A strategy to create an ego-less and resilient team.
I’m fortunate that I get to conduct a lot of interviews in my job. We always seem to be hiring someone. To some people this probably sounds terrible, interviews can be uncomfortable for all parties. When they go bad, it can be really bad. But they can also be insightful.
Let me also say, that I don’t believe an interview is always a good way to select someone for a job, but its a great way to see an interesting cross-section of individuals. You can learn a lot from people by their answers. Sadly, in my experience this tends to mean that they say something a little crazy or completely out of line.
For example, I still fondly recall the woman who told me an example about how she deals with difficult work personalities. Her story involved her showing up at her boss’ house on a Sunday morning to confront him (for allegedly being a bad boss). No matter how she tried to spin it, she came off as not functional in a professional sense. But I was glad she shared the story so that I knew not to hire her! I enjoy my weekends away from work.
Other than fun anecdotes though, sometimes you hear something that is really inspirational. Just recently in an interview, a gentleman described his leadership style in a way that resonated with me. He said that he strove to create a person-less organization.
What he meant was that he believed that organizations are best situated when they are not dependent on the individuals filling certain roles, but rather that it was functional regardless of who was currently doing each job.
This was a really refreshing thing to hear. Especially as a large group of interviewees tend to focus on individual achievements and how important and successful they are. Here was a man that was basically telling me that success for him meant that his organization didn’t need him.
This is a common theme in leadership and organizational management studies. But how often can we actually say that we specifically take this into account when we are doing strategic planning or reorganization within our own teams?
How often do we focus on the magic that “we” bring to the organization and convince ourselves that it would all crumble without us? If that were true though, what does that actually say about us? If true, we have done ourselves and our organizations a terrible disservice.
Practically speaking, this would mean that we could not possible take time off without things getting messed up or everything having to wait until we are back. But we see this all the time.
We convince ourselves that we need to be the ones with the answers, setting the direction, and making the calls. So we work well past closing time, we check emails on the weekend, on vacations, and other times when we really should be focusing on other parts of our lives.
Part of this is caused by our egos. Even when well meaning — for example servant leadership taken to the extreme can lead to this too — this creates an organization that needs to hear from someone before it can move in any direction.
This creates additional burdens on you as the leader, but it also creates a stove-piped organization where meaningful delegation isn’t possible.
How many times have decisions been brought to you that really could have been made by people much closer to the situation? In many organizations the subject matter experts are much better informed and knowledgeable about these issues anyway.
How can we build a person-less organization?
Delegation. Start by creating a culture of delegation of authority, while maintaining responsibility in leadership. When people feel empowered and trusted, they are able to be much more productive than when they have to bring every decision for approval.
Organizational Structure. There has been a lot of focus on “getting the right people on the bus” as promoted by Jim Collins. But you also have to make sure the seats on the bus are in the right place.
We tend to see teams and positions designed around individuals’ talents and skills. While this can be really rewarding for those individuals, there can also be a lot of problems when they leave and they need to be replaced. Also, the supporting roles hired for them may not fit well with who ever comes after them.
Instead, work on designed the team to meet the requirements of the organization, and then fill the roles with the people with the right skills for those parts. This helps us avoid having to recreate teams every time people turn over.
Create vision, not direction. Its easy to move the team in the direction you want as a leader when you insist on making all of the decisions. But if you constantly find yourself speaking with an employee who completely missed the point of a project or assignment, its probably because you have failed to create a shared vision on the team.
Shared visions help everyone in the organization to understand what they are doing and why. In my experience, having a clear shared vision lead to better work towards a common goal by everyone. Even if you micromanage everything, tasks are not going to be done as well as they could if everyone understood the vision of the organization.
Take a moment to think about how you approach your work and the team of employees. Do you insist on being aware of everything? Do you let others make decisions without you? When you last took a day off, did things continue smoothly or did they wait for your return?
I think most of us are a little bit scared to not really be “needed” by our teams. Evan if you agree with the idea, it can be a little uncomfortable to not insert yourself in the day to day work of the organization.
But how many of those decisions do you really need to make? And how many of them could be avoided if you spent more time helping others understand the shared vision?