In their most basic form, organizational work units consist of four parts: (1) a named entity of some size (i.e. a team, branch, staff, division, etc); a service or mission focus for that unit; (3) an assemblage of human talent and skills to carry out that service or mission; and (4) a manager or supervisor responsible for making it all work.
Managers of these work units often opt for a highly traditional operating paradigm to fulfill their responsibilities. I have always thought of that paradigm as roughly akin to the feudal baronies common in the middle ages. That is, our modern baron or baroness thinks of his or her fief as a possession; my unit, my people, my mission, my responsibility. As such, each manager assumes he or she must make all decisions regarding the unit’s operation.
Throughout my management career, I watched hundreds of managers insist on “going it alone”. Although most of them faced the same sort of problems and challenges as their colleagues, they rarely shared them with each other, or sought the advice of others on how to handle this or that situation. It was as if having been elevated to management status, they now believed they should have all the answers themselves. Moreover, it never seemed to dawn on them that there was strength in numbers when it came to managing up.
One of the essential messages in all of my management workshops is that many brains are usually better and way smarter than one. I also point out that I have never worked in, or am aware of, any organization where managers were explicitly told that they were forbidden to discuss their management issues with each other. For whatever reason, in many organizations they simply do not.
So here is my plug for “Team Management”. By this I mean a group of managers with common issues, services, or missions putting their heads together occasionally to thrash out a way forward that suits them all.
Assuming you and some of your manager colleagues are responsible for a common service, share essential interconnecting parts of the same service, or have operating interdependencies that bring all of your employees into daily interaction with each other, consider the following simple advantages of some collective team management.
First, although your individual management problems may vary little, the potential approaches for addressing these problems are significantly more plentiful. A collective discussion of important shared problems will likely produce a richer discussion and surface action alternatives none of you may consider on your own.
Second, consider the value of collective management insight into subordinates, when multiple managers have the opportunity to observe them in action during the course of daily work. Looking collectively at the same individual, not everyone sees the same thing. Employees receive a more well-rounded evaluation when multiple perspectives are combined. This, in turn, increases the potential for employing individual skills and talent in the most effective and beneficial way for all concerned.
Third, team management of important overlapping issues and problems usually allows for the clash of big picture and detail thinking. Decisions that emerge from such clashes are more likely to combine the creativity and innovation of a big idea and the detailed operational road map needed to accomplish it.
Fourth, the more a group of managers engage in collective problem solving, the more likely the management environment they inhabit will shift from one of competition, to one of collaboration. The more a group of managers work side by side engaged in a common enterprise, the harder it becomes for them to perpetuate the notion that a management career is a zero-sum game that only a few can win.
Finally, team management demands a degree of broader corporate thinking that makes the pursuit of narrow parochial interests more difficult and thus, less likely. Organizations where bureaucratic parochial struggles predominate are less likely to achieve their full potential, than are those where managers learn to sublimate their parochial interests when necessary for the broader corporate good.