Your boss is not always right

Here’s a scenario: there’s a particular outcome that needs to be achieved (a feature that needs to be built or a tough deadline) and when the person in charge (a Project Manager, Technical Lead, etc.) lays down the plan to achieve it, the team follows it almost blindly in spite of their guts telling them it’s a bad idea. When it comes to actually executing the plan, it fails and here’s why:

For a problem (X), someone tries to apply an approach (Y) to achieve an outcome (Z). To begin with, you are assuming that (Z) is perfectly understood by all parties and that you are starting from a common ground. You’d be surprised how often this is not the case.

(Y) is what we are all looking for: a simple “silver bullet” type answer that will save time and money. In reality, assuming that hierarchy means wisdom or more experience is a path to failure. On top of this, you boss’ personal experiences, points of view, generational influences and cultural customs are going to be different

(X), for people with a technical background, can be a common technical mistake (e.g. not following best practice). But (X) doesn’t exist in isolation. It’s always part of complex human systems that are always changing.

Managers get the short end of the stick every single day on social media. Just think of the last time you reposted a cartoon depicting the “bosses vs leader” comparison (where the first one is closer to a dictatorship and the second one more like an inspirational leader). These posts and and cartoons target our “Like” culture and provide no actual mechanism for anyone to improve. The goal behind this blog has always been to provide tools for people to improve on their work lives and in their relationships with their managers and peers. So to avoid falling into the X, Y and Z traps, here are some things you can do:

  • Don’t sit and wait of your boss’ advise: if there’s something that needs to get done, take the bull by the horns and do it. But make sure you have a sound logic for the approach (Y) and that you have a plan you don’t get the right outcome (Z).
  • Try to reach consensus. Even if you don’t agree with the plan, it might be possible that you can get enough information (by asking questions, getting context) to support the plan and help execute it
  • Accept the fact that it might all be part of a bigger plan and your ability to influence things might not be real.

MANAGERS ALWAYS GET THE SHORT END OF THE STICK ON SOCIAL MEDIA

If you are on the other side of the game, here are a thoughts for you:

  • As a manager, make an effort to provide as much effort and context as possible
  • If the decision has been made and there’s no room for negotiation just make it clear this is the case to minimize frustrations
  • If there’s room for a conversation, see my note about consensus on the previous list.
  • Don’t provide direct answer to the problem. Remember that your experience is different and someone else could achieve the same outcome by taking the path less travelled.
  • Ask what the logic for the approach is and what alternatives have been considered and discarded.
  • You can’t be involved in every single detail of what you team is working on and letting one ball drop is not the end of the world.
  • If you were wrong, take the punch on the chin and accept the fact that we are all human.

THERE’S NO REAL SILVER BULLET

So to recap: no matter what problem you are trying to tackle, there’s no real silver bullet. Someone older or higher up the chain can’t give you a magical recipe to achieve an outcome just because of their seniority. Work on relationships in order to build trust and get all the information you need to make a decision

* This article assumes that everyone has a good relationship with your manager/boss/team lead/project manager. If this is not the case, then I recommend you start by trying to address that.

Food for thought | go for gold

I’ve seen this blind woman get around Christchurch with her cute golden lab… And I saw her on my way to work today.

Think about the amount courage, self belief and determination that it must take to do that.

Now think about that silly thing that you are scared of doing. Yeah, not that scary isn’t it?

The five dysfunctions of a team

For those who are used to business/management literature, Lencioni should not be an unusual name. His prolific writing career include The Advantage, Death by Meeting and this post’s topic: the Five dysfunction of a team.

It’s broken into 2 very different sections: the first one is written as a corporate fairytale where a new CEO is in charge of an executive team. The second one is more like a recipe to implement a plan to overcome the dysfunctions.

Having gone through similar exercises like the ones described in the book, I can appreciate the value of the pain a team needs to go through to be effective and to be pushing in the same direction. The book itself is a very easy read and not long at all. I recommend you that you finish the story before reading the plan at the end.

Here are some further thoughts based on the book and my personal experience:

  • Vulnerability and conflict are so important for a team to be effective. Honesty and transparency leads to being able to discuss everyone’s ideas is an open forum no matter what they are.
  • Even though the book recommends Myers-Briggs as a tool to profile individuals, it is a very simplistic way to look at how a person behaves. There are other ways to do this (e.g. my team used Belbin in the past, which is very comprehensive).
  • In saying that, whatever makes the team open up and understand how each person will work to their maximum potential is welcomed.
  • I don’t agree with his aversion to achieving consensus. It can be a useful tool when a decision needs to be supported by the whole team.

This book is a must for anyone in a team leadership position, it will change the way you view team dynamics and could give you a way forward when you don’t know what to do with a problematic team.

Forget automagically – go analog

There are many management blogs out there. Filled with the promise of so many fast rules that will fix your work life automagically. We both know that all of them are too good to be true. We’ve bought into them, bought the books and we always talk about them among our peers as if we had been converted into a new religion.

This is not another one of those blogs. Instead of never ending tales of bad bosses and terrible clients, I’m to tell my own. I’m Mr. Riley and this is my story.

I’ve been in the tourism, hospitality sector and business development world for 15+ years and at 31 I’ve seen it all. From local clients to failed companies, from amazing co-workers to mediocre vendors, from on-time on-budget to angry clients and bosses. I’ve seen people get it wrong over, and over, and over and that’s what frustrates me the most: when I can give good advice on how to tackle a tough situation, and I’m not able to share it with those who need it.

My stories come from the world I live in, but will apply to other walks of life. I deal with many types of individuals and, believe or not, they are humans too. So the likelihood of this story applying to your own life is quite high. If the first story is not close to home, maybe the second one will hit the right spot.

If you actually think I’m talking about you in your of my posts, it’s just human nature. We all want to feel special and be the center of the universe. But unfortunately, the story is probably not about you. It’s just a tale I made about a common scenario we always phase in our day-to-day work life.