Balancing ownership and quality

Having worked as both a team manager and a consultant, I find there is a common balancing act when introducing people to a new approach or idea, such as setting up a particular process. On the one hand I tend to have a good idea about what I want to achieve and what it should look like. On the other hand I need the people I work with to take responsibility for that in the long term—ultimately it’s their work, and they need to continue it, as I will soon step back or leave the building.

The balancing act is in how to start that process. On the one hand I can be fairly specific, sitting with an individual and taking them through all the details of how I would do the thing. This would typically include lots of very low level details I’ll have in mind which address problems and edge cases I expect to encounter. On the other hand I can introduce them to something simpler, and less detailed, and help them develop it as they see fit. The problem with this approach is that they will not be anticipating the things I’ve found from past experience, and so I foresee they are likely to encounter problems.

Despite the draw backs of the second, “start simpler”, scenario it’s the one that I find produces better results in the medium and long term. The people I’m working with do run into problems, but they generally solve them (maybe with a bit of help) and so the thing they’re developing does become more sophisticated. Additionally, because they have solved those problems in their own way they have greater ownership of the outcome. But contrast, I find the first (“more detail sooner”) scenario isolates people. The additional detail is often unwelcome because they don’t appreciate the problems I foresee, and the result is that I come across as more controlling. Then end up not accepting ownership as much.

The other outcome from the “start simpler” scenario is that earlier ownship means the solutions that emerge aren’t quite what I expect, even though they work, so I learn something, too. So while the control freak in me doesn’t get their needs fulfilled, there is a better overall outcome.

Photo by Mo Riza