5 min read

For improved collaboration in teams, change your mindset as a manager

For improved collaboration in teams, change your mindset as a manager

For improved collaboration in teams, change your mindset as a manager

Managing people can be one of the most challenging tasks we navigate in our careers, and the pressure to deliver value quickly while completely addressing customer needs only make the job that much harder!

While we won't be delivering a magic cure-all to the myriad of difficulties one can encounter while managing, we do think managers can amplify the value they're already producing, develop a shared purpose, and kickstart autonomy in every member of their team by removing barriers to collaboration amongst their direct reports. How do we remove these barriers to collaboration? Read on.

Reimagining value

In a previous post, we discussed how value isn't actually a finite resource; it's not one (albeit tasty) pie that can only be sliced so many times. Value is an additive unit, where the more we can make, the better!

According to Peter Drucker's Management by Objectives, the work that needs to be completed can be figured out at the top of the organisation and suitable objectives rolled down. The people tasked with achieving those objectives will do so because their remuneration is based on their performance, i.e. the achievement of those objectives.

As W. Edwards Deming said, this is the "prevailing system of management that destroys our people."

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How about a model where intrinsic motivation is unlocked in every team member so that they can create value for the customer? This is the suggestion offered by John Doerr in his book Measure What Matters (This is where OKR's come from, maybe you've heard of it.)

We can only move to this model when our employees are empowered to collaborate with their peers. Once they feel properly supported to work in that manner, innovation can emerge organically, and we can really create something spectacular. But how do we get to a place where employees leap in to make these sorts of connections? One strong way is by seeing our role as managers not as a "link in the chain of command", but as effective translators.

Develop shared purpose

Let's acknowledge an elephant in the room before we move on: Power exists. Though the pursuit of it in itself might be illusory, as we’ve mentioned before, chains of command exist for a reason and it’s not necessarily a bad thing when leaders exert control.

This being said, how power is applied across an organisation and throughout different relationships can vary wildly. It’s a pretty common observation that people tend to unconsciously follow our leaders’ styles. Is this always beneficial behaviour? We discussed in our last article that an organisation tends to look like a fractal in terms of how control is applied; more or less identical at every scale.

In order to move from that fractal to a gradient, control has to be eased off the further down the organisation we go.

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This means intentionally shaping your management style. The pressures you are feeling do not have to be passed down to your reports. This is no simple feat; it takes conscious effort and dedication. But these efforts will pay off in spades! Your reports will feel safe and supported, and once that’s in place, they’ll be in a position to act in a manner that’s complementary to your goals.

By exerting a different kind of control on our team than is being applied to us, we create spaces for collaboration and innovation to emerge. In other words, the translation of the message given to managers by those above them, down to the team level, is where we find a massive opportunity to add value.

Motivate autonomy

So now we’ve acknowledged the elephant and addressed it, let us tell you a story. It’s a true story, though names and identities have been changed to protect the innocent.

Recently, a meeting of ours was cancelled by a member of senior management with not a whole lot more explanation than “Sorry, I’ve got to scuttle our session.”

Now we're not ones to turn down an unexpectedly free hour, so it was all good. However, we started to consider how we felt like this was something that was done to us.  To put it in Deci & Ryan's language of self-determination theory, this is an external motivation. We choose to comply because the boss says so. What if the boss (or manager) told us "Sorry, I've got to cancel the meeting because I've got an HR issue that needs sorting."

In the second example, they've brought us into the situation and asked for our understanding and consent. Now, they haven't really asked a question at all, but by engaging our internal motivations to be a good team member and contribute to the team's cause, we're acting along with, rather than instructed by. All it takes is a small shift in language to tap internal motivation. The outcome? We'd of felt like we did something together rather than being acted upon.

However, what if the boss had said "I've got a problem; there's an HR issue that needs my attention. If you've got something super urgent for me we can meet, but would it be alright if I went and sorted this out?"

You can sense what a massive difference this is, can't you? The employee is empowered! Autonomous! They're managing up, like a boss! The outcome of this sort of subtle shift in approach makes people feel good. They're more likely now to go off and do something of their own volition because they've been invited into the bigger world.

When you as a manager apply techniques like this (and there are more we've still to discuss) to the work that is being delegated to your team from leadership, you are delivering value to your stakeholders because your employees and team are acting from their own motivation rather than a perceived command. You've become an effective translator.

The proof is in the pudding

We might sound a bit pie-in-the-sky idealistic about the outcomes of something so simple as shifting how we communicate an instruction to our subordinates. But, people independently report they feel more empowered when addressed in this manner. If people are self-reporting they are feeling empowered, that's indicative of their well-being improving.

We're still investigating if this empowerment results in greater productivity, but ultimately we see this alone as a success, however you translate it.

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Changing the mindset of the individuals that make up your teams is a powerful first step in delivering greater value to your customers.

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