Almost every business I visit, and team I work with, make the same mistakes over and over again. Heck even I make these mistakes when given the opportunity to.
If there’s one reason I do the work I do it’s because I care about people. I’ve worked too many jobs that kill people’s souls and I’ve seen too many people accept and adapt to situations that are inhumane, unproductive and depressing.
And it kills projects, productivity, business value and meaning.
Management is the problem—but it’s only rarely the solution.
One of my favorite films last year was the documentary Buck, the story of legendary horse trainer Buck Brannaman who worked on the film The Horse Whisperer and has been likened to the iconic character.
He’s an old-school cowboy who advocates that you train a horse through understanding and leadership not punishment. His gentleness and success with horses is legendary.
In one pivotal scene Buck says “A lot of times rather than helping people with horse problems, I’m helping horses with people problems.”
While I hesitate to continue the metaphor of people as draft animals, I can’t help but bring Buck’s words into my own world.
I’m almost always hired by managers and executives whose teams have problems with productivity, quality and morale. And they want me to fix the team.
At the risk of biting the hand that feeds me—or signs the checks—I have to say that I’ve never found the team to be the problem.
You see I don’t help managers with team problems. I help teams with management problems.
Are you there manager? It’s us, your team.
All too often—dare I say almost always—managers authorize the budget then disappear. And you can’t win if you don’t play.
I recently worked with a team where three directors were signed up to be in the room and all three never showed, citing emergencies elsewhere. I’d like to say this is a rare occurrence but it’s all-too common.
This is a problem for a few reasons.
First it disconnects the manager from the team. The manager loses out on the ability to understand the team’s struggles and perspectives so they also miss the opportunity to help.
Second it sends a message that the team is unimportant and that the manager belongs to a different class. It widens the cultural divide and contributes to an us vs. them context.
Third the manager misses valuable feedback on their own performance. But perhaps this is the point of not showing.
In the case above the feedback would have been invaluable and it might have meant we could solve a host of problems right then right there.
You see one of the missing managers is in the habit of re-estimating for the team. He regularly takes an effort estimate for a piece of work and revises it down. This new smaller estimate is written into the plan and when the team then misses the mark the manager, and other organizational leaders, asks why they are behind schedule.
This is toxic management. As hard as it may have been to hear I’m convinced that if the manager in question could have heard the impact he was having he would have found a way to change.
And we could have found a way to meet everyone’s goals.
I want to go easy on this person because it’s likely his bonus, or at least his superiors perception of his performance, is based in part on how fast the team gets things done—or say they will.
Leaders not managers.
This is the problem at its core. That we are managing to objectives rather than leaning together into the unknown and trusting each other.
Trust. If there were one word that would sum up the difference between an Agile manager and a command and control manager then “trust” is it. And there’s just too much complexity to manage in companies today without working with people you trust.
An Agile manager takes time to hire well—and seeks the team’s council when doing so—and extends trust to these people.
An Agile manager leads through service and places their focus on the teams that depend on them not the people above. Their main goal is to clear roadblocks and empower the team.
Being an Agile manager is less about deciding what to do and more about creating a context where individuals can make informed decisions.
Your Team is a Mirror
Buck Branneman slso says that “Your horse is a mirror to your soul. Sometimes you might not like what you see … Sometimes you will.”
What does your team tell you about your soul?