Running Naked Teams (I)

by abclarke

(2a of 5 in The Rules of Naked Management)

Last week I said the most important thing a manager does is “figure out the right stuff to do, and then get it done through a group of people”. This series of articles talks about the 2nd part of that: getting it done.

The Weight of Water

Water is really heavy. As a kid I would often have to bring water to our cows, and the bucket handles would painfully bite into my hands. Poor me.

But that was only two buckets a day – imagine if I had to do it hundreds of time a day. The ancient Assyrians faced this problem as they started to enlarge their cities. Cities often require more water near them than the natural ecosystem supplies, and if you don’t transport water in, you limit the growth of your cities, limit the growth of your economies, and as a result limit your ability to expand as a people.

To solve this problem the Assyrians didn’t resort to armies of water-carriers (their armies were decidedly for a different purpose). Instead they asked was there a better way? There was, and the Assyrians’ solution to water management can teach us a lot about managing teams of people. Read on for how.

Aqueducts

Sometime around 7,000BC(1) the Assyrians started building aqueducts (which the Romans famously expanded upon as the photo above shows). Aqueducts are based on a simple principle: water obeys the law of gravity and tries to take the path of least resistance down.

Aqueducts just provide a constantly declining channel for water to flow from high to low ground. So, with the expense of some up-front capital to build the aqueduct, and some minor maintenance work to ensure there are no leaks, the Assyrians were able to deliver water to some of their cities with minimal ongoing costs and no armies of water carriers.

Cool, but…

Getting It Done

…what the hell does this have to do with management?

Well, let’s say you’ve figured out the right stuff to do, but now you’ve got to get a new team of people to actually start doing it. Where to start?

You could take the micromanagement approach, where you tell your team what the goal is, and then individually double-check each person’s work. This will work in the short-term for small teams (<5 people), but never works for large teams and never works in the long-term (ask yourself how long you’d work for someone who micromanaged you). And it’s an incredibly inefficient use of your time. If you think of moving water, you’ve elected to carry every bucket downhill. (The good news is you’ll build some really impressive calluses on your hands.)

Fortunately there is a better way, and aqueducts show how. Aqueducts work because they create an environment where water’s natural tendency (obey gravity) is harnessed to accomplish a larger goal (irrigate fields).

Similarly, as a manager you can get your goals accomplished by creating an environment where your team members’ natural tendencies are harnessed. And there are five human tendencies you can bank on:

  1. Most people want to do a good job.
  2. Most people love being recognized for doing a good job in front of their peers.
  3. Most people love being rewarded relative to their peers.
  4. Most people hate doing a bad job in front of their peers.
  5. Most people will give you the benefit of the doubt if they know you will let them see anything they ask to see.

These are the tendencies that Naked Teams exploit.

Running Naked Teams

What is a Naked Team? If your team is a Naked Team then:

  • It knows what its job is;
  • Every other team in your organization knows what its job is;
  • You transparently publish and hold yourself accountable to your goals; and
  • You manically reward the people on your team who best accomplish the goal.

By running Naked Teams two things happen: Being so exposed and naked, your team will (because of human tendencies) push itself to be in the best possible shape; and by being so exposed and naked, other teams (because of human tendencies) in the organization will (at first) give you the benefit of the doubt, giving you an amazing first-mover advantage to get your team moving(2).

How to Do It

OK, enough philosophical bullshit on why running Naked Teams works – how do you actually do it? Well… I’ll post that tomorrow but I’ll give you a hint now. Here are the 7 steps I follow:

  1. Be Edgy
  2. Install a Pacemaker
  3. Get a Base Hit
  4. Ride Like Paul Revere
  5. Air Your Dirty Laundry
  6. Share the Pain
  7. Put Your Money Where Your Mouth Is

(to be continued tomorrow…)

– Art

(1) There is some dispute about the actual date. Some people put it around 7,000 BC. Others argument this is impossible given the world is only 6,000 years old, and they threaten those with the prior view with ridicule, excommunication or sometimes burning at the stake.

(2) If you run a naked team, but don’t actually accomplish your goals (either because you’re working at the wrong goals, or because they were beyond your team’s ability), other teams will stop giving you the benefit of the doubt, and instead will ridicule you. Yet another reason why it’s good to run a Naked Team – it really gives you an incentive to succeed quickly.