What Could You Achieve With Crushing Authority?

Equipe 3D objectif concept

Equipe 3D objectif concept (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


Rob started telling me about the cool stuff he was producing at work.  His team is building things that would cost millions to buy.  I was impressed with what his team accomplished.  I asked him his secret.

His team saw problems.  They created solutions.  Rob’s job was easy.  Just say “Yes.”

No one told them to do it.  They just did it.  Rob let them.  More than that… he encouraged them.

Rob didn’t try to manage his people (or their tasks).  He led his people and their passion.  His team ignited with enthusiasm.  They came up with solutions that many would shoot down.

Rick didn’t feed them the normal Enterprise Organizational tripe of

  • “I don’t think we can do that.”
  • “You need to check with Jane to see if that’s ok.”
  • “Let me see if I can get approval and I’ll let you know.”
  • “We don’t own that”

Instead, Rob told his team, “Try it.  Let’s see what happens.”

Rob didn’t put the weight of his authority upon them.  He leaned his weight outward against authority to protect his team.  A culture of ownership grew.  The ownership produced better solutions.

Their success is getting attention.  Senior leadership is asking how they can produce similar results.  It might be time to expand their success from one product in IT to all of IT.   This is great news.

If it’s done right.

Done well, an empowered team is encouraged to produce effective results; they are encouraged to own their outcomes.  They provide value in ways senior leadership couldn’t have fully predicted.  They solve problems creatively and inexpensively.

The heavy hand of Enterprise Organizations doesn’t tend to work that way though.

It will start with a project or program manager who reports results upward.  Senior leadership will react by asking for different outcomes.  They may also “suggest” how to create those outcomes.  These two attempts to “help” will undermine the ownership and empowerment of the team.  The senior leader becomes the owner.

To accelerate results a director may be given oversight of the program.  The director will hire a few managers.  Each will have different opinions on how the team can and should work and what they should produce.  The ownership and empowerment will shift to the new leadership team.

The new leadership team will want status of the work that’s being done and how it’s being done.  They will begin to exert their authority.  They will start to say “No.”

The team’s effectiveness will falter.  Fingers will point.   They’ll decide they need a governance model to improve the team and it’s results.  A new process will be born.  Ownership will transfer from the people to the process.  The process will become heavy and onerous.  Eventually, the success will be crushed.

People will say the idea couldn’t scale.  It was too utopian, too idealistic.

Somewhere else a group will start to solve problems on their own.  They’ll empower themselves and demonstrate ownership.  It will create a success.  Senior leadership will get interested.

What will happen next….

Success is built by crushing authority.  So is failure.  It depends on who is doing the crushing.

What could you achieve with crushing authority?

“Try it.  Let’s see what happens.”

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