Photo by John Spooner
One of my favourite subjects here in this blog has been conventional wisdoms. Those things that mangers usually believe in, but that have been proven wrong and ineffective. Over the life of this blog I have mentioned some of them, mostly relating to the management of people and teams. That is why it made me so happy to read Bob Sutton’s post: “What are the Dumbest Practices Used By U.S. Companies?“. It’s nice to have smarter and more experienced people reinforce your ideas from time to time.
I recommend reading the post and the comments which offer many mistaken conventional wisdoms. With so many of them out there, I sometimes wonder how the business world works at all. But I wanted to focus my attention to two of these practices that are mentioned in the original post, and add a few thoughts of my own. This is the first one:
2. Dysfunctional Internal Competition. This is a big theme in The Knowing-Doing Gap and Morten’s Hansen’s masterpiece Collaboration. If you dig into the problems in the banks and a lot of other companies, they actually punish people who help others succeed, both via the reward systems and who gets the most prestige. This seems to persist even though the evidence against such assumptions and systems are so clear.
I must admit that I have never seen this problem described like this. But it makes a lot of sense. As I advocate in this blog, following Markus Buckingham preaching, is that the most important thing a manger could do is help other people succussed. And if organizations are built in a way that hinders the ability of managers to do this, that actually incentivizes them not to do what there are supposed to do, there is no wonder why so many people feel out of place in their workplace and why so many people do not reach their full potential and quote “a bad manager” as their number one reason for leaving their jobs. It is about time to not only make sure that we as managers engage in helping other people excel, but also to ensure that there are systems in the places we work for are set to support that function.
This is the second practice Sutton complains about:
3. Breaking-up Teams Constantly. American companies often seem to love moving people around constantly, breaking-up teams, giving people new experiences, and so on. Certainly, there is a time for fresh blood, but if you read J. Richard Hackman’s Leading Teams you will see that the weight of the evidence is that breaking up teams less often rather than more often is linked to all sorts of effectiveness indicators. Also, see this post about the Miracle on the Hudson where I discuss this literature.
Again, I never thought of this problem in the way described here but it makes perfect sense when you think about it from a strengths perspective. An effective team, among other things, is a team where every member is attuned with his strengths; where synergies are created from the diverse opinions and talents. And it takes time to create this synergy, because people are so different. But it is their differences that creates strength and allows them to perform excellently. I think everyone who has worked in a team felt it. The difference between the beginning of the life of the team and the end of it, when each team member has learned his teammates’ traits and knows how to work in tune with them. So, maybe we need to think about long-term teams and about ways in which we sustain them.
Two challenges laid down for managers of organizations… will you take them upon yourself?