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Fresh Thinking on IT Operations for 100,000 Industry Executives

It is stating the obvious, leaders can only be successful if they make others successful and get something new delivered in the process.  How does a leader make that work and how does the leader’s approach differ from a manager’s approach?  A manager does all the smart stuff, he analyses the problem, determines the root cause and then works out a solution.  The manager then communicates the solution to the team and manages them to deliver it.  Some manager micro-manage, others give a few degrees of freedom, some even abdicate responsibility and expect the job is going to get done without follow-up.  So how does that look in RACI terms?  The manager is Accountable and Responsible, the Team is Informed, no one is Consulted.

The leader, on the other hand, starts off by consulting the team, “can we talk about this problem?” or even better “why is this work so hard and slow?”, optionally, “are we doing any really stupid stuff?”.  The key is to get the problem agreed by the whole team and to make the problem the team’s problem, not the leaders problem. The good leader acts as a moderator, helping with guidance on how to think about the problem but does not try to solve the problem herself.  A really good moderating technique is to teach the team about the “five whys” – keep asking why, why, why until there are no more answers. Why do we do that stupid thing, we always do it that way, why do we always do it that way etc..  Get under the problem and search for stupid, inconsistent and unaccountable.

In most cases teams (with help) can get a great deal of agreement on problems, getting agreement on solutions is a different issue.  Solutions need vision and belief to be viable and supportable and in many cases, teams see solutions imposed on them as management interference.  Teams need to buy into solutions, to invest in the solution and to want to be accountable for delivering the solution. Therefore, the team needs to work out the solution for themselves, even if they come up with sub-optimal answers, an executed solution is 100% better that a manager’s vision that fails.

Most team problems with agreeing solutions come down to lack of belief that it can be done, “we tried that before”, “we used to do it that way” etc..  The only remedy for this is to groom the solution down into such small parts that no one can doubt that it can be delivered and that the team can deliver it. You may have come across this in Agile methodologies, taking an EPIC and grooming it into USER STORIES.  This is a general approach that works across all types of business where change is needed.

So the leader works with the team to reach a common understanding of the problem, to identify a viable mitigation or solution and to help decompose the solution into small enough bits that it can be delivered.  The next stage is commitment, the team commits to each other that they will get their bit done and how long that will take. The leader steps back, letting the team dynamic work towards completing the tasks at hand. The leader should work with the team to review what progress was made, what went wrong and work with the team to search for better approaches. The leader must help remove impediments and communicate to others in the business. So how does this look in RACI terms? The leader is still accountable, but the team are responsible, consulted and informed.

Simple when you know how.  Try talking rather than telling and watch the difference. Much harder work for the leader than the manager at the beginning but a lot easier later into the cycle.

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