Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Followership Part 2

Teams are really about the division of labor. Most people talk about the concept of the division of labor, but never really understand that it means different things at different levels within the organization.

To a worker, division of labor means:
            I do this part of the work, others do something (I may not know what) the product comes out the end and I get paid.

To a bad manager, division of labor means:
            You do this part, you, you, and you do those other parts, product comes out the end, and I look good.

To a leader, division of labor means:
            You do this part, you, you, and you do other parts, I get the obstacles out of your way, the product comes out the end and we all succeed.

Any of the three approaches could work in a factory where the division of labor was obvious and everyone could see and understand the tasks needed to build the product. Even in a complex manufacturing environment the average worker could at least understand the workflow within his or her own area and see how their personal contribution helped. As the nature of work changes from manufacturing to thought based work the bad manager's approach becomes less and less effective. The leader now has to find a way to make sure that the workers understand their part of the process and how their work supports the entire project or deliverable. All this in an environment where very few of the participants can see the entire process and where team members may be in different time zones or even on different continents, speaking different languages.

Henry Ford is quoted as saying, "Asking ‘who ought to be the boss’ is like asking who ought to be the tenor in the quartet?  Obviously; the man who can sing tenor."  At some point the people doing the work or managing sub-sections of the effort must agree on who "can sing tenor"! The old style boss saying "Because I told you too." no longer works.

Most businesses use a hierarchical model as illustrated in the following organizational chart. In this traditional model people follow because that's their place in the "chain of command".

Even in a "horizontal organizations" the structure is the same. The person who evaluates you or signs your time card is “above” you and people who you evaluate or sign the time cards for are below you. People try to satisfy their customer and their customer is always the person who pays them. My customer is the person who signs my time card and writes my evaluation.

In the past, workers were considered as non-skilled, skilled, professional, and management. As the nature of work changes and requires higher education, the workers are less likely to fit the non-skilled and skilled class and much more likely fit the professional and management class. I use the word class because in the past, there were sharp divisions between workers (unskilled and skilled), professionals, and managers.

In the new economy, the work demands much more highly educated workers and those workers are likely to understand the complete scope of the work and many of the other job skills used to complete the work. This creates a situation where the worker is testing the leader’s instructions against his or her own knowledge and experience. In most knowledge-based work the person doing the work has the education and experience to understand the effect of their work on the rest of the organization and the organization's effect on their work.

Because of the complex nature of knowledge-based work, the worker may have a significantly deeper understanding of the details of the work they are performing than their manager. The higher a manager is within an organization, the less likely they are to maintain any real expertise in all of the tasks that create the product or deliverable. The manager is relying on the team as a group or on a single team expert for that level of understanding in any single area.

When the team members are managers in their own right, turf wars and in some cases fights for outright control of the project can occur. Some those fights may happen because the team member truly believes that the decision being made by the team or team leader is wrong. Some times it's just a fight for personal advancement. Whatever the reason, the team member has either never been taught to follow or never accepted that, sometimes, someone else sings tenor.

Followership consists of giving your boss the best of your thinking on every subject and then executing her decisions with your full support. Part of leadership is accepting your team member’s advice and not giving directions that conflict with that advice.

Of course, sometimes the advice is $10,000 and the budget is $5,000 and good leadership demands a clear explanation to the team. When this happens, the team may not be able to deliver and the project may not be viable. Thankfully, obstacles like that will be rare, since that’s caused by a poor cost analysis during the planning phase.

Followership is like being a passenger in an automobile. You accept that someone else is driving and agree not to grab the steering wheel. As passengers, we do get to advise the driver about a faster route and dangers we see, but we trust the driver to make the right decisions.

All right, you get it but how do you teach and practice followership? In four easy steps!

Continued next week.

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