Use Complements to Accomplish More

For several years canny managers have risen through the ranks by ensuring they had the support of people who filled in the gaps in their own talents.

I have seen, for instance, one leader with skill in out-of-the-box, big picture thinking make sure to surround herself with a team that was good at finance, good at operational detail, etc., so that the group as a whole would be successful.

It doesn’t seem to matter who has which capabilities — it is that the leadership team as a whole does, both at any one combination of manager and subordinates, and at all layers of a larger structure.

That team, in turn, must trust each other: it faces the world as a unit.

This sort of thinking, alas, is often ignored in organizational design. That may be a good thing in disguise, actually.

The design of an organization sends a message about what matters to senior management.

Putting a finance manager and team in each division of a company, for instance, says that the values of the Controller will matter a great deal; not putting a human resources manager and team in the same divisions says that people aspects on the job matter less.

The point is not that the shared service components ought to be — or ought not to be — partially co-located; it is that there are messages inherent in organizational design. Indeed, reorganization is often no more than a shift in messages.

For that reason, it doesn’t matter anywhere near as much as most people think whether IT is in a central organization or scattered around the enterprise. Both come with strengths and weaknesses, both come with costs and opportunities.

It’s how it’s used — and what messages are being sent — that matters.

Nevertheless, the work goes on, both within formal organizational units, and across them.

Some of the work teams we are involved in, therefore, were chosen — other times, we get to select whom we work with. (The transition to what Jon Husband calls Wirearchy means a little less of the first and quite a bit more of the second.)

Complementary capabilities are an essential part of optimizing such teams.

But these capabilities are not just skills. Yes, you might need someone who knows how to use finance well, or who understands your union contract fully. But on any team, it is usually good to have someone with an eye for detail, someone with a longer-term horizon when thinking about problems and someone with a close in, scheduling and resource managing view, etc.

As individuals often carry several of these types of attributes, we also get to determine in what sense we want a certain individual this time.

Focus as well on the style of the individual. Everyone has a preference in this regard.

Some people are natural networkers: they are constantly in communication, sharing information even while gathering it. This is not a waste, if you’re prepared to put it to work on behalf of a team.

Some people have a natural bent toward order, process, regularity. Every activity a team undertakes must have some of this in order to get to end of job properly.

Some people have a heroic bent toward completion: the goal at any cost! This is the place where you make things happen, achieving your projects.

Finally, some people are really individual contributors at heart. They’ll often be the ones you crack the toughest problems, or have the keenest inspirations — but for them, that is completion. Let them deal with the chaotic elements in every workplace; don’t expect order from them.

Thinking carefully to ensure you have the elements you’ll need to succeed will allow you and your team to flourish, no matter what the economy, or work you do.


About passionateobserver

I am a passionate observer of our society, the economy, and politics. Mostly I don't like much of what I see, so I write as a concerned citizen. To the fray, I bring a background in the philosophy of history, a lifetime's reading, a work history in information technology management, consulting and education.
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