Monday, November 8, 2010

Managing by Collaboration

The recent blog posts by Joe Rominiecki and Jamie Notter on collaboration got me thinking. Like a lot of blog posts I read, these didn’t prompt any profound conclusions (my fault, not theirs), but they did get me thinking about collaboration and how I use it as a management tool in the workplace.

Then I listened to this podcast from HBR, where Peter Cappelli is interviewed about managing older workers.

First of all, Chuck Nyren would love the podcast. If you followed the discussion he and I had in the comments to my post Don't Forget the Baby Boomers, you know he's all about the vibrancy and continuing cultural influence of Baby Boomers. And the podcast makes many of the same points. Boomers still have a lot to contribute and will be with us in the workplace for years yet to come. In singing their praises, Peter describes older workers as being better at just about everything than younger workers--except maybe taking SAT tests.

And one kernel of wisdom I found in Peter's comments had to do with management style, and how the “manage by expertise” model of previous generations is and must start giving way to the “manage by collaboration” model.

Yesterday’s boss was likely older than you. He had been around longer and knew more than you did. That’s why he was the boss. He had the technical expertise and he used it to manage you. It was his job to tell you what to do and it was your job to do it.

But today’s and increasingly tomorrow’s boss is likely not older than you. As the workforce ages and as more younger workers move into management roles, your boss is likely to be younger than you. You probably know more about what to do and how to do than she does. She doesn't have your expertise, but that's okay, because her job isn’t to tell you what to do. Her job is to coordinate what you do with what other people on the team do, to set objectives for team and individual performance, and to hold people accountable for success. In doing so, she won't tell you what to do like yesterday's boss did. Instead, she will collaborate with you, and foster collaboration among you and all the other team members. She needs all of your individual expertises and everyone's active collaboration to do her job. She can't determine the right boundaries for successful performance without it.

It's the way I work and the way I manage (or at least try to). I do it with my staff, but I do it with our volunteers and Board members, too. I'm the boss so it's my job to set the objectives, but in order to set objectives that are achieveable I have to collaborate with people--and many of those people are older, more experienced, and more technically adept than me.

Hey, Peter? I wonder if that’s something else younger workers might be better at than older ones?

Photo source


David M. Patt, CAE said...

"Her job is to coordinate what you do with what other people on the team do, to set objectives for team and individual performance, and to hold people accountable for success."

There's nothing new about this, Eric. It's the way it should always have been. I became an Executive Director when I was 30 - I was the youngest person on the staff.

I always felt my job was to manage everybody else's expertise, not to be the expert at everything.

I don't view this as collaboration, just as common sense. I hope that philosophy spreads.

Eric Lanke said...

Thanks for the comment, David. In retrospect I'd have to say you're right--there's nothing new about the style of management I describe as epitomizing today's and tomorrow's boss. Bosses have been doing those things for a very long time, indeed. What is new is the generations of younger people moving into positions of management and leadership and the undisputed need for them to manage this way. Are they up to challenge? I believe they are, and may, in fact, be better prepared for that kind of management than the preceding generation was at the same age.

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