How to get people to do things together? Building and doing things in real world.
Been thinking and reading (again) about the real challenges with trying to solve problems in a group. Thanks to these two tweets, which I stumbled upon, two days apart.
Rabbit hole, here I go.
They say if you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together. My experience confirms that going with people are quite. damn. slow. And I don’t like (most) people. That’s why I go alone when I have choice.
But hey, for 40 hours a week I still want to help the organisation I’m part of, go far. And it’s a nice challenge that I’m still itching to crack on a daily basis.
Apologies this post is a bit scattered but hopefully some of the ideas resonated.
(The following are my takeaways from all the Twitter discussions, articles, and book summaries I read on this mini episode of obsession. Click here to find all the links and excerpts)
A couple of questions and thoughts popped into my head
- What’s your decision making architecture? What’s your communication infrastructure like?
- What do we mean by breaking down silos? Are there good silos?
- How do you slow things down? Add friction. Obtaining management buy-in, lengthy approval process, bottlenecks, limited access to relevant information to make decisions on.
- Alignment is not just “talking to people”. It’s mostly listening, meeting them in the middle, then relocate any “dislocation”.
Jade Rubick - How to build silos and decrease collaboration (on purpose)
"We need to break down silos between departments and get people to collaborate better" - almost every leader…
Such a well thought out written article by Jade. These nuggets make me think:
- Silos are boundaries between groups of people, based on the organizational structure and teams they’re working on. Silos exist because humans have cognitive and communication limits.
- “Breaking down silos” blames individuals for not having a big enough vision and working across boundaries, instead of looking with curiosity at the system and asking why they are doing what they’re doing. It’s expecting people to have your level of perspective without figuring out why they don’t.
- Maximize collaboration within teams, and minimize collaboration between teams.
- Communication != collaboration != coordination
- The US military found that the best way to coordinate groups of people quickly and effectively was to centralize coordination and decentralize decision-making and execution.
Synthesised and paraphrased the first tweet’s whole thread + replies + conversation.
Probably the most important skill you can have is the ability to get a big group of people to agree to working on the same thing for a prolonged period of time.
The second most important skill is coordinating the effort of all those you convinced so that it scales well with the number of people. Organizations are the best technology we’ve invented as humans.
For all you out there working on something right now: Let others see why you’re doing it and join you in working on it. Show why it’s desirable and make it easy for others to build on top of your work.
What helps: empathy, ability to listen, to compromise and choose among tradeoffs. Persistence. Lots and lots of repetition and persistence. And repetition.
Starting a project involving multiple people:
- Step 0: Give budget. Give timeline. Give permission to fail. (added this step)
- Step 1: Get them to agree on what “the same thing” actually is.
- Step 2: Get them to define what everyone’s role is.
- Step 3: Get them to work on it.
Then came across this somewhat relevant tweet.
Yes, catching up through a doc is sometimes slower than “jumping into a call”, especially for senior leadership who is too busy… with all the meetings.
What might help here is having a central place to get and make decisions. But I agree nothing beats the ability to “pull” information more efficiently by asking questions, instead of following the linear documentation, especially ones without robust structure. High fidelity.
- Pros: Prevent infinite time potentially being spent on reading docs. Sync on timeline, cadence, checkpoints. Efficient for making and agreeing on quick decisions.
- Cons: Inefficient for makers / executors, but good as a carrot / stick to keep things moving on expected pace.
- Relative: Brainstorming. Some people are more effective at asynchronous discussion — need time to gather and formulate thoughts.
it’s hard to get folks to read/give feedback without that formal slot
To be good at documentation culture, you need to make it clear why the document is relevant and valuable for them. What’s in it for them?
There’s doc around, but nobody has time to maintain it because of all the meetings.
Docs need owners.
we need meetings to create the doc, then update the doc
Paralysis by consensus.
Many of our meetings are recorded so folks can engage async and revisit / reference content.
Ben posted a question about military but very relevant for decision making process (as I’m already putting this lens on).
- The decisions they have to make are so hard and complex at the most operational level that they need to outsource strategic thinking upwards. AKA blindly following orders.
- It’s actually the constraint setting you outsource upwards. Commanders set the constraints and the boundaries within which subordinates are empowered to operate (operative constraints). Enabling constraints vs governing constraints.
- War time x non war time
There’s some truth in this. it’s the same idea with Steve Jobs and Obama’s choice of clothes and food. Deliberate constraints in specific areas enable us to deal with complexity/chaos in other areas.
Constraints guide strategy. Training guides execution.
Which led me to this book, Team of Teams by General Stanley McChrystal. Found a summary of the book:
- The costs of micromanagement. As speed increased and we pushed authority down further, the quality of decisions actually went up.
- ‘Thank you’ became my most important phrase, interest and enthusiasm my most powerful behaviors.
- The term empowerment gets thrown around a great deal in the management world, but the truth is that simply taking off constraints is a dangerous move unless the recipients of newfound authority have the necessary sense of perspective to act on it wisely. Empowered execution without shared consciousness is dangerous.
- On a single team, every individual needs to know every other individual in order to build trust. But on a team of teams, every individual does not have to have a relationship with every other individual. We needed the SEALs to trust Army Special Forces, and for them to trust the CIA, and for them all to be bound by a sense of common purpose: winning the war.
- When they understood the whole picture, they began to trust colleagues.
- McChrystal implemented a profound shift from a need-to-know mindset to a culture of information sharing. The problem is that the logic ‘need to know’ depends on the assumption that somebody actually knows who does and does not need to know which material. Our experience showed us this was never the case. Functioning safely in an interdependent environment requires that every team possess a holistic understanding of the interaction between all the moving parts. Everyone has to see the system in its entirety for the plan to work. We did not want all the teams to become generalists — SEALs are better at what they do than intel analysts would be and vice versa. Diverse specialized abilities are essential. We wanted to fuse generalized awareness with specialized expertise. We dubbed this goal — this state of emergent, adaptive organizational intelligence — shared consciousness, and it became the cornerstone of our transformation.
- Trust and purpose are inefficient: getting to know your colleagues intimately and acquiring a whole-system overview are big time sinks; the sharing of responsibilities generates redundancy. But this overlap and redundancy — these inefficiencies — are precisely what imbues teams with high-level adaptability and efficacy. Great teams are less like “awesome machines” than awesome organisms.
- Shared consciousness, empowered execution.
- Adaptability, not efficiency. Resilient, not optimised. Prepare, not predict.
Want to read this book.
TBM 33/53: But Why Is It Working?
Joshua Arnold shared this great point back in 2018: In my own experience doing this over the years I have found that it…
Coherence and intentionality. They are what they are. They have organizational self-awareness. Their actions match their words.
Many teams are in limbo.
A new leader arrives pushing for a new strategy. The new strategy seems good on the surface but lacks depth; it’s not explicit and coherent. The existing (“old”) strategy is implicit. No one can explain it, or why things are they way they are, but somehow people have internalized it. There’s so much inertia and ambiguity.
Thinking back to my own experience building the SA team. The team was able to scale because I prioritised providing 1) principles to make decision on their own. Less latency, less friction, less bottlenecks. 2) a set of tools and systems to do the tasks more easily, and 3) references to find out things that they should know.