Watts Humphrey shares his 'Reflections on Management,' Part II
July 6, 2010 —
(Page 2 of 4)
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You stressed the importance of open dialog throughout your book, yet noted, "Bearers of bad news are the first to be shot." How can you expect team members to willingly provide feedback and communicate freely, and to fully contribute what he or she knows?
This is a question of trust. In the typical blame-based management culture, it is risky to speak out. This inhibits innovation and creativity, delays early warning of problems until it is too late to prevent them, and makes people unwilling to identify problem causes for fear of being blamed for the resulting damage.
Admiral [Hyman G.] Rickover, when he established the U.S. Navy’s nuclear fleet, instituted an open and honest culture. He required that all problems on a nuclear submarine be reviewed by a captain’s mast, the causes identified, and the corrective actions reported to his office. This produced an unrivaled quality culture, which continues to this day.
The only way to establish such a culture is from the top, but that takes leadership and an appreciation of the new styles of management required for modern systems and software work.
You frequently note how ideal self-directed teams are, and that teams must first become cohesive in order for that to occur. Can distributed teams ever really become cohesive?
Building cohesive and jelled teams when the members are distributed is more difficult than when they are co-located. However, we have found that it can be done. The key is to follow an orderly team-building process like that provided by the TSP and to ensure that all team members are in agreement on the team’s goals and plans. This is best done by bringing all team members to one location for the team launch. However, even a distributed team launch can be handled with the use of various conferencing tools and aids as long as it has proper leadership and coaching.
With teams we have launched in India and on the U.S. west coast, for example, this required that one of the groups work late at night, but we have not found that to be a serious problem. A cohesive team can still result as long as the launch is properly conducted and as long as senior management participates when they are supposed to, even if it is late at night.