The Rat Race for Management
I have been an organizational coach for quite a while now. Some companies come to me with issues in the people zone, some suffer from quality problems and some fail to deliver enough value to their customers. But there is one problem that seems to pop up continously.
Let me tell you a little story.
One day a company asked me to look after three developing teams that have just been set in an offshoring location. They have a very nice culture – lots of trust, agility installed naturally (a 20-people organization) and openness in all communication.
When I came in for the first time, I saw two teams. One was vigorous and collaborative, the other was much quieter, not partaking in the discussion where it seemed necessary. One person appeared to be the cause of it. I asked their Scrum Master about the situation in the group, and he explained that one of the developers will become a team manager and to minimize the impact, he will be shifted to the other team.
That worried me – this usually ends up in smothering team collaboration and energy level. I didn’t want to be prejudiced, so I wrote down all possible observable causes of this difference of collaboration:
- Scrum Master lead actively the Daily Scrum instead of allowing the team to self-organize,
- The energetic team was getting real results from the market on what they did from their PO
- Both teams lacked sprint goals
- There was no visible progress from retrospectives
- Teams didn’t have enough knowledge on discussion facilitation
- Sprint Backlogs appeared unclear (but then it might have been only perceived by a bystander)
- The future team leader had an overwhelming personality with inclinations towards command and control approach
When I came in for the second time I saw the situation reversed – the second team was collaborative and energetic, while the first’s energy level and discussions went down. In both teams two things have been corrected already – goals and retrospective findings, so I had to rule those out as the cause. And one thing changed – the new leader was appointed and changed teams. His body language suggested a position of power. It immediately showed in the team collaboration level.
Don’t get me wrong, I see that the new leader is a remarkable specialist and a person with communication and collaboration skills. It looks like with the strength of his personality, formalizing his position he already managed to smother team collaboration.
A similar scenario is happening amazingly often. It usually starts when a company has between 60 and 100 people (the company described is about 100).
This situation is described in the Greiner organizational growth model and is called the Control Crisis. From innovative and entrepreneurial organization it starts to become formal and stiff. Controlling culture emerges, where collaboration thrived. There is a shift in culture across the Schneider Model.
How does this impact our organization?
There is more than just one form of power. (for the 5 Forms of Power description take a look here: https://controlyourchaos.wordpress.com/2013/12/17/scrum-masters-toolkit-french-ravens-5-6-forms-of-power/)
The problem with powers is that the lower the number, the more primitive the power is. If we have all five, in the moment of stress, we will use the instinctive one. And if we have a complex problem to solve we will make people obey – which limits our team to the intelligence of the person having powers 1 & 2 – others will only comply. That’s why having team coaches or SMs (they have powers 4 & 5), working with teams instead of managers is so effective. There is a reason why all the most innovative companies in the world limit overseeing their teams on the personal level, and concentrate only on the results they produce.
The Lucifer Effect
Philip Zimbardo includes a stunning description of this power paradox in his book “Lucifer Effect”. I encoureage greatly reading something about this phenomeon. It shows how good people turned bad, when given a specific role. Regulations, procedures and hierarchy support that effect greatly.
Leadership quality & career path
As you know, finding a good leader isn’t easy. Especially if we’re talking about team behavior. In IT we generally have people who love technology, they are remarkable technical people, but when it comes to managing they are also remarkably technical. I’m not saying that they don’t have people skills, because the statistics show that IT doesn’t vary much from other industries in this regard. But IT managers tend to manage numbers and technology, not people. Why is that? Because in the majority of companies, there is no clear technical career path, and the only way to advance is to become a manager. And I have seen that prove to be destructive many times already. Good people leaders are rare, and they also rarely seek power, because they already have it, granted by the group. They are catalysts of change, they bring out the good in others, rather than themselves. And they usually don’t want their power to be formalized, because they understand that their relationship with their team will change to less open. I have experienced it – from a Scrum Master I have become a manager of a team. Their behavior changed within a day.
Cultural differences – distance to power
This is a measure introduced by Geert Hofstede in his report on cultural differences. It’s way greater in Poland than in any other European countries (3x as high as in Anglo-Saxon cultures), which is the inability to say no to your superior. It’ all cultural, it’s audible in language and it’s nuances. It prevents people from speaking up when this would be beneficial for the team or the product.
What’s the cause of this?
It appears as if setting a hierarchy is a natural thing to do. But we’re educated to do so and we’re not questioning if it’s the right way.
We’re used to apply solutions that appear simple instead of ones that work.
Lack of measures
Organizations under 50 people rarely measure if what they’re doing actually works. How would you know if your product is successful if you don’t know the market share, the return on investment or how happy your people are? Measure. But measure wisely. If you measure the time your developers sit at their desks, you will have people sitting at their desks. Make sure to base your decisions on evidence: https://hbr.org/2006/01/evidence-based-management
Scrum Master’s responsibility
Another element that comes into play is the depth of Scrum Master’s responsibility. Each Scrum Master has three areas of responsibility –
- The Development Team
- The Product Owner
- The Organization
Working with the organization includes chasing people and goals, so that the environment in which his teams operate is most welcoming. But from what I have seen many times, Scrum Masters fail to do so.
And this is why I’m not really surprised that a big need for management and overseeing teams appears.
One of the primary responsibilities of the Scrum Master is to support the organization in their overarching goals, by not only providing transparency, but also acting as an advisory body to the management of higher levels. In companies where the number of people exceeds 60 this is crucial to avoid or minimize the effects of Control Crisis in organizational growth. This is something that will enable the organization to scale and remain healthy and as productive as possible without smothering effects of close management.
Also if you have Scrum Masters that share their responsibility with the role of a Development Team member it’s virtually impossible for them to pay attention to the organizational zone of their work.
If you encounter this situation in your organization ask yourself one question – do your Scrum Masters give you enough transparency that you can feel safe, or do they fail to do so and you need closer supervision to make sure your products thrive and people develop in the way they want and according to the organizational goals?
My recommendation: if you think you need managers in your teams, please think twice whether you would like to impede your organization this way.