Smart, agile thought-leaders say:

  • the best architectures and designs come from the self-organizing teams
  • don’t build the the ivory tower - it’s the people who do “the ground work” that know best what are the day-to-day problems that impact and impair their work
  • motivated individuals are the key - build the teams and projects around them

and … you know, they are obviously right. But … sometimes it just doesn’t work that way - some people NEED to be driven: and they are not the minority.

I’ve made an experiment. I’ve taken 2 teams of IT individuals, both in relatively safe project environment and I’ve spend some time on heavy evangelization:

  1. I’ve showed them the Kanban way - how to visualize the work, how to limit the WIP (and why it’s that important), what does it mean that something remains in the backlog for too long, etc.

  2. I’ve pointed out how to measure value - where’s the real benefit and how to prove that one of the activities will be more beneficial than another without falling into analysis-paralysis.

  3. I’ve presented about Kaizen - how important it is to constantly improve the processes, practices & tools. I’ve described them the proper workflow - that they should start with finding out what the real problem is (and why it is a problem), making sure that solving it will truly add value (I didn’t dig deeply into ToC, just to keep things simple - yes, I’m aware of the consequences, but I wanted to get things STARTED) and coming up with the solution afterwards.

  4. I’ve given those people the freedom to evaluate and assess their situation. They have been empowered to do the work that will primarily benefit them and their everyday work, they were free to pick their options on their own. I was very cautious about interfering - I was always there to counsel them and patiently give advice (even by giving directions about what may be the potential problem), but I was prone enough to not micromanage them or force them to any direction.

And you know what happened? This approach has utterly failed. Vast majority of these people didn’t really want the power I gave them.

They didn’t lack motivation nor energy - but they’ve … preferred the things the old way. Even if it meant manual and / or boring work. Why is that? Most likely because:

  • they prefer "to be ordered" to do something (by someone), as they don’t want to take any responsibility for decision (or even a recommendation)

  • they prefer "known" to the "unknown" -> "If it works somehow, why touch it? You may break it."

  • they were victimizing: “how can I learn the new stuff I’d need? You won’t let me read books in work, so there’s no way to do that”.

  • they didn’t get the "value adding" thing at all; most of them doesn’t really understand why and for whom they are where they are; even when I was clarifying to them who their main stakeholder was, they were not able to "put themselves in someone else shoes" - they didn’t want to talk to those people about their problems / needs either

Teams of motivated individuals who are able to shape up the best solutions by themselves are awesome. But they are rare. Average people are … “average” (they prefer to “blend in”). They do their average job and they need leaders: technical inspiring leaders, smart (& stubborn) analysts, invigorating managers and team-builders.

There will be always people who do the ground work and people who naturally raise above the first category, because the Nature meant them to lead - and there’s nothing bad in that: this way the full potential of the team WILL be utilized, but that doesn’t mean that teams are fully democratic and everyone is equally decisive and creative.

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