Oh wow, you’re the CEO!? SENIOR Vice President, you must be really important!
Titles Influence Actions
Think about this. If you automatically attribute certain rights and privileges to a certain “class” of titles, your interactions with those people are artificially influenced right out of the gate. In addition, if you attribute a level of superiority with certain titles and YOU have one of those titles, that can influence the way you interact with other people as well.
I was talking with someone recently about an issue at their company. They said that they thought that they had a fine solution, but they didn’t feel comfortable sharing it because they’re not “a director”. Please!!! That kind of stuff drives me nuts. As I shared with him my feelings about that kind of thinking, it became clear that he had gotten the “who are you to suggest something to me?” treatment from people in his company before, which sadly prevents him now from speaking up.
Knowing that certain kinds of titles influence the way people act, why do we still insist on having those types of titles within our organizations? Don’t we want every person within our organization to feel like they can disagree with anyone, and that their ideas are as important as anyone else’s? Don’t we want people to gain respect and admiration based solely on their contributions and character, not an artificial label?
So what’s your title? Do you think people would address you differently if your title were something “less important”?
Time For A New Approach
Why not revisit the way you assign titles? Do you need them at all? Maybe each person in your company can make up their own title? Maybe your title is based on the department you work in, and is the same as everyone else in the department? Maybe a title has clear objective accomplishments that need to be met in order to attain it, yet it’s not tied to any rigid management hierarchy?
In the end, it comes down to the culture and management structure of your organization. Unfortunately, some companies want titles to keep people in a box. Other companies have traditional titles, but they have such a strong culture of equality and value for each individual that titles may not have much of an effect on the way people treat one another. In the end, titles alone will obviously not solve the problem of overly hierarchical and bureaucratic management, but they can play a role in breaking down those barriers.
Only you can judge the effects of titles in your organization. It’s worth considering.
Yesterday, I came across this amazing series by Jonathan Fields entitled: CEO’s Secret Weapon: little-known tactics that fuel visionary thinking.
The Three A’s that Jonathan talks about in the series are:
Train Your Attention
Time To Get Active
I won’t even give a quick summary here. Read the whole three part series. When reading it, think about the people you know that really seem to stand out as visionaries and top performers. The people that consistently excel in most everything they do. Maybe that’s you? You are probably doing these things in some form or another.
Here’s a great exercise to help re-energize your team:
Tell every member of your team that you want each of them to forget about everything that they are currently working on, and take the time to come up with what THEY think they should be working on. What THEY think should be their highest priority.
In addition, ask them to look at what every other member of the team is currently working on, and come up with what THEY think each person’s highest priority item should be.
Then, have a meeting to discuss all of these things, brainstorm and re-align your priorities.
Sometimes a terrible thing can happen to a team. Team dynamics become what I call team “dynumbics”.
People become numb. They become lulled to sleep, not willing to participate in the overall team effort aside from doing their individual tasks and calling it a day. They no longer have a drive to disagree, to be creative or to voice their opinions and ideas.
Why does this happen? In thinking about it, I’ve come up with the 5 dysfunctions of a team as I see them. (I know of Patrick Lencioni’s book with the same title, though I’ve never read it.)
1) Poor Leadership – Poor leadership causes everyone else to suffer. In reality, poor leadership is really the only thing to blame for poor team dynamics. Leadership needs to recognize the signs of the remaining four dysfunctions, and fix them quickly.
2) Poor Process – Poor process will quickly lull people to sleep and drive teams apart. A poor process can be defined as: no process, a process that is clearly broken, or a process that changes all the time. A process changing and improving from time to time is one thing. However, if you have a fire drill every time a certain task needs to be completed, you have a poor process and you need to spend the time needed to fix it. A poor process just frustrates people.
3) Poor Relationships – Strong professional relationships are key. This needs to be fostered by leadership as well. One simple way to foster strong professional relationships amongst team members is to stress their importance frequently. Like most things, just bring it up. Tell your team that it’s important that they all have good relationships with one another, and that they feel comfortable providing constructive criticism and asking each other for help/input.
4) Lack of Shared Vision – If your team doesn’t have a shared vision for what you are trying to accomplish, how do you expect to accomplish it? Don’t expect that everyone will have the shared vision because you mention it once a year. It needs to be reinforced, brought up frequently, and you need to be evaluating the things that your team is doing to make sure they are furthering that shared vision. Without a shared vision, people can easily become disengaged and feel like they are doing busy work.
5) Lack of Ownership – This is vital for two reasons:
- Ownership motivates people to do their best. If you tell someone that something is “theirs” and that they “own it”, most people are going to do the best they can. If no one owns it, it’s going to be mediocre.
- If no one owns it, there is no one to hold accountable when it doesn’t get done. This also means that people will feel like someone else should have done something, which weakens relationships between team members.
Don’t let your team become numb.
One of the things I love most about working is having the opportunity to sit down next to someone else and work side by side with them on something. I literally go out of my way to work with people this way if at all possible. I learn so much, and it’s an opportunity for me to hopefully impart something worthwhile to the person I’m working with. Sure, there are always things that you simply need to just focus on and get done on your own. But when you need to interact with someone else on your team, why not work side by side with them whenever possible?
Working this way is a powerful tool you can use to help create a culture of innovation within your organization/team. Here’s how:
1) Preface your interaction/work session with something like this:
“My goal every time I work side by side with someone like this, is not just to accomplish the task at hand. I have two other things that I explicitly want to accomplish. I want to learn something from you – I want YOU to teach ME something. At the same time, I hope to share some bit of knowledge, or teach you something as well. So please, try and teach me something, I will try my best to do the same.”
It’s important to set expectations this way, especially if you are working with someone that reports to you. Some people will feel like you are micromanaging, so just be clear about your intentions and goals.
2) Recap – When your work session is over, tell your co-worker what you’ve learned and ask them what they learned. THEN, ask them if what you learned is what they were trying to teach you and vice-versa.
3) Encourage everyone on your team to do the same when working with one another.
4) Periodically talk about the things that you’ve learned over the course of a given week or month, and ask the rest of your team members to do the same. It’s probably good to vary the frequency of these discussions.
This accomplishes a number of great things:
1) It shows that you respect your team members, and that you don’t think you know it all.
2) It shows that you are not just task oriented, but that you have an interest in your team members’ development.
3) Knowledge sharing happens, respect for one another increases, and stronger relationships develop throughout your team.
4) Your team members learn, grow, and become more engaged.
All making your job as a manager/team leader that much easier, and helping to create a culture of innovation within your team.