December 07, 2017

Thou Shalt Build Teams 

David M. Fellman

My basic premise for today is that most managers don’t manage very well. That’s because they have a “boss” mentality rather than a leadership mentality. Being a manager is only partly about being in charge. Great management is more about being an enabler. It starts with a clear understanding of goals and objectives, and it works best when managers don’t manage people, but instead create teams.

Management By Objective

I read once that management is the process of setting and achieving organizational objectives. Peter Drucker introduced the concept of Management By Objective in the 1950’s. In essence, MBO is about participative goal setting. In the “big company” model, the top manager has a vision, and consults with the senior management team to refine that vision and to formalize objectives.  Each senior manager then repeats the process, from level to subordinate level, until, ideally, everyone knows his or her role and has measurable standards to meet.

In the “small company” model, the whole process is compressed, but it’s basically the same process. Step 1 is the vision: Where do we want to go? Step 2 is the plan: How do we get there from here? Step 3 is the measurement: Are we following the roadmap? Are we making good time? Step 4 may be some adjustment: Should we modify the plan and/or the timeline? Do we need to slow down? Speed up? Add resources?

Two things are important here. The first is that this all starts at the beginning, with the vision, then the objective, then the plan. The second is that it’s all about we. You probably know the expression “there’s no I in team.” It’s been my experience that the best managers tend to be we people rather than I people.

They also tend to be pullers rather than pushers. Think about the expression follow the leader. I’ll grant you that some pushing may be necessary sometimes, but the real essence of leadership is about pulling from the front, not pushing from behind.

Back to Management By Objective, its most important limitation relates to the execution of the plan, and that takes us to a more fundamental definition of management: Management is making sure that everything from the big things to the little things gets done and done right. If that kind of management doesn’t happen, the plan may fail. That’s why great managers are micromanagers.


Somewhere along the line, micromanagement became a bad word in business. I’m not sure there’s a better word, though, for managing the little things. So with that in mind, I want to attempt a change in attitude via a change in language. Micromanagement is a good thing. Overmanagement is a bad thing.  And Time Management fits into this discussion too, because some of the little things are too little to justify the time of a “big” manager.

Here’s an example. One of my clients regularly sits in on hiring interviews, for even the lowest-level positions. There are no shortage of big-picture matters that would represent a better use of his time, but he tends to put those on his back burner.

Compounding the problem, he often rejects candidates that the hiring managers believe to be fully qualified, and he occasionally pushes them to hire people they don’t like. So he’s overmanaging by sticking his nose into decisions his subordinate managers are capable of making, and he’s not using his time effectively. Bad management on both counts!

He justifies this behavior by complaining that his managers have made bad hires in the past. OK, but overmanaging is not the solution. I’d much rather see him micromanage, by teaching them how to hire more effectively. Training them, in other words. Once he does that, he should be able to delegate with greater confidence.

Delegating is the obvious solution to problem of some things being too little to justify the time of a “big” manager. But once we start talking about delegating, we have consider words like authority, responsibility, accountability and capability.

Let me put all four of those words into a series of sentences. You build a management team by giving people authority. By accepting that authority, they take on responsibility for certain elements of management. Responsibility is something someone feels; accountability is the enforcement of that feeling. And none of this is worth anything if the person with authority lacks the capability to do the job.

Ultimately, I think the best way to manage is to make everyone a manager. Consider the lowest ranking employee at your company. Once given an assignment, he or she becomes directly responsible for managing something. Let’s understand that management can involve any combination of people, projects, products and/or processes. The key point here is that if this person is properly trained, he or she can manage a project or a process with a minimum of supervision, making sure that everything from the big things to the little things —within that project or process — gets done and done right. 

Final Thought

Here’s a final thought for today. If it’s true that most managers don’t manage very well, that means the quality of your management is probably hurting your business.

I could be wrong about that. You could be a great manager, a dynamic leader, and a terrific team-builder, and your teams could be championship-caliber already. If you’re not though — and if they’re not — the shiny side of this coin is that you all have an opportunity to improve!


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