Feudal management VS Miranda warning - shape work environment that doesn't suck

I'm recently a bit fixated on the idea of high performance workplaces. What makes a bunch of people (with all the surroundings) performing like a Swiss watch, or at least better than another gang (with similar abilities, working on congenial products)? Obviously the answer ain't trivial and it would take at least 10 blog posts to cover the most basic stuff. But there's one thing I find particularly crucial to understand for anyone who CARES about the work environment around her / him & the team:

Who's responsible for forming a proper workplace?

  • Ask field folks - they'll say that there are just the cogwheels in a bigger mechanism, with a limited ability to change anything; or they will come up with an improvement action from the past that was blocked by a superior's decision ("so, what else can we do?")

  • Ask their superiors - they'll either blame the overall corporate culture or state that people are always unhappy ("you give'em a finger, they ask for the hand").

The thing many of them don't get is that it's their SHARED responsibility. They all together form the workplace, participate in everyday workplace activities, interact, communicate & ... well, just work - right. To be frank - many of them understand it, but they have no clue what it really means - you can't really build a proper workplace while working separately: the deeper the gap between the managers & the managed, the bigger are misunderstandings & misinterpretations:

  1. Do managers really know what do their subordinates think? Do they even try to learn that or are they guessing? Are people happy with the job? Are they missing anything? What are the everyday limitations they are facing? And well, annual satisfaction survey results (how typical for the enterprise) aren't really what I mean ;P

  2. If field gang isn't happy with their managers' actions or if they feel unhappy because of any other reason - what do they do to communicate it? Do they remember that feedback isn't supposed to go 'down' only but 'up' as well?

  3. Do both sides build up the communication barriers with unjustifiable hostility? Managers by enforcing 'pharaoh-slave'-style work relationship, subordinates by finding an easy spring of excuses of any sort ('victimship' - "I'd move mountains, but all those pesky managers ...")?

Don't be feudal in XXI century

It's not trivial and there's no single prescription to get rid of this problem - people involved:

  • do different stuff on the daily basis
  • have different positions, (quite likely) background, work experience
  • may have been raised (& 'shaped') in different conditions, different work-models as the members of different generations with varying mindsets
  • are in asymmetric work relationships -> most likely one group decides on other group's wages, career progression, etc.

That's correct. And it doesn't help. Basics instincts are a factor as well:

  • managers defend their positions by actually limiting the access to information; they don't want open discussion, because for them it would mean admitting to weakness & giving up some of their status ("just let'em sense the scent of blood ...")
  • teams do not want to expose too much, because they don't want issuing an open invitation for micromanagement & they watch US movies :D (check Miranda Warning).

I have seen all of that - in many places, at different occasions. And I've heard even more stories. People are just people after all. But if they care about the work environment they are in, they all should feel responsible for it - because it's all the participants who HAVE to collaborate TOGETHER, by making the best use of the mixture of skills, experiences & abilities they possess altogether: lone wolf won't fix everything on his own, but the lone pest can make his whereabouts unbearably toxic for many people.

Pic: http://watches.infoniac.com/