Opinions, thoughts, and ideas on leadership, management, software development, and people development.

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What’s Wrong With Cross-Functional Teams – Part I

What’s the best structure for software development teams? How should I structure my team? Should I use the Spotify Model? Which other options do I have?

The questions above and many others come to the minds of people who need to structure a new team or want to restructure an existing one. Most people in this situation believe that the simplest way to do that is to follow a recipe. That’s what we have been seeing currently in the market. For instance, the “Spotify Model” is often mentioned as a recipe for structuring a cross-functional team that works.

Although fantastic, the ideas contained in the approach shared by Henrik aren’t suitable for all cases. In order to achieve success, you’ll have to have the same ingredients – context – that Henrik had. Otherwise, you’ll have hard times implementing some of the ideas.

Read this – No, I didn’t invent the Spotify model – to understand what I’m talking about.

Some time ago I did reflect on how we usually structure cross-functional software development teams. I did the analysis based on two perspectives:

  1. Conway’s Law
  2. Flow of Value

Conway’s Law

Conway’s law says that “organizations which design systems are constrained to produce designs which are copies of the communication structure of these organizations”

According to Wikipedia:

The law is based on the reasoning that in order for a software module to function, multiple authors must communicate frequently with each other. Therefore, the software interface structure of a system will reflect the social boundaries of the organization(s) that produced it, across which communication is more difficult.

Learn more here:  Conway’s Law – Wikipedia

Flow of Value

I’ve heard a lot, and probably you as well, that Kanban is used as a tool to establish a flow and manage it. This flow isn’t about JIRA tickets. Instead, it is means flow of value, whatever your business definition of value is.

As a principle, everything we try to optimize should be favourable to improve the flow of value and not only favourable to speed or throughput. This means not all improvements are related to speed. Some might even slow down your current speed, but that’s totally acceptable if the flow of value will be improved. We know as well from Systems Thinking that local optimizations, such as focusing only on increasing throughput – are not the best way to optimize a system, especially a complex one.

There’s a fantastic book called Principles of Product Development Flow, which is not fun to read I have to say, that is super insightful and highly recommended for those who want to know more about what flow really means.

The Principle

The two ideas aforementioned helped me to formulate a principle to guide my analysis.

Cross-functional team’s structure should have Flow of Value as a principle and fight Conway’s law to avoid knowledge segmentation and enable the creation of a learning organisation. Click to tweet

The Question

Based on the principle above, I decided to explore the following question during this analysis:

How should cross-functional teams be structured to allow for a flow of value and to fight against Conway’s law?

I’ll continue the analysis in the next parts of this article. Sign-up below to know the answer and suggestions on how to improve your cross-functional team setup.

5 Traits of a Good Feature Lead

What is a Feature Lead?

A Feature Lead is a role, not a job title, that can be implemented inside software development teams. It might be starting point for developers aiming to become Tech Leads. This role is the equivalent of a Feature Owner but on the technical side of things. That means this role will take care of all aspects involved in developing and delivering a new product capability or feature.

Yes, it’s not something revolutionary and I didn’t invent the term Feature Lead. So, this article is just a description of what the role is about and some specifics of what is required from a person that wants to perform this role in terms of behaviour and attitude in order to become really good at it.

1 – Management and Leadership Skills

Until now the only thing you had to manage was your own tasks. When you become a Feature Lead you’ll exercise additional management skills. You’ll have to oversee the development of a whole feature, which includes not only having an overview of all pieces of work related to it but also tracking and reporting progress against a roadmap or a particular goal to people outside your usual relationship circle.

2 – Improved Communication Skills

You’ll have to communicate at different granularities. if your manager asks you about the status of the feature you’ll probably include technical details on your report. If a product owner asks you about the same thing you’ll provide less technical details. And, if a director or a C-level person asks you about the progress you’ll have to be even more succinct and still be able to deliver the information needed.

As usual, speaking all these different languages, the technical, product, and business, doesn’t come naturally to everyone. Some will struggle a little bit more to be able to understand these languages, others will have less trouble to get there. But one thing is sure: You’ll not learn this in a week. It’ll take you some months, perhaps a year, to feel comfortable with all these languages.

3 – Willingness To Step Out Of You Comfort Zone

If you don’t want to do what needs to be done, don’t accept this challenge. In order to be a Feature Lead you’ll have to step out of your world and start exploring other worlds as well. As mentioned before, you’ll have to visit the business world frequently, you’ll have to visit the product world as well. The leadership world is definitely one you’ll have to check as well. And many other worlds. All these travels might bring you some pains.

If you’re neither prepared to travel to all these worlds nor willing to putting yourself in an uncomfortable position, then I’d say that the Feature Lead thing is not for you. If you don’t like to hold people accountable, provide feedback more often, pay attention to what’s going on with the team, solve conflicts between people, then think twice before entering on this journey.

However, if you’re motivated to accept the challenge and open to do what it takes then you’ll see that this is a fantastic opportunity for you.

4 – Understanding of Business and Customer Needs

Oh yeah. It’s time for you to understand the impact and cost of what you’re doing. I’m not saying you’ll have to become a business specialist, but be prepared to discuss and understand business and customer need and align distinct perspectives with the development of the feature. This might have an influence on the scope of your solution as well as on how you’ll approach the technical solution. You’ll coordinate, negotiate, and make decisions that will impact both business and product performance.

5 – Systems Thinking

When you step out of your own world as an individual contributor, you’ll have to understand the implications of your decisions on others.

You’ll have to start thinking not only on you but on your team, other teams, the product, other departments that will interact with that part of the product you’re building, customers, etc. Your decisions will have an impact on different parts of the systems and you’ll have to be aware to analyse that when making them.

Final note

As you can see, performing the role of a Feature Lead is not that simple as it looks like. I’ve heard people diminishing this role but I think they didn’t understand its complexity and value as well as all the hidden opportunities in terms of professional development. Yes, you’ll still be a Software Engineer, but a much better one.

3 Statements That Don’t Leave My Mind

Recently I’ve read some statements that keep coming to my mind at least once a week maybe more.

1 – Make it work, Make it write, Make it fast

I’m a big fond of the concept of “Right first time” but lately I’ve seen so many time being wasted trying to figure out what would be the “Right” thing to do. Many unnecessary conflicts, concerns, non-validated assumptions, etc. This made me think more often about extreme interpretations or even shallow interpretations of such concepts that when not fully understood or discussed could lead to inefficiencies everywhere.

When I have such thoughts I remember of this concept that says: Make it work, make it right, make it fast! I don’t remember exactly when I’ve heard it for the first time but I’m sure, unless my brain is tricking me, that I’ve heard it during some research about game development (which is something I kept coming back to from time-to-time) and it was related to Blizzard, one of the big players in the game industry.

Later, after some additional research, I discovered that this term is actually attributed to Kent Back and it was part of the UnixWay for a long time.

You can read more about it here: http://wiki.c2.com/?MakeItWorkMakeItRightMakeItFast

Anyway, the whole idea is that when solving a problem in an iterative way you should consider to first make something that works, even if it’s not the right perfect solution. Ship it and learn from the feedback you’ll get in order to go to the second step, make it right. After rounds of improvement based on feedback then you’ll have to at some point make it fast. That will be the last step. That’s at least the intepretation that makes more sense to me.

I just feel that many times this simple and pragmatic approach will bring much more value than trying to use a sophisticated one just because everybody else is doing. But that’s just a feeling. I don’t have any data or experiment that can prove that, so maybe in the future, I can experiment with this approach and see what happens.

2 – The tiniest thing shipped is better than the best thing planned

This was something I’ve read on a blog post published by Amy Hoy on how to overcome procrastination.

You can read it here: https://stackingthebricks.com/how-to-overcome-procrastination/

This statement resonates with me because it sounds very responsive and lean, which is something I like. Also, it has a connection with the first idea as well, I believe. Living in the world of ideas and planning is super comfortable and can make you feel in control of things, but the truth is that the time will pass and all you’ll get is pure fantasy.

I spend so many hours planning stuff. I do that every day as part of my job, and I do that every day as part of my personal development. I try to make it as lean and efficient as possible. However, my feeling is that last year I tried to have the “best thing” planned instead of just shipping stuff to the real world, even if it was something small. Although I shipped, for instance, an email plugin for JIRA named Issue Events Mailer, a crap todo list style bookmark app, and another small attempts into the real world, I just have the feeling I could have done more if I had this “mantra” in my mind every time I questioned myself if what I was doing was of any value.

3 – A good plan is worth its weight in (future) gold

This one came from the same article mentioned above and also resonates with me because I learned that no plan survives contact with enemy

Also, I learned during these years of professional contact with lean and agile methodologies how bad too much planning can be. I’m not saying that plans should not exist, but we have to understand how much effort we should put on them before actually putting it in practice. At some point more planning is pure waste of time and energy that could be used for other valuable actions or tasks.

In the past things were so expensive that a well-thought plan was mandatory. The cost of repairing an error was too big. This is still true for some industries or fields of knowledge nowadays but for the great majority of software-based projects, for instance, I see these practice of thorough planning not optimal. Today is cheaper to quickly iterate, ship something, learn from it and use the feedback as input for a new iteration. That’s the base of lean and agile product and software development. Very quick cycles of plan-do-check-act. This makes me think that often just having alignment and shared understanding around the problem we’re trying to solve will be enough to a team or a person to start developing something and especially delivering something that can be used and criticized – in a constructive way – early and often.

Yes, I might have generalized things a little bit. Reality might be not as sweet as I’m painting above, but in general I believe that this principle and the previous ones should be taken more into consideration when we do or plan our plans.

Is There Any Simple JIRA Email Notification Plugin That Is Not Expensive as Hell?

Finding the right email notification plugin for JIRA is not an easy task. You’ll find plenty of options and you’ll simply don’t know which one you should use. Also, most of them seem to be so expensive for what they offer in terms of value that you sometimes just give up on your search.

Using native JIRA notification feature is not intuitive and will require a lot of time in terms of research, configuration, notification schema setup, cross-project discussions when you’ll have multiple projects affected, in summary: frustrating and exhausting. People are even tweeting their frustrations and making fun of the situation:

JIRA offers an all-or-nothing approach according to my previous experience. You either receive a lot of email notification or none. This might be one of the weakest features of JIRA from my perspective.

The pains above plus the problem I was trying to solve were exactly the reason why I created Issue Events Mailer, an easy and flexible way to send email notifications based on JIRA Issue Events.

Give it a try for 30 days. It might be what you’re looking for.

I was simply not finding something simple and cheap at the same time – paying $1000 dollars for a plugin that sends e-mail was not an option for me and for many other companies as well. But I really wanted to solve the problem I was having at that time. Thus, I decided to create the plugin to solve my own problem and offer it to others as well as an alternative to expensive JIRA email plugins.

How I Approach New Year’s Resolutions

This is that time of the year where most of us set resolutions for the new year that just started. We usually feel confident and hopeful that the new year will be a better one and we should do some things differently this year so we can improve and become better human beings. Classical examples are:

  • Start doing more exercise.
  • Read more books.
  • Heave a healthy diet.
  • Write more.
  • Learn X.
  • Get Y.

And the list goes on and on. This year I decided to use a different approach, one that I informally have used in the past years and now I decided to use in a more formal way to inspect in retrospect the year that just has passed.

This year I used a Past Year Retrospective to map and have an idea of what I did during the whole year of 2018, what was my main mindset and also to understand some frustrations and pitfalls. The result was quite interesting, because not only I was able to visually see what happened in my mind and how I thought and behave in some cases but also I was able to get some insights on how I learned, how I spent my time and money and some other interesting personal insights.

My Past Year Retrospective for 2018 – Image was blurred due to personal info on the page.

I found this exercise so nice and so insightful that I decided to create a template to share with you. You can find the link to download the template at the end of this article.

As you can see in the image above, the idea is deadly simple. Just grab a blank sheet of A4 size paper and start putting the main topics that you remember from the past year on the paper. After a minute you’ll start making connections between them so you can visualize the relationship between them, causality, and even repetition. This visualization exercise is super important, I do this a lot professionally, especially during retrospectives – because it’s a powerful way to clearly see what’s going on and a starting point for many other exercises or actions. Once you have this visualization done you can use it to extract a lot of answers for questions like:

  • Where I’m investing most of my time?
  • Where do I get knowledge from? Is that good or bad? Which type of knowledge I’m getting?
  • Where I’m spending my money? Is it being well invested?
  • Where I’m struggling?
  • Where there was visible progress?

As you can see, creating the visualization will help you organize your information so you can answer critical questions that will help you to set more realistic expctations and actions for the new year.

On the right side of the page, I added a column with some sections to capture some qualitative data as well. On the back of the page, I added 3 more columns to complete the whole set of information that will help me to set more actionable resolutions for the new year.

The Past Year Retrospective Template

As I said the template is super simple and with low value if you don’t put some effort to really remember your whole year month-by-month and add the info to the paper. That’s when the value will be more evident to you.

Front of the Past Year Retrospective Template

The front-page contains a big space on the left and a column on the right. The big space is a free area where you’ll jot down topics that happened in the past year and you’ll make the connections between them. Example:

Example of a visual mapping – topics influencing each other.

The back of the page contains 3 columns.

Back of the Past Year Retrospective Template

The first one is for writing the good things you did or happened to you during the last year. I write them as bullet points, so that’s my recommendation to you. The second column is dedicated to things you’d like to achieve in the new year. Write items using bullet points as well. Don’t mind to be very specific or to overthink here at this column, it’s just the starting point for your future plans. The third and last column is designed to bring the financial component to the retrospective. Write here the expenses you think you didn’t manage well. I wrote, for instance, how much did I spend on Amazon shopping and was able to figure out that was not that bad this year compared to 2017.

That’s it. I hope you enjoyed this method and you’ll give it a try. Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments below or drop me a message on twitter @jcfausto

Download the template by clicking the link below.

Download the template here: Past Year Retrospective Template

The Most Used Retrospective Exercises This Year

I’m not sure if there are any statistics about this, but last year I decided to keep track of many stuff. One of these things is which retrospective exercises I used and how often.

The idea was dead simple. I kept a text file where I recorded for every retrospective I facilitated, which exercises I used. There were 46 distinct exercises in total. You can check the full list below.

Quick note: In total, 73 retrospectives at least. Not that bad. At some point, I stopped tracking because I changed my position from Agile Coach to Tech Manager and there were some moments of transition where retrospectives were not possible as well for the teams otherwise the number would be much higher.

Some analysis.

As you can see above, the winner was the classic brainstorming exercise. This one is a very good choice when you don’t have too much time to prepare or you’re not in the mood for an awesome session. That’s for sure a good choice for suchlike moments. I usually follow the brainstorming exercise with some solution discovery exercise such Lean Coffee so we can figure out some actionable stuff.

It was a surprise for me that the Perfection Game was one of my favourites as well. The experiences I had were always positive with this exercise. I’m not exactly sure why, but people usually like it and I do as well. Perhaps it’s because of its objectivity and quick way to figure out what to improve. If you don’t know this one, I highly recommend it for your next retrospective. Give it a try and let me know if you and the team enjoyed it as well.

Another insight from the data is that I didn’t use often the first approach we all learn when it comes to retrospectives. The “Went well, Went bad” approach. I know why this one was not used too often. It was intentional. I wanted to provide to teams different approaches and also compare same approaches between teams. I see retrospectives not only as a super opportunity to teams but also for me to experiment, learn, and compare approaches between teams in order to understand better their dynamics and peoples reactions to such exercises. This helped me so far to maximize in the great majority of cased, the return of time invested by the team on retrospectives.

Retrospectives nowadays became such a cliche that I try to be very careful not to just provide the “fun” part of it, but also make sure that the “professional” purpose of it is also delivered to the teams. By professional, I mean to use it as a tool to foster continuous improvement inside agile teams.

The funniest one, for me at least, was the Unlikely Superheroes exercise. Although I did it once, I have good memories of it and how people also had fun during the exercise while trying to portrait their strengths and weakness into a superhero character. Since this was a very personal exercise, no pictures were taken otherwise I would be able to share here the coolest superheroes that were created during the session.

What about you? Did you keep track of your retros? Which method did you use? How to know if you’re heading in the right direction? How do you know which exercise works better for you and for the teams? Share with me your perspectives and techniques. I’d love to learn more about it.

I have my own personal way of preparing for retrospectives. It’s nothing revolutionary or fancy, but it helped me a lot to facilitate and learn from each retrospective. If you’re interested in knowing about this procedure, leave a comment here or just drop me a message on Twitter @jcfausto.

Book Review: The Bottleneck Rules

Last week I’ve read a very interesting book about bottlenecks. The book was recommended by Mike Burrows during an Agendashift training I attended some weeks ago, and its name is The Bottleneck Rules by Clake Ching.

I usually like to read these recommendations because I think it’s a good way to understand how the ideas on these books influenced other people’s works, Anyway, let’s jump to the review.

The book is a quick read, the type of reading you can do in a few hours. But don’t’ get yourself fooled by its size, because it’s indeed a very good book to help you understand and manager better bottlenecks. The book explains very well what a bottleneck is, the types of bottlenecks – according to Clake’s own taxonomy -, and how to deal with each type of bottleneck in order to achieve better performance without necessarily working harder.

The major contribution of the book, apart from explaining with lots of examples what a bottleneck is, is the FOCCCUS procedure, which provides as a guide on how to properly address bottlenecks.

FOCCCUS stands for:

  • Find
  • Optimise
  • Coordinate
  • Collaborate
  • Curate
  • Upgrade
  • Start again (strategically).

But, what is a bottleneck?

According to Clake’s definition, which I personally like, a bottleneck is: “a resource that can’t keep up with the demand placed on it”.

And what is a resource in this case?

“a resource is a person, a machine, a computer CPU, a traffic intersection, a slow internet connection, and even an airport runway”

I’ve said many times over my career a statement along the lines of: “This step here seems to be the bottleneck in our process”. After reading this book, I’ll probably never say that anymore. I’ll probably say something like this: “We’re seeing a bottleneck here on this step of the process, let’s figure out which resource is causing it”.

Another insight from this particular topic is that in order to analyse a bottleneck you’ll have to map which resources are involved and then figure out which of the resources is the actual bottleneck.

You cannot solve a bottleneck without knowing the resources involved.
You cannot solve a bottleneck without knowing the resources involved.

I remembered a story told some time ago where a coach was coaching a group or middle managers on a traditional company and once the coach entered the room, the first thing he said was: “We’re here today to find a bottleneck, but just so you know: The bottleneck is in this room”. Just a fun memory I had while writing this article. Let’s move on.

Once you find a bottleneck, it will look obvious.

That’s another interesting observation made in the book. Be aware that bottlenecks once identified will always look obvious. That’s because you’re looking at them in retrospect, and now the “Hindsight bias” is working on your brain.  As said in the book: “You’ll find it invisible in a minute and deadly obvious the next”.

Some Types of Bottlenecks

  • Wild bottlenecks – Often hidden and they’re either unmanaged or poorly managed.
  • Tamed bottleneck – Don’t have as much capacity as we’d like, but they are visible and managed.
  • Deliberate bottleneck – Designed to deliberately limit the flow through a system.
  • Right-stuff bottlenecks – Are tamed bottlenecks and their work has been properly curated so they are working on the right stuff.
  • Right-placed bottlenecks – Are not only tamed but they are where they’re supposed to be.

A note on the “Deliberate bottleneck” type: If you’re familiar with Kanban, this is one of the reasons why we use WIP limits. WIP limits are bottlenecks, but the type of bottleneck deliberately placed to limit the flow of work in progress through the System.

Why identifying and managing bottlenecks could be a good idea for you?

  • The bottleneck determines a system’s output. No matter how fast other resources are performing, your global performance will be limited by the performance of your bottleneck. Sad, but true.
  • There’s a myth that says that “If everyone is busy, we must be productive”. Busyness is not a synonym of productivity. You don’t need to work harder to get more done, you must work smarter! If your team runs faster than your bottleneck, they’re just being busy, not productive. Take a look at the book cover illustration again. There are some people pushing rocks down, but there’s only one person moving them forward. This person is representing the bottleneck and no matter how fast others push rocks down, there could be only one rock moving forward at a time. That’s exactly what system’s thinking teach us regarding the benefits of global optimisation over local optimisation.

Be careful about easy solutions

Once you identify a bottleneck, might not be difficult to think about a solution for it. But be aware that usually the first solutions we think are usually not addressing the real issues. In order to address the real issue, you’ll have to dig deeper into the bottleneck, understand which resources are involved and their relationship and finally experiment with some solutions. This won’t come easy for you. You’ll have to open to challenge some assumptions and pre-conceived solutions.

In the book, Clake shares a story of a bottleneck involving a printer that was not printing the pages fast enough. It was not coping with the demand that was put on it. One might think that a solution would be to buy more printers or to buy a modern one that could print pages faster. But when digging deeper into the problem, it was discovered that the bottleneck was not the printer, but the software that was sending pages to the printer. Thus, the printer was just following the speed of the real bottleneck, that was not so apparent as it was the slowness of the printer.


I really recommend The Bottleneck Rules to anyone that wants to learn what a bottleneck is and especially for those who work with software development processes such Scrum or Kanban and want to get another perspective on constraints without necessarily having to read “hardcore” books. This one is accessible both in terms of price and language, practical, and will teach you a valuable tool that you can use in your work with your clients or employers.

Finally, if you read the book, please let me know what your thoughts. I’m interested to know if you also will find it as good as I did.

You can find me on twitter @jcfausto or just leave a comment here below.

Happy reading.

PS: I didn’t say anything about the title of the book, did I? Well, read the book and you’ll know what I’m talking about.


I’m not affiliated with the author nor receive any benefits for reviewing this book. This review is totally independent and based on my own perspectives and interpretation of what I’ve read. If I have written anything of value, the credit is due to Clarke Ching; whereas any mistakes, inaccuracies or misinterpretations are my own.

Ontological Humility – A Very Interesting Concept

So, this evening I was reading some articles on Radical Candor’s website and I read a very interesting concept named Ontological Humility. I really liked the idea, and I think that this should be something that all managers should know about it because it will help for sure to understand better yourself, your thoughts, and actions regarding how you provide praise or criticism to your peers. See below the definition:

Ontological humility is the acknowledgement that you do not have a special claim on reality or truth and, that others have equally valid perspectives deserving respect and consideration. This attitude is opposed to ontological arrogance, which is the claim that your truth is the only truth. Even though it may make sense intellectually that people have different perspectives, most people do not naturally act from this understanding, especially in the midst of disagreement or conflict..

Source: Fred Kofman’s book Conscious Business

The concept of ontological humility is very interesting, isn’t it? The understanding that you are not the owner of the truth and that you should respect and value other’s perspectives is something that resonates with me. Also, the opposite idea to ontological humility, the ontological arrogance is also an interesting concept that oftentimes we can observe at our work environments, especially during moments of disagreement or conflict when usually managers tend to make use of their formal power to make their opinions and perspectives override those of others.

How To Get Fast Feedback During Retrospectives

There are many ways one can use to get feedback after a meeting or retrospective. One of the best and easy ways to do that is to offer a feedback wall, column, space, window, door, whatever. All you have to do is to find a place where people can leave their feedback about the meeting you facilitated by sticking post-it notes on that place. I did that many times and it was very useful.

Facilitators want to provide effective meetings for their audiences. Getting feedback at the end of each session is a great way to achieve that. Also, it will help you to improve as a facilitator over time.

During my career, I facilitated many meetings. I’m not claiming to be an expert on this subject, but I learned one technique or two over these years. One of these tools is called Feedback Wall, a great way to get fast feedback from your audience at the end of your sessions. It will give you a good perspective if you met people’s expectations or not.

When closing a meeting, I usually like to ask people to offer their feedback before leaving the room. I also say that offering their feedback is optional but it’s of a great value for me as a facilitator because I can identify if I met people’s expectations or not. This is a technique I use often during retrospectives, reviews, talks, training, but not during quick meetings or catch-ups.

The feedback wall method will give you a good perspective on the overall mood of the crowd at the end of the meeting. If the meeting was a retrospective, for instance, a good mood could indicate that people left the meeting with some good expectations in terms of what comes next, actions, improvements, etc. If the mood was not great it could indicate that the outcome was not effective and people didn’t see the meeting as something valuable for them.

In general, you’ll have to do your own interpretation of the results since all you’ll have is hand-drawn smile faces. If you want to get more insights on how your facilitation went, you can also ask people to write one word or two that describe their feelings at the moment on the post-it note. I’d suggest you think in advance what you’d like to inspect in terms of feedback from the attendees, this always helped me to structure the feedback in a way that would be more useful for me as a facilitator.

The only issue I see with this method is that it will not give you a qualitative perspective. Since you want to be fast, you cannot ask people to write long texts or to think about many questions. Also, you have to do your own interpretation and figure out by yourself any improvement action. Still, I believe that most of the times, if you’ll not have enough time or you didn’t prepare in advance, this is a great method to at least get some feedback from your meetings.

Decentralized Decision-Making

“Everything you do for the group is one less thing they know they can do for themselves”

Chris Corrigan: The Tao of Holding Space

This Sunday I was reviewing some notes and found one where I captured the quote above.

When reading the quote I remembered a chat I had with a former colleague last Friday where we talked about something related to the quote:

How to act more as a facilitator instead of a decision maker even if you are in a position or have a title that implies that you’re the one in charge of making final decisions.

My colleague told me a story about a meeting he had with one of his teams about how to improve collaboration. While listening to the story, I noticed that the team didn’t have a clear idea of what types of decisions they could make. Questions such as “Can we make this types of decision?” was a clear evidence of that.

Imaginary limitations can hinder the ability to achieve a decentralized decision-making environment. My colleague’s team had so many imaginary limitations in their heads that they’re not seeing which types of decisions they could make. Someone else was deciding for them because they didn’t know they could do it themselves. They thought their bosses were the ones in charge to make decisions.

After listening to the story, I shared my thoughts.

You create more damage than benefit when you decide for someone else or a team. The benefit is that you help to keep things moving and avoid paralysis. Things move faster and towards the direction you want. It looks good at first sight. But if you look at what you’re taking from them you’ll see the big damages you’re creating. You’re preventing them to have a saying on commitments that they’ll have to make. You’re taking from them the opportunity to decide and learn from mistakes. And, you’re hindering their opportunities to improve their decision-making abilities.

I’m not saying you’ll never have to decide on something and that everything can be a team decision. There are for sure certain types of decisions that you will not be able to delegate. Having a clear decision-making framework in place at moments like this would be handy.

Nicolai Foss and Peter Klein argue in the article “Why Managers Still Matter” that “In today’s knowledge-based economy, managerial authority is supposedly in decline. But there is still a strong need for someone to define and implement the organizational rules of the game.”

Source: https://hbr.org/2017/12/when-to-decentralize-decision-making-and-when-not-to

There are many ways to let clear the “rules of the game” and create a decision-making framework. The one I always refer as a good example is the Delegation Board by Management 3.0.

Centralized decision making makes things very slow and bureaucratic. It doesn’t scale and doesn’t allow for self-management inside teams. The establishment of a clear decision-making process will create the necessary conditions to achieve decentralization and increase people’s autonomy. Speaking of self-management, I’d like to share this quote below:

Self-management is self-management of decisions! if there’s no change in who makes decisions and how decisions are made, there’s no self-management of anything and therefore no lasting transformation of anything at tall. And all gains are temporary.

Daniel Mezick.

If you want to create a learning organization you have to provide the right environment for that. Making decisions for others all the time and assuming they don’t have enough capacity to that that is not a good way to establish such conditions and an indicator that the level of trust is very low amongst peers.

When you decide on behalf of other you take from this person the chance to learn because the decision-making process is also a learning process. To make a decision one have to understand variables, explore topics you didn’t know before, have a better of how the business work. This thought process helps people to increase their frame of reference and making better decisions over time. Also, they’ll get a better of how their decisions contribute to the organization’s results.

The level of commitment to the decision is also affected. When you make a decision, it’s your commitment not other’s people commitment. If the team make a decision, it’s their commitment.

Sometimes we have to “learn to hold space”. We have to learn how to be patient and how to prompt discussions that will help people to realize what they have to. Some might argue that this takes much more time when compared to telling people what to do. You can do this for a while, but when you turn our attention to your people, all you’ll see is demotivation, low morale, bad mood. Everything we don’t want to have inside our teams and organizations.

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