The Blessings of Micromanagement

Micromanagement can be defined as a management style characterized by the need for extreme control and attention to detail. In general, this style has a negative connotation, especially because the attention to details gives the employees of the manager in question a constant pressure – ‘is ​​it never good enough’, ‘is it never finished’? – and a perceived lack of freedom.

Extreme attention to detail also carries the risk of losing sight of the big picture and more important priorities. And, last but not least: work as such does not become more pleasant when people are ‘micromanaged’.
Is there nothing positive to report about micromanagement? It just depends how you look at it…

Eleven Madison Park
There is an interesting documentary series on Netflix: Seven Days Out. This 2018 series documents the events – and the accompanying excitement, setbacks and dramas – seven days leading up to a major event in sports, fashion and aerospace, among others. One of the episodes is devoted to Eleven Madison Park, at that time voted the best restaurant in the world and in possession of three Michelin stars. The owners, Chef Daniel Humm and General Manager Will Guidara explain that they are driven by the ambition to be the best restaurant in the world. The documentary records how they work in great detail to prepare the restaurant, seven days before its reopening after a renovation. Halfway through the episode, Guidara gives his view on their quality ambitions: “We see excellence as thousands of perfectly executed details. If you can focus on every single detail, and not on the whole, then you start to get somewhere.” To illustrate this, Guidara gives a concrete example: “Every plate in the restaurant is placed in such a way that the logo at the bottom of the plate is turned towards you”. In such a way that if you turn the plate over, you see the logo of the tableware neatly upright. Will Guidara says about this: “Does anyone notice? No. Why does it matter? It means that when we put up signs, we do it with more intention .

Intention as a driver for quality and perfection to a level that no one notices anymore. Except maybe that one person wondering what the tableware brand is… anyway, the micromanagement of the owners of Eleven Madison Park has created one of the most successful restaurants in the world.

Pixar Studios
Pixar Studios is also a good example of micromanagement. Pixar is one of the most successful film studios and an organization in which creativity and quality are embedded in the organizational culture. All aspects of every film are meticulously scrutinized and produced, from idea to realization. For example, production teams hold daily review meetings in which the development of an animation film is discussed. The team members are expected to assess the work of their colleagues in great detail and without restraint: what is wrong, what is missing, what is unclear in the animations? And every few months, the progress of production of the entire film is reviewed higher up in the organization. According to the same principle: what is not good, what is missing, how can it be improved? All this with one goal: “to make a great film, with great people”. Because that’s Pixar’s mission. And with results, because Pixar’s films are all blockbusters and have won many awards.

Thrive because of micromanagement
How come in these examples the teams and organizations do not perish because of micromanagement, but thrive because of it? That’s because micromanagement focuses on the quality of products and services – not the way people do their jobs.

Conscious culture
This requires a corporate culture in which it is clear to everyone that the quality of the end result is what matters most. Every aspect of the product or service is evaluated in detail and (continuously) improved. It also means a high degree of psychological safety: it is safe for people to speak out and experiment. Or to make mistakes. “Fail early, fail fast.” is one of Pixar’s mottos, because when it’s safe to make mistakes, progress is made faster.


You can micro-manage things, but not people
Quality is about details. And the higher the quality ambitions of your organization, the more attention should be paid to ever smaller details. In the case of a restaurant, it may concern the placement of the crockery, in an animation film it may be about the detail of a shadow in the drawing. Because extreme attention to the details of a product leads to extreme quality.

That is the area where micromanagement pays off. This can only be done sustainably in a working environment in which employees are involved in the ambitions of the organization and at the same time can give substance to their work in their own way. In other words: a thousand perfectly executed details give you distinctive character. People give up on people who try to micro-manage them. But things can micro-managed just fine.

Avoid the Beethoven mistake

Companies that have the most agility and resilience create differentiation. This requires responsive organizations that effectively anticipate changing (market) conditions and adapt organically. For this to be possible, a number of principles apply. These relate to employees, teams, departments and the way in which they work together. To become more responsive, a culture and behavioral change is often required. It is often assumed that realizing this change is closely related to structures and processes. But nothing is less true.

The Beethoven Mistake
In his book “Our Inner Ape”, biologist Frans de Waal discusses the relationship between the behavior of great apes and humans. He explains that for a long time people’s morals were explained by religion or culture and not by nature. Because by nature people would have no morals. But we now know that even great apes have a moral sense. According to De Waal, the earlier assumption arose out of confusion: because natural selection is a cruel and ruthless process of elimination, it was argued that it must produce cruel and ruthless creatures. In other words: the process is confused with the result. De Waal calls this ‘The Beethoven mistake’: Beethoven composed great and unparalleled music. You wouldn’t expect such a person to be unkempt and sleazy and living in a dirty and smelly house. Yet that was the case.

Confusion of process with result
In doing so, De Waal points out a fallacy that is often made in change projects: the tendency to develop structures or processes in the assumption that the intended behavioral change will arise naturally from this. But processes and structures are inconclusive about the success of cooperation between people.

Why is that?
Processes and structures work according to the laws of logic. You can set up a mechanical production process in such a way that the quality is statistically almost perfect. Six sigma is based on it. But people function according to ‘psychologica’ with their motivations, conditionings and (unconscious) beliefs.

As a result, collaboration in organizations is always a bit of a ‘black box’. You make agreements about objectives, responsibilities, tasks, way of working, et cetera. But just like with a football team, it is not yet certain how the match will develop and what the exact result will be. The outcome is largely determined by responsiveness: how events and setbacks along the way are dealt with.

Responsiveness and motivation
Effective behavioral change occurs when teams are given the space and freedom to determine the implementation of the plan themselves, based on a shared vision and goals. People are motivated to do this when their work matches their ambitions (am I doing what I want to do?) and talents (am I doing what I can do?). It is important that there is room for personal interpretation and a certain degree of autonomy.

Motivated employees connect easily, take responsibility and come up with solutions to problems themselves. As the production manager of a factory once put it: “If I let the employees focus on delivering the products to our customers on time, they are smart enough to order the necessary parts on time.”

Breeding ground to inspire change
It works the same way with behavioral change: the task of management is more facilitating than guiding. Aimed at the right breeding ground for change. One that brings people together and inspires change.

This requires managers to let go of control of the process and focus on the motivation of the people in the team and their mutual relationships. Employees need growth and inspiration and derive their meaning from the extent to which they are challenged and contribute to success. Not following processes ‘as such’. Successful managers understand this and focus on the emotional dynamics between people. As a result, they bring people together and create the right atmosphere. The creativity and connection that arises as a result often produces astonishing results. It is not without reason that there is increasing interest in working with self-managing teams.

Realizing the unique potential
In nature, the simple rule is that organisms exist by surviving and reproducing. How they accomplish this is left open. That is why nature has such a great diversity. The same law applies to responsive organizations: successful behavioral change ties in with the unique potential of an organization and can take many forms. Good processes and structures are of course helpful, but not decisive. Or, as De Waal puts it: ‘the process does not specify the path to success any more than the interior of a house in Vienna tells us what kind of music is coming out the window’.

Responsiveness and the communication dilemma

Personals advertisement
“Man, 39, is looking for a girlfriend to share joys and sorrows with. I am sporty, I have humor and I like good food with a good glass of wine and a nice conversation. “

What’s wrong with this ad? It conveys what the advertiser in question thinks the partner of his dreams wants to read and therefore hardly shows what kind of person he really is. The keywords with which that happens – like sporty, humor, good glass of wine … – are so generic that it will be almost impossible to get the correct image for the advertisement. If someone responds, it will be out of curiosity rather than a convincing feeling that this is really the one. The chance of a good “match” has been significantly reduced.

Suppose the person had written the following about himself: “Because I believe in a healthy mind in a healthy body, I lift weights and study philosophy (the 19th century, John Stuart Mill is a particular favorite). I am a fan of Seinfeld, I love red Bordeaux and prefer to walk through the woods early in the morning.” Now a more concrete picture of the person in question emerges – because generic terms such as ‘sporty’ and ‘humor’ are made specific. This makes the unicity of the sender more visible and increases the chance that the ad will catch on with the right potential life partner.

Personals ads in business…
Unfortunately, a lot of business communication gets stuck at the level of a personals ad. All too often, a connection is made with fashionable and generic terminology that sounds good, but says little about the organization. And that is often a lost opportunity, because every organization is unique. And that unicity appeals to certain types of leaders, employees and customers.

To test it, I invite you to study the job advertisements in any medium. See how often you come across generic terms that are not made specific: good communication skills, open, professional. These terms mean something different in different organizations and in different situations. For example, the term ‘academic level of thinking’ is charged differently for a scientific research institute than for a company that markets consumer products. “Open” means a different kind of informality for an advertising agency than for an asset manager at a merchant bank. The disadvantage of the use of generic terms is that they lead to “hail shooting” and a waste of time, money and attention.

Communication dilemma
Convincing communication, internal and external, is always authentic. Do you want to convince by communicating in the way you think it appeals to your target group? If you organization has encounters success and there is a lot of positive things to say, then that is of course no problem. But organizations struggle with numerous issues, events and plans that do not go (completely) according to plan, but about which clarity is desired. Especially internally. “What are we really doing in the field of sustainability?” “Why is there still no clarity about our reorganization?” “How do we deal with these unexpected setbacks?”

These are all questions to which certain – internal and external – target groups – would like a clear answer. But what if that answer is not (yet) there? Or if arriving at a solution is even more difficult than expected?

Attractive and credible
Responsive organizations usually have little trouble with authentic communication. They face the facts, act on them, and rely on their own strength. By consistently and clearly showing who they are, they avoid the communication dilemma. Their message is genuine, natural and powerful. And it automatically becomes attractive and credible for the target group. That strengthens the bond and reputation with their target groups. Especially when there is not only good news to report.

Responsiveness is more important than the plan

Where will you be in five years?
A question that many entrepreneurs, career tigers and top athletes ask themselves is: “Where do I want to be in five years’ time”? Asking this question will help you plan your future and take the necessary steps to get there. Or so is the assumption…

“Life got in the way”
Yet I know very few entrepreneurs who at any point have arrived at the place they had thought of for themselves five years earlier. There are always events and developments that influence the direction and the result – both positive and negative. Life came between them and their plans.

Relative value
Of course your organization has a vision. But that vision is not limited to time. It is about what can be improved in your market, how products and services can be marketed in distinctive ways, the possibilities of technology, new value propositions. And with that vision comes an ambition. Call it a mission: market leadership, most innovative company, best employer. You name it. It’s good to make that ambition “SMART” (Specific, Measurable, Acceptabel, Realistic and Time-bound). This is your potential! And people will get excited about it. But the answer to the question “Where do you want the organization to be in five years’ time” has relative value. For example, if you are an ambitious hospitality entrepreneur who wanted to open your restaurant in the spring of 2020. Or someone who envisioned to open their online brand of consumer goods. In either case, the strategic plan doesn’t make much sense anymore – for one entrepreneur the COVID 19 outbreak could mean bankruptcy, the other one is growing faster than he had anticipated. In any case: for both entrepreneurs it means finding an answer to the circumstances and events now. In other words: it’s about being responsive. Either by changing your business model – delivering meals at home and setting up the processes and logistics for this – or invest in scaling up your operation and finding a solution to the financing problem that this creates.

The dot on the horizon versus now…
Entrepreneurial life is full of unexpected events and developments, opportunities and threats alike. But what is more important then? The best possible response to events and developments? Or sticking to that “dot on the horizon”? The answer, of course, is the best possible response right now. Because that’s what the future of your company hinges on!

Doing business in the present moment
No company can afford anything else: if reality “happens” to your company, responsiveness is required. Because you do business and manage it in the present moment. By responding to and anticipating change. By improving and innovating. And that takes you and your organization somewhere. Very often this is not at the predetermined end point. The journey turns out to be more important. And if you are able to look at it that way and take your organization along, the journey will also be a lot more fun and adventurous. Full of unexpected windfalls.

John Lennon once sang, “Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.” That does not apply to responsive organizations. They are of course inspired by their ambitions and strategy. But these are not set in stone. As Daniël Ropers, former Managing Director of Bol.com, put it: “Responding to change is really more important than following a plan!” (‘The Responsive Entreprise’, by Rini van Solingen en Vikram Kapoor, Publisher Boom, 2016).

The art of letting Go

In one of the previous blogs we discussed the transition in the field of management: from so-called “directive” to “facilitating” leadership. Managers are not the people who tell the team what to do, “make it perform” and “get the results.” The starting point is that the team can do that very well itself. Provided a number of conditions are met. For example, there must be clarity about the objectives, the team must be complete and there must be a clear division of tasks. The focus is on every individual coming into his or her own and that there is psychological safety so that the team can develop freely.

What often comes up in discussions about facilitating leadership is that managers should be able, and dare, to “let go”. Does this mean that you are not interfering with anything anymore? That you let everyone have their own way, and see what that leads up to?

That is by no means letting go. But for managers who are used to planning, directing and controlling it may feel like that. Because it’s a habit. And habitual behavior is persistent: even though you believe that working differently is good, it feels uncomfortable, and maybe even scary, because you’re not used to it. Which is why it is a good thing to consider what letting go exactly is in a management context.

To this end, we make a distinction between “desire” and “intention”. They are two states of mind, or attitudes, that are very similar but differ in one important aspect.

Desire
With a desire you are attached to the result you want to achieve. That means that you experience positive emotions when that result is achieved and negative emotions when it is not. Compare it to a child who has set his sight on the latest game console for his birthday: the greater the desire, the greater the joy or disappointment when the wish is or is not fulfilled. The intensity of the emotion is directly proportional to the intensity of the desire.

Intention
When you are not attached to the result you want, then there is an intention. When you act from intentions, your attitude is open to the results that emerge. You do have a result in mind (the intention), but you are not emotionally affected by the actual result because you are not attached to it. This makes you accept the result as it is. You do not resist the outcome. But that does not mean that you are apathetic or that you will give up. Because you remain open and curious about further possibilities and what to do next – and as a result you create agility and creativity …

In daily management practice, many things are not going as well as planned or budgeted. Viewed from the perspective of desire, they all harbor disappointments.

Disappointment is a form of resistance to reality. People who act from intentions do not have that resistance. They accept the results and will therefore look at them more freely. As a result, they are better able to see how things can further be improved: the lack of desire and resistance automatically means an open mind and a creative attitude: “OK, this is what we have achieved, why and how do we make it better?”

Management
The difference between “directive management” and “letting go” is comparable to this. You put together your team. Obviously there are objectives. You want to go somewhere. And you give the team the autonomy to decide how they are going to achieve that goal and what actions they will to take. If necessary, you give advice. And you coach the team members. But then you “release” them to do the work. And you wait and see what the results of their actions are. With an open mind: your intention on the goal, and accepting what is to come.

Attitude
The difference between both management styles is a small difference in attitude. There is no difference in ambition level. The attitude of “letting go” ensures that the team can freely do what it does best. It leads to a world of difference in spirit within teams, motivation of those involved and responsiveness of the organization.

Why do you do the things you do?

Responsive organizations have the ability to change from within. You could call that organic. Change is not managed, but inspired. There are four starting points to realize this. They are about people, their motivations and mutual relationships.

First of all, the people make the difference – not the plans, structures, KPIs or work processes. It is the task of leadership to allow people to come to their own in a safe environment. This is not about directive leadership that tells people what to do, but ‘facilitating leadership’ which is based on autonomy, responsibility and motivation. A third premise is that there is no uniform formula, method or approach for success: every organization finds out for itself what its unique potential is and how it can be realized. And finally, they rely on the belief that people have a tremendous capacity to contribute to change, provided you address their intrinsic motivation.

Golden Circles
In many discussions with clients about their mission and positioning, Simon Sinek’s “Golden Circles” come up. These circles are about the “Why”, “How” and “What” of an organization.

The stronger the “Why” of a company, organization, or person, the stronger its energy and appeal. In his famous Ted Talk, Sinek explains that companies, organizations and people with a strong and clear “Why” achieve more and have a stronger attraction to other people than those who focus primarily on the “What” or “How”. He uses appealing examples from, among others, the Wright Brothers, Martin Luther King and computer company Apple.

Simon Sinek’s Golden Circles

The art of connection
Simon Sinek’s “Why” goes deeper than the mere raison d’être of an organization. For leadership, the art is to connect this with the “Why” of their employees. In other words: their motives for their actions and decisions.

Facilitating leaders act from a strong awareness of their employees and their motivation. They intend to inspire and stimulate them, and get them moving together. In doing so, they create the conditions for positive change. Which works better, and is more fun, than telling people what needs to be achieved and how they must do it.

Good decisions with the wrong motive do not lead to the desired results
Often strategic decisions are taken that seem very good at first sight but are based on the wrong motive.

Example: companies such as Semco or Favi have made a name for themselves with self-managing teams. This led, among other things, to the disappearance of a lot of management at these organizations. Their approach was praised and copied by many other companies. Their argument often was: “We can save costs with this.”

Cost-effectiveness is important, but that was not the motive of the aforementioned organizations. It was the conviction that people in the workplace are perfectly capable of planning, organizing and executing their work. For themselves and together. No manager had to decide on that. That motive was the foundation for successful change in these examples. But when the motive is all about costs, that becomes the focus of change. It will not improve the way the organization performs. On the contrary: changes made with the wrong motive rarely lead to good results.

The litmus test
So the “why” is about the intrinsic motives of organizations just as much as it is about people’s behavior. Try it out when you speak to an applicant again. Or suppliers who pitch for your business: ask people why they do the work they do or why they have made certain decisions. TheIr answer immediately gives a good idea of ​the kind of people you are dealing with. I once had to choose between three research agencies for a global market study. I asked all three contacts why they were doing this work. Two thought for a moment and repeated their sales pitch. It was about “added value”, “insights through research”. All true, but it was not an answer to the question. Besides that, what they told me I already knew from their websites. Their answers made them look similar. And above all: they did not inspire me. On the contrary! The third person replied immediately and from the bottom of her heart, “Theo, that’s very simple. I just love to do research and understand data. I wouldn’t want to do anything else.” In this simple answer, the motivation and energy were palpable. I did not have to think long about choosing this party. This resulted in an inspiring collaboration that lasted a long time and provided our company with a lot of “data-driven” insights.

2,600 years ago Buddha already spoke about this. One of the pillars of his teaching is “the right intention” or “the right motive”. People like Simon Sinek make us understand better that this is a universal principle that helps to realize coherence in organizations and achieve great results. Why do you do the things you do?

Monkey See. Monkey Do.

Psychological safety is something people must experience.
Anyone who has children will agree: children copy what you do. Because your behavior as a parent is exemplary. This is a natural principle. It is stronger than words: you can explain to a child that it has to tidy up his room. But if you always make a mess of it yourself, that becomes reference. Not the words, but the deeds. It is no different in organizations.

Psychological safety
There is growing attention for psychological safety in organizations. An organization is psychologically safe, when people feel accepted and included by it. This is reflected in, among other things, employees who are open about their opinions and ideas. And colleagues who are inclined to admit mistakes – because the organization stands behind them and helps them solve problems.

This attention arose specifically after a study by Google into the effectiveness of teams. A few years ago they researched 180 teams, with the question: how can you develop the perfect team? Psychological safety emerged as the basic condition for well-functioning teams: people must experience their team and organization as “safe”. Only then will they take “risks.” Such as expressing their opinion. Or experiment. And – inevitably – make mistakes to learn how to improve things. That’s how teams and organizations learn and grow.

Are you serious?
Psychological safety is therefore a precondition for developing responsive organizations. Here lies an important task for management. But how do you do that?

For this, employees first look at their management: to what extent are they serious when it comes to psychological safety? Is it just words or also actions? Example behavior is of the utmost importance here to confirm that the organization is really safe. Or not.

In addition, managers should refrain from using their position of power to “enforce” certain behavior. Because that is the ultimate signal for employees that the organization is not safe – and people will hide back into their shell, in one way or the other.

Ford
The book “Insight1” gives a good example of this dynamic: in 2006 Ford Motor Company was in a deep crisis. Ford had lost 25% market share in the previous 15 years, and that year the company lost $ 17 billion. The new CEO, Alan Mulally found a deep-rooted culture of fear in which people put their careers above the interests of the company. Needless to say there was much resistance to change. Mulally wanted to transform the corporate culture, starting with his executive team. He encouraged members to be open about anything that went wrong. To his surprise, managers continued to report stubbornly positive about their activities. Week after week. Despite the huge losses, nothing seemed to go wrong ….

1 Insight: The Surprising Truth About How Others See Us, How We See Ourselves And Why The Answers Matter More Than We Think, Tasha Eurich, 2018

The reason for this was the deep-rooted culture of fear, in which mistakes were not tolerated. No one ever felt safe reporting problems under the former CEO. Until a manager could not escape reporting a major problem with one of the new models, which meant that production had to be halted temporarily. The person in question had actually already prepared mentally for his dismissal after the meeting. But Mulally complimented the manager on his openness and asked the other team members how they could help.

This made it clear to the team that it was truly safe to face facts, discuss problems and resolve them together. This exemplary behavior turned out to be the “turning point” in the culture that Mulally had been pursuing for months. And that contributed to Ford’s recovery, which returned to profitability in 2009 in the midst of the economic crisis. Incidentally, at that time the only one of the big three car manufacturers in the United States.

Seize the moment with exemplary behavior
You can of course include psychological safety in the values ​​of your company. You can communicate about it and tell people how important it is. However, it will only exist if and when it is experienced by the organization. And especially at times when that safety matters. For example, when something goes seriously wrong, when someone comes up with a seemingly absurd idea or in a conflict situation. At that moment you as a manager have the opportunity to seize the moment, with the behavior that you propagate. As with raising children, psychological safety must be demonstrated.

A common cause of resistance

Organizations want to adapt to changing circumstances. They think about how they want to do things differently and what need to adjust. For example in behavior and/or in the way in which the work is organized.

On to the future
Most organizations therefore change very consciously. TheIr plans are well thought out. Decision-making is thorough and all stakeholders are consulted. “Clearly, if we keep doing our job the same way, we won’t get better results. So on to the future!”

Motivate
Careful work is also done during implementation. Everything is done to take people along: why is this initiative important? What do we want to achieve with it? What happens if we do nothing? And what does this mean for you and your department? An internal communication campaign often follows. Which explains what needs to be changed and why. This mainly aims to involve and motivate people.

Lack of support
In the blog “Why Change Management Often Fails” we saw that there is often less support than people think: in no less than 70% of the cases, teams do not agree with the goals of their management.

So often there is too much resistance. It turns out to be difficult to resolve such resistance and to take those involved along for the good cause of the change. Even people who agree with the goals turn out to be resistant to get moving. For example, because there is insufficient support for the way in which the change will be implemented. Is that sheer unwillingness or is there something else going on?

Too much future…
Recently I had a conversation with two board members of a medium-sized company. The organization is in the midst of a change process. During the conversation, the persistent resistance in the organization came up, especially among middle managers. The situation turned out to be very similar to what is described above.

We considered the possible causes of this resistance for a while. A lot of time and effort had been invested in creating understanding and involving employees. At one point the CEO sighed: “Maybe the problem is that we talk way too much about that bright future.”

… and too little past
Then the insight fell like a quarter in a jukebox: in another blog we discussed that “recognition of the past” – such as: good and bad events, successes and failures – is a systemic need in all teams and organizations.

The need for recognition
After all, “wanting to be seen”, or “recognition”, is an important social need. People and teams want to “belong”. When they do not experience that, resistance emerges as a symptom of imbalance.

The shoulders of the past
Most changes usually start with a good vision and solid arguments. What often does not receive enough recognition is that the current position of the organization has been built on the (successful) past so far. Without “the shoulders of the past,” there is little to stand on. Recognition and appreciation of the contribution of committed employees are essential for taking the step towards the future.

Motivation and energy
It pays to make sure employees are seen and recognized for their contributions. Once they feel understood and appreciated, an important cause of resistance is removed: they feel that they belong and are relevant for the future. That motivates and gives energy.

There can be other causes of resistance of course. For example, fear of losing a job. Or the concern that people cannot “come along”. It is essential to ensure that people experience that leadership understands and acknowledges their feelings. Until that happens, resistance cannot be resolved. No matter how good the other actions of management are. Then the change is force-fed. Such change is slow, laborious and fatiguing for everyone involved.

Understand the root cause
Resolving resistance is only possible if management understands its root cause. And that is never actually in something rational (the reason for change). It is usually the result of employees who do not feel understood, seen or heard. Whether it is in their value to the organization, their concerns or fears for the future. This can even be traced back to previous changes or reorganizations – and may have little or nothing to do with the situation now.

Understanding the root cause of resistance and tackling it takes time. But that does result in change that people feel motivated to contribute to. Such time therefore is a valuable investment. The return consists of people who are better connected with each other and engaged with their organization. Change is therefore faster and better than a change which is force-fed. Moreover, it is also much more fun.

Balance your team with five principles

The blog ‘In the flow’ discusses the first step to developing responsive teams: creating the circumstances which help every employee to come into their own. Here it is also discussed how you can practically map out to what extent people are in the right place in their team:

Example of mapping of team members

Coherence
Once this is done, you want the team to start moving together. What is needed for that? Numerous books have been written on team performance and leadership. In that regard, there are many roads that lead to Rome.

But at the basis of all teams are five systemic principles. When these are met, a team can perform in balance. Systemic principles directly contain the root causes of the behavior, the results and symptoms of (im)balance in any team. And these you can observe like the tip of an iceberg: the systemic principles lie beneath the surface of the water.

  1. Clear goals
    Just as a vision & mission give direction and energy to an organization, clear goals give direction and inspiration to a team. This seems to speak for itself. Yet there appear to be many teams for which it is not clear what exactly they want to achieve with each other. What they do every day may be clear, but a lack of inspiring goals leads to a lack of energy and inspiration.
  2. Complete team
    Every team in an organization needs to fulfill a certain number of roles. Just like any sports team has a certain number of players, each with their own position and role. In the blog ‘In the flow’, we discuss how important focus is for employees to come into their own. When the necessary roles in teams are not properly filled, employees rarely succeed in achieving their full potential, simply because there is insufficient time and space to focus properly. This also applies in the event of overcrowding the different roles in a team.
  3. Division of roles
    When the roles are not clearly divided and there is no proper order of responsibilities, an imbalance arises. For example, people “sit in each other’s seats” and take on tasks that actually do not belong to them. Think of the manager who is too actively involved in the execution. Or vice versa: an employee who makes decisions for which she is actually not authorized. The demarcation of roles, tasks and responsibilities provides clarity and overview. An important task for facilitating leaders is to help people make them clear and help team members adhere to them.
  4. Recognition of history
    Everything that happens in an organization has a cause and an effect. This applies to successes and setbacks. Organizations generally have little difficulty in acknowledging their successes. This is different with setbacks. And when these are “shoved under the carpet”, it drains good energy from the employees involved. Example: a manager of a team is suddenly fired. No clarity is given to the team about the reason. Chances are then that no successive manager will have a good chance of being successful. Simply because, systemically, there is still something in the way. Only when clarity is given to the team about the causes of the dismissal, and both the team and the dismissed manager receive the recognition they deserve, can the team move on.
  5. Balance of give and take
    In every team people come to get and bring something. In energetic, well-functioning teams this ‘ give and take’ is in balance. Ideally, people go home with just as much energy at the end of the day as at the beginning. When people give too much (energy) and do not get enough in return, symptoms such as fatigue or stress kick in. People who have trouble staying in their role (see principle #3) and hardly dare to say “no” often suffer from this. But there can also be an imbalance in people who can say ‘no’ very well – for example because they are structurally dissatisfied with their role. When one of the other systemic principles is not properly adhered to, it often shows first in the balance of give and take.

Systems seek balance – if necessary with unpleasant symptoms
Building responsive organizations is a bottom up process. It starts with seeing to it that employees take the right place in their teams. Subsequently, justice to the (universal) systemic principles of team effectiveness must be done. When a team is not in balance, all kinds of symptoms arise. For example, a high turnover rate of people. Often, management tends to address these symptoms. For example with an employee satisfaction survey. Or an “employer branding” campaign. However, as long as the systemic cause of the symptom in question is not resolved, the imbalance will remain. Such symptoms are what fever is in the flu: a reaction of the system to find its balance. Because systems seek their own “balance”. If necessary with unpleasant symptoms.

In the flow

Your organization wants to become more responsive. To this end, the vision & mission have been thoroughly revised, a strategic plan has been developed. In short: the “why”, “how” and “what” have been established. Everything has been shared with the employees, their feedback has been processed and there is wide support. How do you know whether your organization is able to make the plans come true? Where do you start then?

The basis
An organization or team can only perform well if a number of conditions are met. The basis is that every individual can come into his or her own. Compare it to a football team: one or two players who do not play in the right position or have an off-day, can destroy the performance of the entire team.

How can you create the conditions that allow employees to come into their own?

Flow
If you achieve your full potential, often you are in a state of “flow”. You become so absorbed in your activities that you forget the time. In such a state you feel great and perform best. We have all experienced that at one time or another. The concept of “flow” was invented by the psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihaly.

Characteristics
He described the characteristics of flow in his book: “Flow: the psychology of optimal experience”. We will not consider all of these characteristics here, because several are the result of a state of flow. For example, the lack of a sense of time or a strong sense of well-being. We focus on the four characteristics that can be influenced: willingness, ability, focus and feedback:

  1. Are people doing what you want to do? This is about people’s motivation. If the organization’s vision, mission and objectives are aligned with this, people have found a place where they can spend their ambitions and energy well.
  2. Are people doing what you can do? Does the job fit well with the talents and skills? If people are not challenged enough, they will get bored. When too much is asked of them, they get stressed.
  3. Can people focus well on their tasks and responsibilities? For some organizations, “death by meeting” or “death by email” applies. Or there is so much uncertainty about the demarcation of responsibilities that people are too busy with each other’s tasks. Constant distraction does not improve the quality of the work or the well-being of employees.
  4. Continuous feedback is important to keep people engaged and motivated. They need to know how they are doing and how they can improve. This is not about the (semi)annual appraisal: if feedback is continuous and properly applied, it is also a mechanism that improves the quality and spirit in the team.

Get it going
The aforementioned factors help people to get into their flow. The starting point is mapping the position of each employee on them. So there is a clear picture for each team which employees are in the right place or not. The following diagram is a summary example of what such a mapping might look like. Other HR factors could also be included, like in this example the fit with the team or the professional maturity of team members:

Example of mapping of individuals in a certain team

A number of things become clear immediately. For the entire team, the feedback must be improved: there is too much orange or red here. The employees do not know enough about how they are doing. On an individual level, a number of other things become clear: Melissa does what she wants to do, but still has a lot to learn (“Can” and “Professional Maturity” are both not good yet). For Brian and Julie the question is whether they fit into the team. Brian has the capabilities (“Can” is green), but does he really want this role? And for Julie, she is doing what she wants, but, at least for now, is lacking skills or capabilities.

From this overview, the team can develop and grow. For example, based on the personal development plans of each employee and a plan for the team, possibly supplemented with a change in team composition. Now, each individual can come into his or her own and alignment is obtained with the whole of the organization.

The next step is to make sure every team is functioning properly. In other words: flow at team level. That’s what next week’s blog will be about.