So, this week I set out on an elephant
hunt. I didn't mean to; it just kind of happened. My team got
beaten up, again, by situations created by the elephant and its
various attendants. I just snapped after watching it happen yet
again. The good news there involves another new manager who decided
to try to go after a different part of the elephant. Between the two
of us, we almost accomplished something. The bad news involves some seriously complicated politics, a handful of potential
new sometimes allies, and a couple of team members who have goodreason to seriously challenge my sanity.
It's that last part that gave me pause.
Team building is a long-term process. Changing the principles by
which a team develops and maintains its approaches takes even longer.
Accomplishing organizational change though suggestion, taking
mentoring moments, and gentle pressure takes bloody near forever.
I am not a patient man. Knowing that
team-building, principle change, and organizational evolution though
influence take time does not make it chafe any less. Nor does it
help when I see things that I could, with a bit more power and a bit
less need to cajole, just change for the better. That frustration
sometimes leaks into my body language when I deal with my coworkers
and various layers above me in the management chain. Unfortunatelyit also comes across as slightly erratic behavior to my team.
Sometimes my behavior is erratic. I'm
not perfect; no one is. Sometimes I get distracted. Other times I
get focused on something I should probably let slide down to the
team. Heck, occasionally I'm just addled for the day and dosomething boneheaded.
That admitted, though, there is also a
method to my madness. Every group forms behavioral norms. Every
team creates unspoken rules about who will do what work, when, how,
and why. These norms become, over time, accepted to the point where
no one even questions their existence. In effect they become chains
on the team's productivity and ability to deliver service, chains thepeople involved with the team cannot see.
One of my first tasks as a would-be
team leader is always to analyze those group norms. More
importantly, I assessed the degree to which each of my team members
had absorbed the less functional norms. The assessment took all of
two weeks; deciding what to do with it took a lot longer. Frankly,
I'm still making up a bit of the what to do with it part up asI go along.
However, I'm also constantly working
and interacting with my team in ways that operate just outside of the
non-functional norms. Not, I hope, too far outside least I scare
them off. But just far enough that it challenges them to think about
their assumptions, goals, and intentions towards what they think ofas their work.
Let's take a concrete example. I'm
trying to help one of my team members demonstrate his analytical
skills. Some of this help comes in what you would think of as
typical analytical assignments: find out why X happens,
discover the root cause of Y. Other bits of it, though, take on a
form he is still grappling with seemingly mundane little tasks
which fit into a larger overall scheme. These later tasks seem
pretty frustrating to him, as I seem to drop them off at completely
random intervals. To some extent I do, but there's also a method to
the madness. I want him to stop, think, and assess the overall
picture before just accepting the task. I also want him to start
looking at things in that sideways way that distinguishes a greatanalyst from a decent IT guy.
Sometimes the approach backfires;
people do not always like to be challenged. It's hard, sometimes, to
know when to keep pushing people and when to back off. That later
idea rarely sits well with me, as I personally like to push myself as
hard as I can then shove it that last bit to total meltdown.
Fortunately I have friends and an occasional bout of sanity to keepme alive.
On balance I find this approach works
reasonably well most of the time, though. I don't take it too far
and I try to keep things light. The combination of ignoring norms
and humor, though, does give me a bit of a reputation as a nut-case.Which is, if you think about it, probably all to the good.
So, one one hand I'm trying to build
strength in my team by making them slowly challenge the way things
were done. On the other I'm every so carefully building up bits and
pieces of alliances to hopefully get an elephant hunt going. On the
gripping hand, I've still got to go chasing down the rabbit holesleft by an incredible number of incidents every day.
Still, I can honestly say its been a good week. We'll see what next week brings.