I have just completed Behind Closed Doors by Johanna Rothman and Esther Derby. I wanted to read something by these authors, since I will be going to their Problem Solving Leadership training in January in Uppsala, Sweden. Gerald Weinberg will also be part of the teaching team and you can be sure I look forward to it.
I read this book two times and that tells you how much I appreciated it. Behind Closed Doors is about best practise in management. Rothman’s and Derby’s approach is a bit different than in many other books. Here we have a story about fictitious manager, Sam, newly employed at a software development company. You follow him as he deals with different situations and uses sound management principles. The story is accompanied with the author’s comments about the situations. At the end there is a chapter called Techniques for Practising Great Management that discusses some of the principles in greater detail.
The story-telling ingredient in the authors teaching style is a great idea and it enables them to communicate and paint the picture of good management even better. Though the story does not have novel quality, it carries the message in an acceptable way.
It is very interesting to see how Sam treats the development department as a system and how he works on jellying the leader group together. Leadership is creating an environment that enables people to work successfully. Sam spends time every week with his group leaders in one-on-one meetings. He helps them to see the big picture and their role in the company. Together they create shared goals as a team and time boxed action plans. Sam coaches them to formulate personal goals that fit into the company’s goals.
People often optimize for their own success, at the expense of the team or the entire organization. I have surely been guilty of this. We are working each one in our own hole, digging and shovelling. There is clearly a need for leaders who can bring people together.
We are quick to blame each other for problems, but often problems are not caused by individuals. The cause can be rooted in the system and its processes. People do not see the system problems, because they are part of the system. They are on the inside of it. An experienced manager (systems thinker) can see the system and facilitate the group’s problem solving work. A system problem can only be solved by the involved group of people. This is very interesting. The ability to take a step back and reveal what is going on and see the system processes is extremely valuable.
Sam is very interested in each one in his department employees. He coaches them to improve their capabilities and gives them clear feedback. Step by step he builds a successful team in difficult situations, prioritizing (and reprioritizing as circumstances change) the work that supports the goals of the group and the organization.
Rothman’s and Derby’s main tenet is that the principles of good management are not that difficult to understand. They discuss for example one-on-ones, portfolio management, feedback, coaching and delegation. The thing is to consistently and reliably perform these practises week after week.
I have started to read good books a bit more careful lately. When good thoughts are brought to us, we can act as they are just interesting; like standing at a distance and observing them. But wise thoughts should be treated in a better way. If you find them, take the time to expose yourself to them. Thoughts are powerful. Let them sink in and affect your mind-world and your feelings. There is plenty of room for some changed worlds today.