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Command & Control: Let’s Talk About Power

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Command and control isn’t just a mindset and a style of management (though it is both those things). What we don’t often talk about is the power that rests with people in management roles.

Traditional managers have power, and that power comes from different sources. Part of what rankles people in traditional organizations is the way managers wield power. I’m not suggesting throwing out all managers or eliminating all controls–controls help ensure a system is functioning within appropriate boundaries. That’s the case whether we are looking at the financial system, training system, administrative system or any other system in the organization. But controls are different from keeping people in line through positional power–which is the essence of Tayloristic management.

The notion that managers must keep people in line assumes that those people are neither responsible nor intelligent–that left to their own devices, they will make irresponsible and stupid mistakes. In many organizations, managers say they want people and teams to be responsible and accountable, then treat them like children. Let me give a concrete example. One manager I know exhorted people to take responsibility for their professional development. Then when a developer asked to attend training, the manager grilled him on the nature of the training. After the grilling, the manager asked the developer to produce documentation. Finally, the manager rejected the developer’s request because the no one “responsible” in the company had vetted the training. This is an extreme example, but one that makes the point. When managers tell people to take responsibility, then force them to ask for approval, they are sending a mixed message. You can guess which part of the message people believe. They hear, “you are not capable of making a wise decision, I must exert my authority to prevent you from doing something irresponsible or stupid.”

One way to dis-aggregate power is to delegate some power to teams. For example, you could delegate authority for a portion of a training budget to a team. Establish guidelines, (e.g., training must be relevant to current or future projects, or must increase capacity in some other relevant way). Then let team members assess what training they need to improve their capability. Guidelines act as controls, within which the team has autonomy. Both are necessary. The team exists within the context of the organization. Managers do have a fiduciary responsibility. But managers don’t have to force other adults to come as supplicants to fulfill that responsibility. Other areas that are easy to delegate are tools used within the team, books and periodicals, and conferences.

People in management roles can share hiring decisions with the teams who will work with the new person. Rather than have individual managers make decisions about promotions, have a panel. Place professional and career development with mentors, instead of with the manager who evaluates or supports the team.

When power isn’t concentrated with a group of people (managers), there are many more possibilities for creativity, partnership, and empowering leadership.

(This is an excerpt from an interview in Lean Magazine, published by Softhouse.se)

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Published at DZone with permission of Esther Derby , DZone MVB .

Opinions expressed by DZone contributors are their own.

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