I was fortunate to manage a team of ten employees early in my career. I was young and power-hungry, so I involved myself in every decision to ensure my team would succeed. Over time, my choices became less and less visionary, and I grew more tired as each day passed. I spoke with a mentor at the time who encouraged me to try a new tactic.
I was to buy a pack of the barrel of toy monkeys and place them on my desk. Those who might be too young to remember these toys were neon, plastic monkeys connected by their tails or arms. The game was quite simple. The first player takes their chosen monkey with great care and tries to use the monkey’s arm to grab a second monkey from the pile. If the player successfully hooks a second monkey, they continue and try for a third monkey, then a fourth, and so on. It sounds boring, but it kept us entertained for hours growing up.
My mentor instructed me to take a toy monkey out of the barrel every time a team member brought a situation for me to weigh in. The goal was to be sure the toy monkey left with the employee and did not stay with me. Rather than giving an easy solution to the team member’s questions, I helped them make the right decision by guiding them with questions or offering suggestions on how to resolve the matter themselves.
Before they left the office, they were to take the monkey with them. The idea was to remind me that I didn’t have to solve every problem or find every possible solution myself. There was a weird sense of relief when the team member took the toy problem with them, and my focus would return to the tasks I needed to complete to be successful. The team members’ goal was to return the monkey when they found the solution to the problem to discuss the decision process as a development opportunity.
I know this sounds like a corny exercise, but it did wonders for my personal and professional wellbeing. I also noticed the game empowered the team to find creative ways to solve client problems, so I would have never thought to achieve the same result. I didn’t know it at the time, but I had just learned the Agile principle of “those closest to the clients making the decision.”
During the first year, I learned how to shift from leading with control to leading with context. Leading with control is the antithesis of Sprint Recruiting and the root of a lot of manager fatigue. Team members working in this environment must run every major decision by their boss before proceeding.
As I began implementing Sprint Recruiting, I noticed I had force myself to develop good decision-making behaviors throughout the team. I am not defining or suggesting complete hands-off management, though. Your new role is to teach your teams how to make decisions, set the context or a thought process for decisions, and be highly informed of what is happening.
Setting the context is more manageable than controlling everything. Rather than walking your team through each step of the process, you set the end goal or the business initiative the team needs to solve. The best way to learn how the context setting needs to improve is to explore a sample of the details. But unlike the micro-manager, the goal of knowing those details is not to change small decisions but to learn how to adjust context, so more decisions are made well.
and Sprint Recruiting
I joined the HR industry in 2004 after working as a sales leader in the Financial Services Industry for eight years. After spending his first couple of years in HR trying to fit in, I found my voice. Now I leverage all of the things I once hated about HR to become a consultant and invaluable partner to the businesses I support. I contribute to the HRGazzette and to DataDrivenInvestor on Medium. WARNING: my writing style is raw and in your face, not what you would expect from an HR executive.
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