Tuesday, February 9, 2016

The Rise of Hands-On Service Team Management

Here on planet earth, most people do their best work when they have guidance, direction, support, and coaching from a more experienced person.  - Bruce Tulgan

I'm neither a distinguished scholar, nor an expert, of all things people management, yet it being a considerable part of my career and recent staff positions, I do take notice of trends. 

Photos such as these - with everyone sleeping or bored during team meetings - appeared with some frequency about a decade ago, I recall, not only on LinkedIn but on all discussion boards, yet less and less so as time has progressed and trends have shifted. Noticing the photo this morning on LinkedIn with the unsurprising rehashed inquiry of are-meetings-a-waste-of-time, I replied that yes they are, but only for those workers who also view work itself as a waste of time. 

That once popular approach to work, through the passive-aggressive destruction of a worker's very own team in order to somehow raise his/her own game (or non-game as the case may be) was not so much a rejection of the team effort, yet a preference for teams being made up of individuals who were valued above and beyond the team mission, each whom was granted by the trend of that time both the right and the duty to establish their own individual standards and personal workplace missions - and to eschew any process or procedure which would indicate otherwise... thus, to "empower" them. Consequently, service teams became simply an accidental gathering place, instead of a sacred, more purposeful space.

Hence, some version of the sleeping-team meeting photo appeared with some popularity to appease (or at least to acknowledge the reality of) the new "empowered employee" individual worker approach, and along with that we saw the rise of the Caspar Milquetoast manager model - a manager whose function seemed to simply placate and pacify the individuals in a work setting, hoping against all hope that staff would not become too angry if asked to perform a task which benefited anything other than themselves. The concept of workers gathered in a space didn't become unpopular,
per se, it should be noted, as people still were required to assert their ability to "be a team player," yet the field they were to play on had somehow changed, with workers becoming dis-engaged in the effort of team function itself, as opposed to being engaged and at the same time offering a healthy questioning of processes which could help the team fulfill its mission. 

The managers of such service teams, then, were becoming little more than apologetic observers, instead of being strong managers whose job it would be to provide guidance and support for the larger picture. "Micromanagement" swiftly entered into the lexicon, admonishing in advance any manager who dared to even respectfully provide clarification of service mission and hold workers accountable for their performance. Understandably not wanting to be branded as lepers, managers followed suit and were soon found rewarded for bringing on their best Caspar, and, interestingly, succeeded in this role as evidenced by what proved popular and approved in the online discussions.

But if the frequency of such accolades and promotions of the embarrassingly timid milquetoast manager is any indication, the times they are a changin' - and managers of all stripes are finding out that team missions are, in fact, not the evil twin to workplace playtime, and that productivity from a team unit can peacefully co-exist and even thrive with individuals' personalities being respected as unique - although their standards of performance need not be. A shift, I believe, is toward the strong, positive-energy manager, those who are given honest support by their organization (re: both the family office and the principals) for defining employees' daily expectations of performance and also their ability to perform within the team as a whole unit, a unit whose value - to be agreed by all - overrides that of the estate manager needing to herd a collection of lone and napping non-performers. 

The number one myth that prevents managers from being strong, we call it the myth of empowerment.. that somehow the way to empower people is to leave them alone to manage themselves... then they'll do their best work.  But that's only true on that planet where everyone gets a trophy.  Here on planet earth, most people do their best work when they have guidance, direction, support, and coaching from a more experienced person. - Bruce Tulgan

Through a decline in these concerns, I see more reference in discussions to those approaches similar to the above, a hands-on, fully awake and engaged management approach, one which, in my opinion, will serve both the current and next generation of household and estate managers quite very well.

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