Managing Work

Here is the background on this series, and here is the previous post on this series (Managing 1-1s).

In this post, we are going to try answering the question: While Ravi is the smartest guy and the leader in the team, he is also the bottleneck. How can he manage his work (delegation or empowerment for example?) so that he still has time for himself and his family?

For a manager, managing work is one of the most important activities that determine the results that the team achieves. It is also one of the easiest, and best, ways of measuring the performance of the manager and that of the team, as is clear from the way most performance reviews are conducted. Due to these reasons, work management tends to be topmost on the mind of a manager, and consumes most of his/her time. Our goal in this post is to explore some of the ways to make this an efficient activity and save time without sacrificing value that the manager provides by getting involved.

Some of the reasons why a manager has to get involved in day-to-day activities so extensively are as follows: Continue reading

Managing 1-1s

Here is the background on this series, and here is the previous post on this series (Managing Performance). In this post, we are going to try answering the question: What is the most efficient way for someone to manage their 1-1s when one has many direct reports (in my friend’s case, 9).

Effective 1-1s is an important tool a good manager has (my earlier post), here are some other resources I found useful: How to have great 1-1s and couple of podcasts from Mark and Mike (part-1 and part-2).

Based on my experience with numerous 1-1s for over 10 years in India, US and China, and after working with many great managers (and not so great ones), I have come to believe in the power of effective 1-1s in building a good team and a good manager. However, effective 1-1s take significant investment of time, most comfortable 1-1s need at least 1 hour of face-to-face time and ½ hour of preparation and wrap-up time. This is the bare minimum; to be effective in providing feedback to your reports (which is one of the most important reasons of doing 1-1s), you need to spend time in collecting feedback, fitting it in the large scheme of career development for the individual and then provide the feedback. To do all this for 9-10 people every week is an extremely hard thing to do.

Here are several efficiencies that I have found useful to apply towards 1-1s:

  1. Amortizing Preparation Time: Continue reading

Are you part of a dysfunctional team?

In the last post, I discussed the characteristics of a dysfunctional team, based on what the book talks about as well as based on my own experiences. In this post, I will present some of the lessons learned for me about how to identify the fact that you are part of a dysfunctional team. These points describe what can be done to identify the type of your team and how do you know it is a dysfunctional team. They are presented in no particular order so use them as you see fit.

How to find out if you are part of a dysfunctional team?

  • Getting disengaged: Try to get yourself out of the equation once in a while. My way of doing this was assuming that I do not care about the outcome and so I stopped participating in some of the discussions even though I had strong opinions. This was my style, you may use your own, but getting disengaged is important if you want to.
  • Communication patterns: A dysfunctional team typically will have one person monopolizing the discussion on a given topic, with little or no counter-arguments. If one of the person is specially strong because of position (mostly the leader) or expertise (product expert, external ‘expert’ hire), it may even be one person doing all the talking and making decisions. Continue reading

Characteristics of dysfunctional teams

[Credit: This post refers to a book by Patrick Lencioni, one of the most influencial books I have read in my life. From Wikipedia: ‘The Five Dysfunctions of a Team is a bestselling[1] business book by consultant and speaker Patrick Lencioni. It describes the many pitfalls that teams face as they seek to “row together”‘]

In my last post about characteristics of high-performance teams, I discussed the tenets of high-performance teams (as given by The Wisdom of Teams). In this post, I want to discuss the characteristics of a dysfunctional team, as defined by The five dysfunctions of a team, a fable about a dysfunctional leadership team, and compare and contrast them with tenets of a high-performance team where I can.

Here are the five dysfunctions of a team (from Wikipedia article about the book):

  1. Absence of Trust: Trust is critical in building a high-performance team and lack of trust is very visible in a dysfunctional team. Most telltale sign of lack of trust is that no one would bring up any issue/problems which will show him/her weak or vulnerable. ‘Having the guard on all the time’ is a characteristic of a team member in a dysfunctional team. I remember my experience with a leadership team; even though the project was in very bad shape, the manager in charge would always talk about great things the team was accomplishing and any uttering by other team members to the contrary was termed by the leader as ‘lack of team work’! Needless to say, there was no trust in the team.
  2. Fear of Conflict: Fear of conflict means that conversation and feedback cannot be candid and difficult questions can’t be asked, because they can give rise to conflicts. This in turn happens because lack of trust causes people to suspect the motive of the person doing the questioning/commenting and it becomes a personal matter rather than team’s. Continue reading

Is Annual Performance Review a waste of time?

Recently someone forwarded me this post about the fact that Performance reviews are a big fat waste of time. This is a long post talking about why it is so and proposes that we should just lose them. Here are the reasons the post mentions as to why this is the case:

  • Everybody hates them
  • They try to do too much
  • They become an excuse for not talking for the rest of the year
  • They are too structured and formal
  • They focus too much on the quantifiable
  • They may not be formally connected with promotions and salary negotiations – in reality everyone knows they are
  • No one says what they really think
  • They take a LOT of time
  • They become a crutch for bad managers

The post really set me thinking about my previous experiences in administering and receiving performance reviews. Annual reviews (and semi-annual in some cases) in my experience have some positive aspects too: Continue reading

Thoughts from my India Visit – Careers

As I mentioned in my previous post, I spent a month in India recently (August, 2008) before coming to Shanghai to join Microsoft here. I commented on the education system and related aspects that I observed. In this post, I will talk about my observations on working professionals and how careers are moving (or not). Please keep in mind that my thoughts and observations are based on talking to a few friends and relatives I met during my visits and by absorbing what media had to offer (newspapers and TV channels). While this is not a comprehensive analysis, I tried to be as objective and as broad as possible in my discussions, so hopefully you will get a good flavor.

Things that are still the same as they were couple years back:

Continue reading

Measuring Career Growth – Final (career phases framework)

This is the last article in the series on Measuring Career Growth, which started off by talking about measures of success and implication of having multiple measures vis-à-vis time, and was followed by posts on financial and learning goals, followed by a post on job complexity and satisfaction. As I promised in the last post, I will try to provide some framework to handle these measures in some useful way when we engage in our career planning and review.

As I mentioned before, job complexity and job satisfaction are important measures, but difficult to quantify in any meaningful way; I have found them more useful in subjective reviews of the career plan. In this post, I have focused on Financial and learning measures and their interplays with time elapsed.

Assuming that you have defined your financial and learning measures that you want to achieve over a defined time period, following table describes various scenarios that may happen. I use a positive and negative signs to denote that actual value is more or less than planned value. This means that + is good in financial and learning column (achieved more than planned) but bad in time column (using more time than planned).

  Continue reading

Measuring Career Growth – Part III (Job Complexity and Satisfaction)

This is the 3rd post in the series on measuring career growth, and a follow-up to the post on financial and learning goals. In this post, I will talk about 3rd goal (job complexity) and also touch upon the job satisfaction aspect of all these goals, which came up in one of the comments.

Job Complexity goals: As I mentioned before, this is a hard one to measure since it changes infrequently and there are too many parameters that influence this. Job complexity come from how many of the following dimensions are involved in your regular actions and decisions: Continue reading

Measuring Career Growth (Financial and Learning goals) – Part II

This is the follow-up to my last post in which I talked about various measures of career success and the need to prioritize various goals so that trade-offs can be made when time is factored in. In this post, I will focus on two goals and their measures: financial and learning.

Financial Goals: Even though it may sound trivial or easy, financial goals should still be framed and kept around to make sure you are meeting them. Other than the obvious way of framing the goal (“X % raise over Y years”), you can also frame them in terms of utility of money. Continue reading