Tag Archives: problem solving

What’s Wrong With My Org Chart?

“What’s wrong with my org chart?” Ron wanted to know.

“You tell me,” I said.  “An org chart is just a piece of paper with a picture of the way you think.”

“What do you mean?”

“Organizational structure is simply the way we define the working relationships between people.  Org structure is a mental construct, your mental picture of the way people ought to get on together at work.  You drew the picture.  What did you have in mind?  You tell me where the friction is?”

“Okay,” Ron started.  “Just this morning, the sales manager called a meeting with the marketing manager to talk about their expenses to date related to the budget each submitted at the end of last year.”

“And?”

“And, the marketing manager said it wasn’t the sales manager’s business to see how marketing dollars are spent.  She tactfully refused to attend the meeting.  She said the sales manager was NOT her manager and declined to go.”

“What was your response?” I asked.

“I had to admit, the marketing manager has a point.  The sales manager is not her manager.  When she took the position, we were very clear that it was her department.  She has very clear objectives and unless she is off track, we expect her to run things without interference.  But, still, declining to go to the meeting seemed a little insensitive.”

“So, when you think about their working relationship, how do you see it?  Clearly, neither is each other’s manager.” I said.

“Well, they seem to get along fine, at least until this meeting thing,” Ron shook his head.

“Let me be more specific in my question,” I replied.  “How do you see these two questions? –

  • In their working relationship, what is the accountability for each of them?
  • In their working relationship, what is their authority?

“Well, when you put it that way, marketing should coordinate with sales, and sales should coordinate with marketing.  We have significant trades shows we attend that eat up a lot of marketing budget.  Our trade show booth is generally staffed with people from the sales department.  So, the two departments need to coordinate together.  The company has a high vested interest in their coordination.”

“And, in their working relationship, what is their authority to make what decisions?”

“Each department has a department budget, submitted each year and approved by their manager?”

“Same manager, between the two of them?”

“Yes, our VP of business development is the manager of both,” Ron clarified.

“How clearly have you spelled out their accountability and authority in the work they do together?  You just explained it to me, how well have you explained it to them?”

“But, they are supposed to work together, shouldn’t they be able to figure it out?” Ron asked.

“Apparently not.  You think you understand their working relationship, in fact, on your org chart, you drew a dotted line.  So, the situation looks like insensitivity, when the friction is because you failed to define the accountability and the authority in that dotted line.  You put the dotted line there for a reason, but failed to define it.”

Spares?

“Looking at the future,” Glen contended, “we are desperately looking for that new something that is going to help replace some our declining lines of business. We find something, we gear up for it, commit some people to the project, but so far, all of those projects have failed. We end up pulling the plug.”

“Who have you committed to these new projects?” I asked.

“Well, they are new projects, so we generally take those people that we can spare from our core project lines.”

“Are these your best and brightest people?”

“Well, no. Our best people are still running our core projects. But we can usually spare a couple of people from one of their teams.”

“So, you are trying to cobble together a launch team, in an untried project area, where unforeseen problems have to be detected and corrected, and you are doing this with spares?”

It’s the Job of a Manager

“What kind of questions?” asked Ted.

“Look, in your position, as Manager, you often don’t have the technical details necessary to make a decision. As a Manager, that’s not your job. Your job is to bring value to the thinking and work of your team.” I waited for Ted to catch up.

“By asking questions?”

“Most Managers think their team will see them weak if they have difficulty making a decision, even if the Manager doesn’t have the technical details. So, sometimes Managers make a decision because they think it’s their job.

“If you have two engineers, each with a different method of solving a problem, you may not know which method is technically the best way.”

“So, how do you make the decision?”

“You don’t bring value by telling them what to do. You bring value by asking questions.

  • What were the top three criteria on which you based your recommendation?
  • What impact will your recommendation have on the time frame of the project?
  • What two things could go wrong with your recommendation?

“Your job, as Manager, is not telling people what to do. Your job is to bring value to their problem solving and decision making.”

Freedom in Limits

“But, I want my team to feel free to approach problems on their own terms,” Monica insisted.  “I don’t want to stifle their creativity.  But often, my team just wanders in a state of confusion, trying to solve a problem that’s not that difficult.”

“It’s a bit of a paradox, isn’t it?” I replied.  “We think if we set limits, then we stifle the team, when limits can be actually be very productive.  If we set the limits too narrow, then there is little opportunity to discover a new or better method.  Yet, if we set the limits too wide, we promote confusion, disarray, introduce delay.”

“That’s what I see, I think I am promoting creativity by giving free reign, but the outcome often falls short,” Monica nodded.

“The thing is, we live with limits all the time.  Social structures are designed to impose limits on those involved.  Organizational structures are designed to define the limits within which reality lives.  They are not designed to stifle, but designed to release creativity in real productive ways.”

“Like, when I tell the team to contribute ideas where money is no object, when the reality is, there is always a limit to the budget.”

“Yes,” I agreed.  “You may gather ideas with an unlimited budget, but there is always that reality that tempers the ideas.  Brainstorming has its place, but so does problem-solving.”

Not a Communication Problem

“I think I have a communication problem with my team,” Jordan explained. “It seems like I have to constantly explain, interpret, assign and reassign, clarify, all to come back and do it over again. I think my team needs a communication seminar.”

“And, what would you hope the outcome of this seminar to be?” I asked.

“That the team understands,” Jordan simply put.

“And, what if I told you I don’t think you have a communication problem?”

“What do you mean? It sounds like a communication problem to me.”

“My telephone rings for two reasons,” I replied. “Most people call to tell me they are in the midst of a communication crisis, or have an unresolvable personality conflict on their team.”

“Like me, a communication problem.”

“In my experience, in the throes of explaining and clarifying, you fail to establish two things. I don’t think you have a communication problem, I think you have an accountability and authority issue. You failed to establish, in the task, in the working relationship, what is the accountability, meaning, what is the output? The second thing missing, in the pursuit of that output, who has the authority to make decisions and solve problems?”

“So, I need my warehouse crew to move material, according to a list, from the warehouse to a staging area for a project. I explain what needs to be done, give them the checklist and then they get stuck.”

“Stuck on what?” I asked.

“The material to move is blocked by other material, the forklift aisle isn’t wide enough for the material, or the forklift is down for maintenance,” Jordan shook his head, “so I have to come back and solve those problems before the team can do their work.”

“Not a communication problem. It’s an accountability and authority problem. What is the accountability (output)? And who has the authority to shift materials, find an alternate forklift aisle or fix the forklift?”

Current and Future Potential

“I want to hire someone who has potential,” Sam described. “But, I need them to hit the ground running today.”

“What do you mean when you say, potential?” I asked.

“You know, they have the ability to grow, so as things get more complicated, they don’t get lost,” Sam replied.

“I need you to be more specific. You used the word, grow. Do you mean grow taller, measured in inches? You used the word, lost. Do you mean lost in the woods? If you really want to find someone with potential, your language will lead you to the qualities you look for in a candidate.”

“Yes, but you know what I mean,” Sam flatly stated.

“I can make assumptions, but they might be wrong.” I stopped, then started again. “Instead of looking at the person, let’s look at the work, specifically the context of the work. What does hit the ground running mean? Please use terms related to capability, decision making and problem solving.”

“Okay,” Sam was slow to piece things together. “The role, today, has certain problems to be solved and decisions to be made.”

“Stop,” I interrupted. “So, the candidate has to possess the actual capability to solve problems and make decisions without significant input or direction from you, today.”

“Yes, but, the candidate will still need some initial direction from me, just to find out how things work around here. We have certain processes unique to our company, so the person will need some orientation, initial training.”

“And, how long will you give them to learn this stuff in the beginning?”

“Easy,” Sam said. “Training last two weeks. If they haven’t demonstrated some initial capability by then, we might counsel them out during a probation period.”

“So, you cannot see the performance on day one, but you expect to see performance after two weeks, benefit of the doubt, four weeks or eight weeks? In that period of time, has their potential changed?” I pressed.

“No, potential doesn’t change that fast,” Sam responded.

“So, on day one, you see their actual capability, in a raw state, it is what it is. You need this person to learn and learn quickly, so that two weeks, four weeks, eight weeks from now, the candidate’s decision making and problem solving will be at a higher level, meaning they have current potential. The difference between actual capability today and current potential two weeks from now is initial orientation and training.”

“Yes, but I want more than that,” Sam said, almost complaining.

“Of course you do,” I furrowed my brow. “What you really want is future potential. Potential is not something that can be trained, it can only mature. And, you want to see that in a candidate?”

“It sounds like a tall order, but yes, that is what I want.”

“Then, what questions will you ask?”

Accountability and Authority

From the Ask Tom mailbag –

Question:
You talk about setting context, that context is the crucible in which management behaviors exist. How do you more specifically define that context and where should managers begin?

Response:
Every role in an organization exists with other roles. Individual action, more specifically, individual accomplishment is a myth. No one is an island. Every organizational behavior affects another part of the organization. Context is the way we define those working relationships.

The two most critical elements to be defined in a working relationship are accountability and authority. To be effective in any role relationship requires that each person understands the accountability (output) and authority in that relationship.

In a given relationship between a manager and a team member, who has the authority to make a decision about the way a problem should be solved? If you suggested the manager, you would be correct.

But, might that lead to autocratic decision making, where a manager might run rough-shod over the team?

It might, were it not for a specific accountability. The manager has the authority to make the decision, but also the accountability to collect relevant data around that decision, which, in many cases will come directly from the team. Theoretical conditions must be matched with actual conditions. Theoretical materials must be matched with actual materials on hand, available consumables, machine uptime, even temperature and humidity. Along with every authority, must come accountability.

Editor’s note – this is not usually the case with a government oversight committee, who would like to think they have all the authority with no accountability. Every authority comes with accountability.

Inside the Function

“Take your most important internal function,” Pablo instructed. “In the beginning, likely will be operations. What is the work most closely related to producing the product or delivering the service? Especially in the beginning, that is mostly short-term work, 1 day to 3 months. Most production roles have a supervisor, with longer term goals and objectives, 3 months to 12 months. The supervisory role is to make sure production gets done, completely, on time, within spec.”

“So, every production person knows they have a supervisor?” I added.

“And, every supervisor knows they have a manager,” Pablo smiled. “This is the beginning of structure, nested goals and objectives related to successive roles (context), a production role, to a supervisory role to a managerial role.”

“The roles are distinguished by longer timespan goals and objectives?” I suggested.

“Yes, the roles are different in that way, but also in the way they relate to each other. Organizational structure begins with nested timespan goals, but also includes the way we define two things associated with those role relationships.”

“Accountability and authority?” I chimed in.

Pablo nodded. “In this working relationship between the team member and the supervisor, what is the accountability? What is the authority?”

My turn to show off. “The accountability on the part of the team member is to apply their full capability in pursuit of the goals and objectives agreed to by their supervisor, in short, to do their best. It is the accountability of the supervisor to create the working environment that makes those goals and objectives possible (probable). It is the accountability of the supervisor for output.”

“And, the authority?” Pablo prompted.

“The authority to make decisions and solve problems appropriate to the level of work in the task.”

Matching the Work

“I’m a structure guy,” Pablo said. “When you think about effective managerial leadership, I think the focus is on the structure.”

“It’s not on charisma, likeability, luck?” I asked, knowing the answer.

Pablo gave me a knowing smile. “The first key area for any manager, is to design and build the team. Individual achievement is a myth. If you want to create something great, it takes a team, a collection of teams, organized to get work done.”

“Before I do anything else, I have to build the team?” I wanted to know.

“Before you build the team, you have to design it,” Pablo continued. “That’s where most companies make their first missteps. As time goes by, there is too much to do, always work left over. Someone has a brilliant idea, let’s hire some more people. And, they do this without any thought of the overall design of the team to get work done.”

“So, first I have to think about the work?”

“And, not just task assignments, we have to figure out what problems must be solved and what decisions have to be made. With that, then we have to determine the level of problem solving and the level of decision required on the team, to make sure when we start to match up the people, we can select the right ones.”

All About the Work

“Brent, let me get this straight. You said that your salespeople may not be doing their best because they may not be interested in the work? Do your salespeople understand the work?”

“You’re right! Sometimes, it’s like they are brain dead. They are just mechanistic, going through the motions,” Brent described.

“So, they understand the prescribed duties, show up, make a presentation, ask for the order. But let me confirm, they may not understand the problems that must be solved or the decisions that must be made to create a successful sale?”

“Exactly, I mean we train them and train them again on the presentation, until they have it memorized, down cold, but you are right, that does not make a successful sale. The success of the sale depends much more on the questions they ask and the data they collect about the customer’s problem.”

“So, as the Sales Manager, do you sit with your team and talk about the problems that must be solved and the decisions that must be made during the sales call? That’s where the work is. That’s where the excitement is. That’s where the challenge is. If you are looking for interest from the salesperson, the connection is in the work, not the prescribed duties.”