a system of roles in which an individual in a higher role (manager) is held accountable of the outputs of persons in immediately lower roles (team members) and can be called ‘to account’ for their actions.”

Elliott would describe the accountability for each manager, to bring value to the problem solving and decision making in the team. This is not a suggestion, this is a mandate, an accountability. Managers are required to bring value to the work of the team. This is not a power structure, but a value-stream.

I was reminded that Teal is not structure-less. While the nursing teams are well described by Laloux, the rest of the structure is not, so let me make some guesses.
S-II – nursing teams, accountable to deliver direct nursing services. (Longest goals and objectives 3-12 months.)
S-III – regional coaches and institutional facilitators, accountable to ensure nursing teams are working effectively in that delivery. (See prior post on Teal and Theory of Constraints. Longest goals and objectives 12-24 months.)
S-IV – integration executives accountable to ensure the output of nursing services works within the medical community and government ordinances for financial accommodation and payment. (Longest goals and objectives 2-5 years.)
S-V – would be Jos De Blok, the founder of Buurtzorg, accountable for enterprise design and value in the marketplace. (Longest goals and objectives 5-10 years.)

Each level of work is defined by context in its decision making and problem solving. When this hierarchy occurs (naturally), it creates organizational sustenance, intentionally, with purpose.
—–
Comments are welcome. If it is your first time posting here, your comment will go into a temporary queue. Once approved, future comments will post in real time. If you receive this blog by email, you will have to click through to the site to see posted comments.