Tasks vs. Responsibilities: 5 Tips for Improving Team Management.


Since I was a very little boy, every new year’s day I remember two things on the only TV at home: The Garmisch Partenkirchen ski jump competition and the new year concert from Vienna. Being totally unaware about how an orchestra works, I always wondered what was the role of the orchestra director, since all the musicians perfectly knew their scores. Moving the baton graciously didn’t seem to be a tough job, compared to playing the violin or the flute. Every musician had a responsibility, and once rehearsed into the ground (the true job of the orchestra director), they simply did their job, autonomously, but perfectly coordinated.

The ideal team of every manager is the one that can be managed on responsibilities, not micromanaged on tasks. This would free manager’s time and make his/her work easier. But not everybody can be managed on responsibilities and not all the work can be organized in such way. Managing a team on responsibilities can lead into disaster if the manager delegates unconsciously. So before that, you might want to do the following:

Analyze your team. Are they only focused on execution? Can they assume responsibilities with clear boundaries? Do they need constant feedback on their tasks, waiting passively for the next instruction? For each of your team members, perform a gap analysis, how should they be to increase their level of independence. If they manage teams too, there is a risk they are only dispatchers of the tasks you set to them, so no real value is added. Be sure all of them understand their value comes because they solve a problem for their immediate managers.

Always share the big picture. People need to understand why are they doing what they are doing. If they don’t, they will probably not realize when making errors, just because they are not able to see the big picture. There is a lot of management time lost supervising and fixing errors that can be avoided with enough context information. You can’t pretend to manage on responsibilities if your team doesn’t realize the data they’re reporting doesn’t have any sense from the business perspective. Understanding business issues related to technical work might be a problem for some professionals. In this case some coaching needs to be done, paying attention on how things are requested: from “I need X, Y and Z data and A, B C graphs” to “I have this problem and X, Y, Z data, how could you help me to represent it?” You already know you want A,B and C graphs, but you are forcing your people to understand the context before analyzing the data, and that will considerably lower errors.

Foster horizontal communication. When managing a team (which, by definition, is more than one), you can be a hub of information or you can lay some communication bridges between your team members. Horizontal communication can be dangerous, as too much of it can make you lose control on the work. Determine boundaries, set up the communication rules, and always be the arbitrator when discrepancies arise (there always are). If you make your people understand when problems are important enough to copy you in an email, and when not, this will require much less of your time.

Check regularly, and randomly. Don’t lose track of the work done by your team, check regularly on plans, estimations and deadlines. Also perform random checks, with different level of detail and type of activity each time. If you find things you don’t like, increase the frequency of follow up until things are under control. This variable frequency check based on how confident you are with the work done by each member or the team can optimize your time when it’s limited.

Give feedback. In a management model based on responsibilities, good performers do usually receive low feedback frequency (because they perform well) Positive feedback is also needed for good performers. Even if you don’t feel to need it, spend at least one third of your feedback time to speak with good performers, and be sure they understand that less attention time means you are happier with them.

A good team management is the happy medium between control and delegation. Not all the teams can work on responsibilities, but much can be done in order to reduce your management time. What is your experience migrating teams from tasks to responsibilities? I’d love to hear your comments on this topic.

As always, feel free to like this post and follow me.


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