I often use this analogy when introducing new team members to certain methodology when working on various projects. Everyone seems to assume a role of ownership where they have expertise, yet the things no one knows about just kind of gets left behind until a Project Manager or some sort of authority figure points it out and asks for a volunteer or voluntells someone to handle it. To put this in perspective, if the project is a new web based service, then the developers quickly get to writing codes, the designers do their thing and the social butterflies get on with the marketing efforts, all quickly recognized by the other team members as bing sudo VP’s of whatever role they are doing.
But in a small team and you could even say small company, is this really the best approach? It does appear to be the quickest most logical way to succeed and in the end everyone can get recognition for their part.
But what if I, my friends studying bio mechanics and a market research analyst were tasked with building a rocket powerful enough to leave the earth’s atmosphere (100km+). Who then, would be the VP of propulsion? Who would be the VP of guidance systems? And how do we get to our goal? The answers over the years have included but are not limited to:
- We can’t do it.
- We need to hire qualified people.
- Owners have to be assigned to each branch of the project for accountability regardless of skill.
Let’s dissect these a bit.
- Complete disengagement, walk away, don’t even try, it’s impossible.
- Hire someone else who will hopefully know what the hell he is doing, worse comes to worse we can blame him/her and they will either get fired or get a “get out of jail free card” for being the FNG.
- Find someone to delegate this to so we know who to hang when the Sh!t hits the fan (this could also be represented as the anti-team member or the time trader). The allusion to the fact that everything is okay if we don’t meet our collective goal of 100km+ as long as your/his segment of the project was not the cause of the failure demonstrate total lack of interest in the actual success.
Everyone’s answer is built and prepared for failure, to assume the worse and what’s surprising is they usually fire these out in rapid order without thinking too much. Meaning they are preconditioned this way by time and experience.
Substitute the rocket by a complex problem being handled by a team that does not have the required skills to handle it properly and you will get a scenario that reproduces itself countless times per day all over the corporate world. Look at the answers above and you will get a good idea of what is going through everyone’s mind when they initially hear that their team is being tasked with this project. Professional boundaries do not permit them to answer as blatantly as they do in my analogy questions, however they still have a significant amount of baggage framing their thoughts this way.
Radical approaches need to be taken to change these behaviors. New teams working on new projects may have an easier time changing where teams that have been together for years and sometimes decades might find it hard to even think this way. Success and failure for the project should lay with the team and not its individual members. It can all begin by substituting Accountable with Responsible (first definitions).