I use this blog as a soap box to preach (ahem... to talk :-) about subjects that interest me.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Management - Need to know

How can people decide with competence if they don't have all the information they need to do it? In one respect, human beings are like any other machine: to deliver good results they need to have the necessary inputs and be able to process them well enough.

Let's face it, there are capable people and less capable ones. To pretend that all team members are equal and should be treated in the same way is ridiculous. For certain activities, the level of productivity of the team members can differ from one another by a factor of ten or more. One well known example of this variability is the number of tested and delivered lines of code written in a third generation programming language like C or Java.

This means that a manager cannot have the same expectations regarding all her team members.

This also means that some team members need more from their manager than others. If I can make an unorthodox parallel, some collaborators are like delivery trucks, slow, reliable, and supporting heavy loads; others are like racing cars, temperamental, quick, and extremely performing; some others are like a combination of the two, perhaps with elements of mini-busses or medium sized family cars.

Now, for team work to succeed, you need all sorts of team members, and it is your task as a leader to recognise their differences, utilise their qualities at best, and provide to them whatever they need to function.

Most importantly, everybody must have access to information, both directly related to their job and to the company in general. Withhold information from your team and you will seriously impair their ability to decide autonomously. This is perfectly consistent with the concept that knowledge is power: keep your people in the dark and all your talks of empowerment become lip service.

In fact, this is precisely why so many managers do not inform their collaborators: to prevent them from making decisions, to be in the loop in as many decisions as possible. These are the control freaks who want to know everything but only dispense information allegedly on a per need-to-know basis. In reality, they apply the old Roman strategy of the divide et impera (divide and rule), creating little privileges for individual team members and thereby completely undermining team building.

Bottom line? Apply to the distribution of knowledge a criterion equivalent to what I recommended for making decisions: say everything by default. That is, ask yourself whether there are reasons for withholding information rather than reasons for passing it on. Further, create automatisms to distribute information, so that you must consciously decide to stop a news item to be distributed, while everything is forwarded to others by default.

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