There’s a common situation that happens with young mothers. We start with a working, capable, and intelligent woman who has built a thriving career — but she gets pregnant (which is an amazing thing!) She has to take time off work though for doctor appointments and birth preparation. She has baby showers and all manor of baby related activities. The baby comes. She has to physically recover. During this time it’s likely her career has stagnated. She gets more time off work than her partner. Instead of building her career she building a new kill: motherhood. Meanwhile, her partner, well their career is continuing to grow but their skills as a parent aren’t accelerating as quickly as the mother. Now you have a situation where the mom has the baby skills and the partner has more work skills. The mom tries to go back to work only to find that it no longer makes sense since the husband makes more and childcare is so expensive it offsets her income. I realize there are other outcomes but this is the natural outcome if you don’t intervene.
Communication and PMs
Now, let’s apply this type of situation to the workplace. We have a team people working on various projects. The priorities are set by leadership. But there’s a need to organize, report, and maintain the effectiveness of the projects. Someone has the idea to higher a Project Manager or more likely you already have one. But here’s the catch, the PM become “strong” in planning, reporting, and communicating by doing that work meanwhile the team does not develop these skills, they defer to the PM. You end up with a few strong communicators (PMs) and many weaker communicators (doers.) This is not a good situation. Yes, it works, to a degree. But what happens when the PM leaves? Or when the Worker needs to interact with a client? What happens when the PM starts busting your balls about deadlines? This is a result of hyper-focus on project management. Too much management is a real thing folks. It makes working at the company a drag and it leads to incompetent workers, generally speaking.
Mistakes lead to Growth
People are competent to the degree that they are allowed to make mistakes.
Everyone is terrified of failure. Failure is essential to success. Have you ever watched a skateboarder learn a new trick? If you do, you’ll watch him bust is ass over and over again if they are brave enough. The skater, she must overcome the fear of the trick. She has to learn the boundaries. Once the fear is overcome and the boundaries understood, watch out folks, she’s about to amaze you. This dear friends is how we encourage people to be amazing. We encourage them to “do it” with the “courage” to get up again.
This principal is key to understanding how to build a team of highly effective people. Your people need to be given the onus and responsibility. They should feel the effects of mistakes they make so that they can self-correct. They need the ability to try, thing and watch it succeed, and get credit for their accomplishments.
Sorry PMs, you’re not needed
How then do we manage projects without managers? This is a solved problem and there are many ways. The simple answer is having a process that the team buys into. I’ll recommend one resource that comes to mind, “How we structure our work and teams at Basecamp.”
We have to let go our of self-promoting ambition to be at the top. I wish you’d stop wishing to be number one. I wish you’d simply wish to be the best you can be and desire the same for others. There will always be hierarchy but let us be thoughtful about it and reduce it as much as possible. The lower you can push a decision the better. Some decisions can’t be pushed any further down and that’s okay. Set your focus on calling people into greater and greater responsibility. That’s the job of any parent, to make their children competent adults who need less and less of their support.
As another example, look at University lectures styles. It’s proven that the format of a lecture is ineffective for learning and understanding. Don’t believe me? Here’s a TED talk for you, “Presentation tips for teachers (Never give a boring lecture again!)” Instead, if you actually engage the students with activities, questions, and teamwork they sudden start to really comprehend the material and internalize it.
Trust your people even when they mess up. Resist the easy answer or stock solution. Be thoughtful about what will make someone better and you’ll have a culture of competency.
As Miss Frizzle says, “Take chances, make mistakes, get messy!”