I had the benefit of a manager who made me think. When I would pose a question to her about what to do, she would put it right back on me and ask, “What do you think you should do”. Initially, I would get pretty uptight about it. I thought silently, “Just give me the answer, that’s why I asked”. But in the end, I realized she was actually demonstrating a terrific management approach – she got me to think on my own.
Recently this subject came back to me as I was reading the book,Brave New Work, by Aaron Dignon. For those that enjoy analogies, this one is a great one that I use to help managers get out of their own way and inspire and enable their team members.
Insert the signal-controlled intersection. Yes, that’s right, stop lights. The assumptions that come into play with signal-controlled intersections are that 1) we can’t be trusted to manage the intersection on our own. We need to be told what to do; 2) we need a plan for every possible scenario, with colored lights, arrows…etc.
Now compare that to the roundabout. The assumptions that come into play are that 1) people can be trusted, and will trust one another to use judgment and do the right thing; 2) complex problems can be managed with simple rules that leave room for judgment – give the right of way to vehicles already in the circle.
Quite a contrast, huh? And here’s the kicker, roundabouts reduce injury collisions by 75% and fatal collisions by 90%. They are $5-10,000 cheaper to maintain each year and they work when the power goes out!
So the moral of the story is to operate within your team more like a roundabout. Give people the opportunity to think for themselves and make decisions on their own within a set of general guidelines/parameters. If leaders facilitate this kind of process, they can free up time to allocate to other priorities (including mentoring, coaching and supporting their employees for long-term growth).