Tuesday 24 January 2012

You Can't Fire Everyone

Some years ago I was taught a memorable and valuable lesson by my erstwhile programme manager (we'll call him BJ). I was brought into the project to provide knowledge of i) business intelligence, and ii) software documentation appropriate for the regulated pharmaceutical industry. After a while on the project, BJ asked me to act as BI Delivery Lead. He promised me the ability to recruit a team but initially supplied me with two existing staff members.

After a week I went back to BJ and said he'd have to provide me with two different staff members because the first two a) knew nothing about BI, and b) were at each other's throats all day long. BJ told me that nobody else was available; I'd have to make it work. Then he put his hand on my shoulder and told me he'd especially chosen me to act as BI Delivery Lead because he knew I had good people skills. Flattery is a good management technique! But more importantly, BJ was teaching me an important team leadership lesson: developing people is just as important as developing software.

It's a lesson I'll never forget and, as I worked with my two staff members over the following months and we all achieved increasing degrees of success, I discovered that developing people can be at least as satisfying as developing software.

I was reminded of this specific lesson when I read Roy Osherove's You Can't Fire Everyone post on his 5Whys blog in December. Roy's blog is a treasure trove for those who want to become a better team leader. Roy typifies the process of team development as following three phases: the chaos phase, the learning phase, and the self-leading phase. Roy describes how to recognise which phase you're currently in, and how to progress and develop your team. Recommended reading.