Change Thyself, Boss

I got to see extreme variance of teams. Some could swarm on complex tasks, rapidly decompose them, find the most critical details and provide reply in no time. Some other hid behind an impenetrable firewall of processes. Some felt and behaved like bunch of good friends. Yet other were just a group of people, apparently put together by some random variation of the loom of time. Now, it would be easy to explain this by different organizations these teams originated from. After all, the way people behave is, to a point, reflection of their workplace culture.

Thing is, all these teams were within one company. Ouch.

Imagine you get to observe some random team, somewhere. It might be your team, might be some other. It’s likely to have a boss of some kind. The role name will vary, from Manager via Leader to Master. The title depends on how deeply the organization in question bought into “Agile is the new black” lingo. Now, see how these people work.

In theory, you would see them following some predefined process. However creative their tasks might be, some kind of framework applies. Things need to be thought of, created, validated and delivered, regardless if it’s serial or parallel, iterative or not. And you would expect people at work to follow this process, as they are paid to do.

But that’s just a theory.

Processes will shape initial habits. Over time, however, they will evolve to match one factor escaping the initial observation. Actual behavior and expectations of the boss. The word ‘actual’ is crucial here. And, surprise – all the teams I started this story with had different managers.

However, with aforementioned processes, the organization might want the person in such position to act in a very specific way or to pursue some very specific achievements. Though ask yourself, have you even seen them following it to the letter?

Me neither.

Which is interesting, given the corporate fad to have a business-wide, uniform culture. Beliefs for people to identify with, beliefs that shed the light, beliefs that sound cool and nobly. We’ve all seen these. Funnily enough, in a truly PT Barnum manner, everyone can easily feel complaint with them. Which makes them useless to begin with, but that’s another story. What is interesting is how these beliefs are propagated. It must start top-down. The highest management possible must start being very vocal about the culture. They should also display it.

Well, should.

If, for whatever reason, anyone at the top finds it easier to get the job done bypassing some belief, the temptation to do it might be simply irresistible. It might actually make perfect sense. Tricky part is, someone, possibly just one step down the ladder, will notice the discrepancy. They will notice that what’s vocalized is not exactly what’s expected. How do you think, what will they do when faced with the same dilemma?

The same. The discrepancy will radiate all the way down. It starts with intangible details, like the beliefs. Quickly enough, the processes will be bypassed. Because, “yeah, right, the process…”. Some, with stronger moral backbones, will resist and try to do things properly down their teams. Which will give them somewhat schizophrenic experience, working one way with their bosses and the other with their crews. Some will try to protect their teams, some will try to protect themselves and some will valiantly fight for the greater good. And that’s where the differences between team cultures originate from.

Bottom line?

If you’re not a boss and things suck, change your boss. I’m not literal here, maybe just some honest conversation could work. Send them this text, so that they understand why you care.

If you’re a boss and the way your team works sucks, change thyself. Things don’t suck despite your actions, they do because of them.

If you’re at the very top and there’s something wrong – read the paragraph above. And take it seriously, as your actual actions, actual expectations and actual work style influences every single soul down the ladder.

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