I’m a Manager, I Fix Problems

Well depending on what type of organization you are trying to help create, that could be a problem.

For business agility via Agile or Lean methods (remember methods are NOT the goal) to be highly successful in an organization, the organization must promote the concept of the self-organizing team.  This runs counter to the traditional hierarchical philosophy that is found in many (maybe most) organizations and often prevents organizations from having their teams perform at their highest levels possible.  In the traditional approach, the organization is largely dependent on managers directing their reports and solving the teams problems. Annual goals (and you know my thoughts on performance appraisals) are built around such an approach.   I find it interesting when a manager suggests to me how “Agile” they are and then begin to rattle off how many people they have reporting to them or how often they looked at the teams’ burn down chart or inspected their card wall to see how long things were taking or solved all the problems that the team had.  They are yet to realize that their behavior is not what is desired in the age of the knowledge worker. The manager who “fixes all the problem” is not a plus in an Agile environment.  They don’t realize that they are possibly the biggest reason why their teams will not become high-performing. To quote Drucker on the knowledge worker:

For, once beyond the apprentice stage, knowledge workers must know more about their job than their boss does–or else they are no good at all.

But the fact is that many organizations that are engaged in an Agile or Lean journey have a good number of good people in managerial positions. So what are they supposed to do if not manage team members and fix team problems?  I have a suggestion: focus on the system.  What is the system you may ask? Read this and this for starters.  Can you now identify the system you are a part of?

Management (hence managers) need to focus on creating an environment (system) in which their teams can excel.  This is also known as leadership.  If you are in management and consider your responsibility to be the “management of people” then, from a knowledge worker perspective, you’ve (unfortunately) totally missed it.  If you want to get into to management for the aforementioned reason i.e. fix the teams, please do us a favor and reconsider.  Don’t rob the team of it’s ability to learn and self-organize.  Your focus and attention needs to lie elsewhere.   As a manager, you need to help design a system that allows the teams in your organization to perform an excellent job.  A job that people want to do.  This unfortunately, is quite different from our classical view, understanding and training on management and requires a complete paradigm shift of our mental models.  This transition is not easy in organizations that reward managers for behaving in a completely different way.  So once it again, leadership is required to change the system.  Quoting Deming:

Remove barriers that rob the hourly worker of his right to pride of workmanship. The responsibility of supervisors must be changed from sheer numbers to quality.

Even though many workers are now salaried, the guidance is still relevant.  No Agile (or Lean) based transformation is complete without a transformation in the way managers conduct their behavior. Beware of consultants who peddle solutions that don’t require such a paradigm shift. Be sure of what you want.  Beware of Agile managers who are fixated on jumping into the team and solving their problems.  They are probably getting in the way.

Dear manager, focus on the system.  Fix problems outside the control of the team.  Design an environment that allows the teams in your organization to be successful.

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About Ebenezer

culture hack. contrarian. change artiste. speaker. writer. silo-connector. entrepreneur. totally human. ff at your own risk. :-)
This entry was posted in Organizational Learning, Software Development and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to I’m a Manager, I Fix Problems

  1. No Agile (or Lean) based transformation is complete without the manager’s job changing so much as to be unrecognisable as “management”.

    – Bob

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