While it is usually Wally who openly expresses those thoughts which we normally keep to ourselves, Dilbert is letting his inner voice do the talking in today’s strip. Let’s imagine for a moment that Dilbert’s co-worker is part of a cross-functional team which Dilbert is part of. Dilbert’s response might seem unnecessarily blunt, but this behavior is not uncommon in those companies which place an undue emphasis on individual recognition or which don’t require managers to actively solicit feedback from outside of their own teams.
While most of us would consider ourselves to be helpful, without some measurement and organizational encouragement our willingness to help someone is likely to be reduced by our need to finish our own work as we know the latter is what is measured.
In many organizations, functional managers are under no obligation to solicit feedback from others about their staff’s performance. While these managers might ask for input from within their own team, they might be reluctant to contact those co-workers who report to other functional managers. If they evaluate their team members’ performance purely on achieving functional objectives or on how they interacted with others from within their own team, they might not consider whether someone works well within a cross-functional team. While this type of feedback is certainly available from project or other functional managers in a matrix structure, the functional manager might not always be open to soliciting or acting on the feedback. When objective feedback from co-workers outside of a manager’s team is a required component of formal performance evaluations, it encourages both managers and team members to look beyond the walls of their own silos.
It is also quite common to find generous enterprise-level budgets for individual recognition but not as frequently for team recognition. With strategic or large projects, a project manager might have sufficient influence to secure budgetary approval for team-level rewards but this is usually not the case on smaller initiatives. Without equal weighting given to both individual and team recognition, it is no wonder that team members will prioritize individual success over that of the team they are on.
We want team members to feel confident that if they ask for help from a co-worker who happens to report to a different manager that there is a strong likelihood that they will get it. We would like to encourage team members to be willing to slow down their own activities if it helps their team get ahead. But when environmental factors such as performance evaluation systems and recognition programs discourage such behaviors it can be difficult to build high performing cross-functional teams.
As weather gets colder, it is common to see squirrels digging holes to bury nuts and other food items to feed themselves when resources becomes scarce during winter time. But given the volume of nuts which are required to sustain squirrels through the long winter months and the large areas covered by an average squirrel, they often end up forgetting where they have buried all of their treats. While observing the little fellow I captured in the photo above, I was reminded that we are not so different from our furry friends.
Whether we capture lessons over the life of a project or wait till the end of a phase or the project as a whole, we frequently end up forgetting most of the lessons we have foraged.
Squirrels will eat a few nuts while they are in the process of gathering them. In the same manner, there will be certain lessons which we can implement right away.
But what of the remainder?
If we just store them in a repository or, worse yet, in standalone documents or distributed Wiki pages, we are no better than squirrels who have forgotten where they have buried their nuts.
Thankfully, unlike squirrels who are unable to invent and use GPS-based nut finders, we do have a few options:
- Enhance our standards by incorporating identified lessons. This option works well as there is no need for practitioners to search for lessons but over time it could result in overly prescriptive, bloated standards.
- Share lessons in community of practice meetings. One approach would be to leverage the oral traditions of storytelling from our ancestors by taking dry, theoretical lessons and make them come to life.
- Develop playbooks or other types of practice-based learning offerings for practitioners. These would offer identified lessons as options but not as prescription.
Putting the “learned” back in lessons learned begins with doing a better job of learning from the lessons we have previously identified.
When teaching agile classes, I’m occasionally asked if I could provide an example of an agile team from cinema or television. While the first Avengers movie does a good job of illustrating Bruce Tuckman’s stages of team development (especially storming!), they are far from being agile.
The example I most frequently provide is that quintessential 1980’s TV show, The A-Team. If your only exposure to The A-Team was the horrible 2010 movie starring Liam Neeson, you owe it to yourself to watch a few episodes of the original series. Keep in mind, this was the 80’s so the show does glorify violence, isn’t very politically correct and shows many tropes from that era, but it is still worth seeing!
Here are a few of the reasons for this:
- The team is self-managing. True, they have been disavowed by their government and are being hunted by military police for a crime they didn’t commit, but with each episode where they help a new client they figure out their way of working without being mired in bureaucracy or seeking guidance from outside the team.
- Colonel John “Hannibal” Smith is the leader of the team, but acts as a servant-leader. While he leads planning efforts for their missions, he does this in an inclusive, collaborative manner and will defer to his other team members during the execution of their missions.
- Plans are created, and Hannibal loves it when a plan comes together, but they are also willing to throw the plan away when it is no longer realistic.
- They exploit the diversity of their team rather than being constrained by it. Bosco “B.A.” Baracus might call H. M. “Howling Mad” Murdock a “crazy fool”, but he respects Murdock’s ability to fly almost any type of aircraft. Each team member brings a different, but complementary skill set to their missions. In this regard, they are a “whole team”. Each is highly skilled at what they do which could have resulted in ego clashes, but they always put the team ahead of themselves.
- They are comfortable with complex, uncertain situations. Every episode challenges them with a unique mission where their resources are constrained but they still manage to put together creative gadgets and weapons with common household items to help them succeed.
- There is a high degree of psychological (if not physical!) safety within the team. They operate with true radical candor – while they care deeply about each other, they don’t pull any punches when providing constructive feedback. They are also very supportive when a fellow team member takes a risk – they will always have that person’s back!
- They are working towards a shared, strategic vision. While most episodes focused on their helping clients through difficult situations, the team continued to work towards their overarching goal of clearing their names.
Finally, they are long-lived and stable, and as I wrote in my article from last week, this helps to overcome many of misinterpretations which can occur when we first work with someone. This is best illustrated in the following quote from “B.A.” Baracus:
B.A. Baracus: You learn to love him, Mama. But it takes a long time. (Referring to Hannibal)
Amy: That’s the same thing he said about you.