Over the last 25 years, I’ve worked in many teams of all shapes and sizes. At the tender age of 17, I was tasked to ‘manage’ groups of up to 50 stagehands as we worked backstage for artists-of-the-day including Bon Jovi, Def Leppard, Janet Jackson and Whitney Houston. Looking back (and embarrassingly), it was all command-and-control. I didn’t know any better. ‘Leadership’ to me, then, was observing and mimicking my supervisors. The stagehands were also not “my team”, just people I needed to get the work done.
Later on, for five years, I led small close-knit teams of show lighting technicians in Singapore’s premier arts complex, The Esplanade. We were agile, competent and self-managing as we set up events for opening nights and extended runs. Not a minute early, not a second late. Every night, we consistently delivered great value for paying customers seated outside in the halls. We were extremely proud of our work and we rallied around each other. I miss those teams.
Teams in Knowledge Workplaces
Now, let’s talk about my years in the corporate world. I had my first “computer job” at Oracle at the grand age of 28.
On reflection, the concept of “teams”, as I knew it, barely exists in knowledge-based work environments. In the theatre, we were always measured on collective performance towards a single purpose (that is entertaining the spectator.) Yet, in my corporate roles, I can only remember being measured on my own individual performance and getting rewarded for it. Similarly, my “team members” were individually evaluated by my managers in opaque exercises. In this example alone, it is really clear that we were “groups of people”, rather than true teams.
Here’s a definition to go with that: Performance management is a communication process by which managers and employees work together to plan, monitor and review an employee’s work objectives and overall contribution to the organization. (Source: State of Oklahoma)
Being a “people manager” myself later, I realised that traditional performance management practices in corporate organisations are almost always skewed towards the individual performance while ignoring the potentially-exponential benefits of collective positive performance at team-level.
While we, especially those of us in Agile, talk about complexity- and systems-thinking in organisations, yet our inherent actions as managers are always about measuring and improving single elements of the system, again and again. Strangely inefficient, isn’t it?
It also always baffles me that, as a manager, the one “team development tool” that I was encouraged to utilise was the occasional team meal or the quarterly team building event at the adventure park or pub. In reality, corporate managers are not really equipped with the skillset or tools to develop high-performing teams!
Cue stage left entry of Management 3.0.
‘Managing the system, not the people.’
I believe we all have enough frameworks, including the Agile ones, to keep our teams’ processes sleek and productivity high. But high-performing and, most importantly, highly-engaged self-organising teams do not magically happen overnight. The magic is in the intangibles.
In Agile, we speak about ‘changing the mindset’. However, people’s minds are next to impossible to change. Unless you possess nifty mind-bending tricks, the only control we have as a team leader is to create a work environment where sustainable personal change can happen.
Management 3.0 is an evolving set of proven tools, practices and games that can help leaders create these environments where teams can thrive. Tools, such as Delegation Poker and Team Competency Matrix, provide structured approaches for managers to create self-organising and self-managing teams by creating boundaries. Moving Motivators and Happiness Door provide gateways for managers to understand the team’s health and motivation.
Some may ask: why bother with these “fun & games” activities? The answer, at least in my opinion, is that we’re running out of work at the bottom and room at the top. At the bottom, most repeatable work is getting automated, leaving the more complex work for humans.
Unfortunately, over time, most managers today are not capable of doing these complex human jobs performed by their team members. In the hierarchy of actual good value production, a manager's role can be viewed as a luxury vis a vis a highly-competent technical team member (who’s probably gunning for the manager’s job). As there’s only so much room at the top, redundancy is a real thing.
So what can managers do, in today’s complex working environments, to maintain “good value production”?
Our new job, as leaders and managers in complexity, is in fact about cultivating trust and safe spaces for diversity and inclusion by shaping the culture within which our teams operate. To do so, it is critical that we focus on our coaching and facilitation skills. And these Management 3.0 activities are the researched and structured tools that can help frame and provide opportunities to hone these much-needed skills.
In a nutshell: It’s not about managing people, but really about facilitating and shaping our work systems. Only if we focus our efforts to become facilitative leaders can we truly create self-organising and self-managing teams with a focus on collective team performance and a healthy agile work culture.
Guest post by Isman Tanuri.
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