Getting to higher performing teams – controlling circumstances or training people?

Do you make jobs easier to do, or do you help people to become more capable?

Effectiveness and efficiency often come in conflict when a goal has to be reached and deciders start to feel pressure. But as Peter Drucker famously said:

“It is fundamentally the confusion between effectiveness and efficiency that stands between doing the right things and doing things right. There is surely nothing quite so useless as doing with great efficiency what should not be done at all.”

But even if we are able to look at obstacles through this lens, and focus on the effective things, there is still the question of how to best do the really necessary things.
In today’s fast paced VUCA-World (Volatile, Uncertain, Complex, Ambiguous) most of the things we try to accomplish imply some kind of “gaining knowledge”. And that is where we can see a huge difference between players who are in the game for the long run, and those who are more focused on quick gains.

Let’s assume we have a new complex piece of equipment – be it software, hardware or something else. Learning to work with this new asset requires learning and education. And this is where we come back to the original question – “Do you make jobs easier to do, or do you help people to become more capable?”

The more efficient approach – and probably even the more effective approach – would be to train a few people to operate the equipment, and let them create procedures for the rest of the staff on how to use it. (Think e.g. “creating build scripts for others” in a software engineering context)

But here comes the kicker: as Jerry Weinberg once said “The more adapted we are, the less adaptable we are.” Being less adaptable means being less capable of responding to change.

So having these highly optimized processes makes the jobs of the other people easier (sometimes much easier) – but it takes away from the capability of the organization as a whole. A different approach would be to teach all the people affected how to operate the new equipment, and just have the specialist handle the initial (and perhaps subsequently necessary) research and education. The latter approach would result in a much more capable organization. Of course, after the organization has learned how to best use the new equipment it can still be – and often is – a smart decision to have specialists who know the equipment even better than the rest.

‘till next time
  Michael Mahlberg

P.S.: To give credit where credit is due: David Anderson mentioned the concept of “controlling circumstances vs training people” while we were working on the KMM (Kanban Maturity Model) – I just picked it up and tried to translate it to my own working environment

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