For the sake of this thought, just assume you’re a manager and you’re running your weekly meeting with your staff. You’ve constructed your agenda of items that you want to cover, so that you can get people moving in the right direction. You brief all the tasks that your team needs to complete this coming week to everyone. Now everyone knows what you need done by next week. Then you go around to the table to hear everyone else’s inputs and lines of efforts in order to sync the staff and get updates on progress from last week. The meeting ends and everyone goes back to working.
The next week rolls around and some of briefed items from last week have gone undone and some went completely untouched. When you ask about the uncompleted tasks, everyone looks around at each other. No one accepts responsibility. You probably feel a little frustrated. You briefed everyone on what needed to be done. Are your people lazy? Were you not clear? Were the tasks unachievable? Why didn’t they say something, if it couldn’t be completed? Do they just not care? What happened?
Who’s is responsible? You… you’re responsible. The leader is responsible for everything completed and uncompleted within your scope of work. You remain the failure and stopping point unless you delegate out the ownership of a given task or project.
A simple mistake that many new managers make when tasking items to their staff is not specifying who is in charge of the project. Whenever you task a project to your team, you need to ensure you specify who is in charge or simply ask for a volunteer to lead the project. When your team is responsible for a large scale project, sometimes it won’t be good enough to simply put someone in charge. For these larger scale projects, you need to do some mental work and split the project into working bits to be delegated to members of the team who will each be “in charge” of portions of the project. For larger scale projects, I split the work into bits, put people in charge of the bits, and put one person overall in charge of the project. Depending on the skill, proficiency, status, and emotional intelligence of the person you want to put as overall “in charge,” you may be able to give them the responsibility of splitting and delegating the work of the project.
I highly recommend only having one person lead a project. I have rarely seen co-leader led project succeed without a large amount of internal friction and conflict. The two co-leaders often butt heads because they fail to agree on what should be done. Communication becomes an issue as well. Team members who are delegated work often become confused as the two different leaders will give conflicting word/tasking to the same person.
Why is it necessary to put someone in charge of a project? Why can’t you just give a project to your team and expect it run? Here are two my theories as to why this doesn’t work:
- People tend to feel ownership as individuals, not as members of a group. I have seen that some people feel responsible for the actions of their group, but most people tend to only feel responsible for numero uno. Why should they care about someone else’s failures?
- Decision making authority is most efficient when one person can slap the table and control the direction of the project. Compare the efficiency of the legislative branch of our government versus the executive branch. Which can act faster? In government, we intentionally slow down decision making to prevent rapid radical change, but in operations and business we are concerned with speed.
Intent and End State
Two other keys aspects of tasking are intent and end state. Including intent and end state in tasking gives your people flexibility in “how” they accomplish the work.
Intent – what is the purpose of this task? Why are we doing it?
End State – what does right look like at completion? What should this task accomplish?
Telling your people why a task is being done and what you expect the task to look like at completion takes a little more upfront work on your part, but it helps to ensure that the final product is in line with what you envisioned. Because sometimes how we verbally portray a task is not the same as how it is received by the doer. Doing a little more work upfront will help to maximize the efficiency of the doer – saving you and the doer time and effort.
Before passing judgement on any of the members of your team when something is not completed, I find it best to stop, reflect, and ask myself:
- What could I have personally done differently to mitigate this problem?
- How did I set my people up for success or failure in this particular case?
- If I schedule a meeting for the exact time people usually show up for work (say 7:30am), are my people more or less likely to be on time?
- What control measures and processes have I put in place to streamline how this type of project “should be” conducted?
- “Should be” is in quotes because there is often no right or wrong process, just worse and better processes. I recommend remaining open to process refinement. “This is the way we’ve always done it,” is the wrong answer. There ought to be a good reason – if you look, you might see it. Otherwise, consider refining “how” you do business.
How Functional Areas Alleviate the “Who’s in Charge?” Problem
What’s a functional area, Kurt?
Great question! A functional area is branch of an organization that is responsible for certain parts of a project or objective.
Imagine that you run a restaurant. What are the functional areas of your restaurant?
- The Entry and Host Staff
- The Kitchen and Chefs
- The Dining Room and the Wait-staff
- The Bar
The restaurant is organized into functional areas that dictate “who is in charge” of any of the given aspects of running the restaurant. Chefs cook. Waiters wait. Hosts host. Managers manage. The role of each given person dictates their responsibilities. If I asked you, “who is responsible for the bar?” You’d probably say the bartender and you’d be right.
As a manager you will find yourself in various organizations. Some will be more organized than others. You may fall in on a working/flowing structure with established functional areas or you may not. If you become a manager of a section of an organization and there is not established functional areas in your section, consider reorganizing your people in to functional areas. In the Marines, we call this “Task Organization.” Our structure dictates the regular flow of work, saves time, and saves effort by answering the question “who is in charge” of (name the task). Functional areas enable the quick flow of work by having people in places to specifically handle certain aspects of the project.
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