Reviews – are key to learning and success

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Most business owners are involved in all aspects of their business and know every small thing in their business. That’s like knowing the wood or in other words, knowing all trees intimately in a jungle. That’s why most business owners get flummoxed when told that they should conduct reviews. The typical response being, why do I need reviews when I already know everything in my business?

A review allows us an opportunity to detach ourselves from the business and look at it from a distance. While engaged in day to day operations, we are getting a 30 feet view of our business, a review helps us step backward and get a 30,000 feet view of our business. We are able to see the forest instead of trees. Hence we get a more holistic view of our business. For example, how our credit policy is affecting not only our sales but also our cash flow.

Periodic Reviews also help us gauge scale of movement and hence provide inputs in planning course correction(s) and in gauging impact of new initiative(s). For example, how costs have changed in last few years.

A review would typically start with a comparison. Mostly it is comparison of budget vs actuals. The review could also be a comparison of performance in current period with that of a past period. Most organizations use budget vs actuals for reviews. This helps them gauge progress against plan. It also allows companies to revisit assumptions that they made in their plans. The assumptions could be related to any aspect of sales or costs. For example, percentage bids won or lost, number of inquiries generated or average order size.  This allows companies to revise their assumptions and make course corrections.

Good planning processes and reviews allow managers to zero in on problem areas and move from 30,000 feet to 30 feet. This reduces there day to day involvement in operations and allows them to delegate.

Given the importance of reviews, it is important that they are conducted in a friendly and positive atmosphere, are scheduled on regular periodic intervals. Most importantly, they should be structured in a way that they help us learn and take action.

Some ground rules for review meeting

  1. Psychological safety – for a meaningful review, it is important that employees feel comfortable in speaking up. It is important that employer provides a psychological safety. As Amy Edmondson, Professor at Harvard says, “Psychological safety is a belief that one will not be punished or humiliated for speaking up with ideas, questions, concerns or mistakes.”
  2. Everyone has equal voice. Everyone can raise an issue and respond to an issue. Listen with an open mind and remember that everyone’s experience is valid.
  3. Don’t make it personal, don’t take it personally.
  4. Avoid blame game. Take learnings and think of improvements. Look forward and Think Positive

 

Structure of reviews

It is necessary to ask three questions in reviews

1 . What has worked for us?  What is it that we need to do more?

  1. What did not work for us? What is that we should change or avoid doing?
  2. What should be next steps? What should be our action plan with time frame?

Plan and review. Your business will go places.

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Al Qaeda – Demonstrating team based organizations

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With the advent of Information Technology, the business has become very competitive. Technology has led to disruption. Today aggregators like Uber, Zomato are disrupting markets for automobiles by taking away reasons to own a car. Competitors are quick to respond to strategic initiatives making everyone fight for tactical advantages. This requires a new way of structuring organisations, working and communications. The organisations of today are competing not only with their traditional competitors but also with start-ups. They are competing not only for customers but also to retain skills and talent. They have to work at speed with inter-dependencies. They cannot afford bureaucracy. The only way they can achieve this is by developing team based organizations. (https://rajneeshrastogi.wordpress.com/2015/02/26/team-based-on-organisations-a-new-organisation-structure/ )

Al Qaeda, though a terrorist organization, is a very good example of it. Organizations and management Gurus can learn from Al Qaeda on how to structure their operations and be effective.   Al Qaeda has functions similar to most corporates have. It has to raise funds, recruit zehadis (employees in another sense), induct and train its manpower, market itself and publicise its acts. Most importantly it has to carry out its work clandestinely so confidentiality is very important.

Al Qaeda, like most corporates, has a distributed structure with its operations across countries. It is continuously trying to increase its global footprint. It works across multiple languages and cultures. Its leadership is also distributed across countries. Al Qaeda is able to achieve its objectives due to its innovative structure and the fact that its recruits (or employees) are aligned with its purpose (however flawed it may be) and committed enough to lay their lives for the purpose (thanks to its recruitment, induction and training systems).

Structure of Al Qaeda

Al Qaeda is structured around teams and committees.  The leader of Al Qaeda consults and works with Shura, which means “Consultation” in Arabic. The Quran and Prophet Muhammad encourage Muslims to decide their affairs in consultation with those who will be affected by that decision. Consultation and decision making by consensus are the basic principles of democracy. Shura is committee of elders and all major decisions are taken in it.

Al Qaeda has committees for military operations, finance and information sharing. Its leaders communicate with its affiliates through these committees.  There are no hierarchical controls.  It works on system of role and responsibility and not hierarchy. An undated document, believed to have been written in the late 1980s or early 1990s, provides an extensive description of the roles and responsibilities of each of Al-Qaeda’s committees and sections. (https://www.hudson.org/research/14365-how-al-qaeda-works-the-jihadist-group-s-evolving-organizational-design).

Decision Making

Al Qaeda leaders are focussed on strategy and messaging or communications. The messages have to be consistent and aligned to strategy. The affiliates plan and execute their own operations. They do need to double check with central leadership before they carry out a large operation.

The affiliates adhere to its strategy, objectives and goals, but adopt tactical approach based on the local dynamics.

Al Qaeda is demonstrating how to operationalize key principles of team based structures:

  1. Operations delegated to teams with Board focussing on Purpose, Values, Strategy and Accountability
  2. Hierarchy and designations replaced by roles and responsibilities. Some roles could be more important than others.
  3. Tap on to entrepreneurship of its workforce by allowing them to take initiatives, fail and learn from their mistakes.
  4. Allow everyone (in team) to participate in discussions they feel are important for them. Give them a voice and a chance to shape those discussions.

We may not agree with the purpose of Al Qaeda and its acts. But we have to acknowledge that they have shown the way how the future organizations would be. That is Organizations where Boards will lay down the purpose, values and accountability structures while they would delegate operational responsibilities such as planning, implementation, monitoring and control to the teams.

Learning Organization: Structures that facilitate learning

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There is an idiom in English language. “All good things must come to an end”. That is nothing great will last forever. And so it is with civilisations, countries and organizations including companies. Civilisations like Greek, Indian and Egypt have lost their status and so have countries like England, France and Germany. Tom Peters and Robert Waterman researched and put together a list of organizations that they said were excellent (Please refer to the book “In Search of Excellence”). They put together a list of companies they felt were great but by the end of 10 years, 7 out of 10 companies had lost their status. Companies like Nokia, Firestone and Toshiba which were industry leaders are now struggling to survive.

A key question that keeps on bugging us is that can we design Learning Organisations? Smart machines are machines that can think, that is they can process new data and adapt themselves based on the incoming data. Can we, human beings design organisations that change with time?

This should be feasible provided we can break “The Trap of Success”. Success is the biggest block to learning. Success reinforces our mind-sets and reinforces our beliefs. It makes us repeat what we did before in a changing environment while the competitors try new things and hence one day competitors overtake successful companies till the time, another company comes and changes the rules of the game. How can companies avoid this trap?

The key to avoiding trap of success is to keep on questioning our mind-sets especially the mental models that helped us win. We all are more comfortable with and like people who share our mental models. But this creates a trap. Its like everyone is looking in same direction and the group fails to watch its back. We all have blinders, a group with same set of blinders would fail to look at 360 degrees.

The easiest way to look at 360 degrees is by allowing a diverse group of people to challenge our mindsets. That is have teams of peers with no hierarchy so that people can challenge each other’s mindsets and the team would not only be taking optimal decisions but would also be creative or innovative. For this we need to structure an organization around teams (https://rajneeshrastogi.wordpress.com/2015/02/26/team-based-on-organisations-a-new-organisation-structure/ )

Teams allow us to develop an organisation without hierarchy and where people can question each other and challenge each other’s mindsets. This not only improves quality of decision making in the teams but also makes them more creative and innovative. Teams built around roles and without hierarchy would encourage people to take on roles of others just like in a game of football or basket- ball unlike Cricket where the captain takes all the decisions (https://rajneeshrastogi.wordpress.com/2017/03/18/building-football-teams-at-work/). An unlikely fallout of it is increased ownership of employees, which in a competitive market is a big advantage.

We can design a learning organization by designing an organization around teams and

  • building a culture where people affected by a decision or people taking a decision can participate in decision making. Decision making is by and large by consensus.
  • Providing psychological safety to staff and assuring them that they would not be punished for calling out if they are affected by a decision or in a discussion, and https://rajneeshrastogi.wordpress.com/2017/03/15/indian-experience-with-democracy-2/
  • promoting diversity. Diversity not only in demographics but also diversity in thoughts.
  • Processes that facilitate team members to cooperate and collaborate and not compete with each other.

Is that all what we need to develop learning organizations? There is more to it but then teams is a good starting point.

Why SMEs find it difficult to scale up

After working with SMEs for last few years, one of the reasons why most SMEs are not able to scale up their operations is because the day is usually spent in firefighting. A typical day may start at 8.30 AM or 9.0 AM with messages from customers, vendors etc. By the time, the person reaches his office, his day is almost cut out for him. He has to find resources and soothe his customers. I describe it as “Vicious Circle”

One of the reasons why SMEs struggle is because they lack a team. A team that can take responsibilities and deliver them instead of taking on tasks. This is due to many factors. One is poor risk taking appetite where the entrepreneurs. Some entrepreneurs do not want to incur or want to avoid cost of learning. Some are very hands on and find it difficult to delegate. So they typically end up working with under-qualified staff.

But increasingly I am finding that they realise that they have reached the critical mass but now cannot scale up as their employees are not confident to take responsibilities. The cost of new hires with relevant skills becomes a deterrent for the entrepreneur. (S)he is afraid of the new hires not delivering.

This vicious circle can be broken only once the entrepreneur starts developing a business plan. Take time off, reflect and work on the roadmap for next two to three years with an operational plan for the first year. This also provides clarity of thought on manpower and other resources required, expectations from them and a framework ( how to monitor and when to monitor) to gauge company’s progress and monitor performance of the employees. The “Vicious Circle” would not turn to “Virtuous Circle.

Planning, developing robust systems that are customised to the culture they want to develop and needs of their business can help the business men scale their companies.

Simplifying Agile Story Points

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One of my client was struggling with a huge backlog. His teams were not able to prioritise their tasks. The estimations were going haywire and productivity was low. The concept of story points (used in Agile Technologies) did not help them much as it was too abstract for them. Each story or task was different and hence they were not able to relate them in levels of difficulty. Because the idea of story was abstract, it was also not easy for them to compare stories with same points in different sprints.

Then I developed a framework to understand the stories and improve time estimations. The three parameters used were

  1. Understanding of business needs
  2. Complexity of tasks
  3. Difficulty of task and volume of work


The easiest tasks to estimate are the ones that are fully understood both in terms of what the customer wants and in terms of steps to be taken to complete the tasks. A task where the customer himself is not sure of what he wants or a technical task for which the engineer himself is not able to develop a road map would need more time in analysis. Either way the estimations for the time would be way off. Effort and time would be required in analysing and breaking the task into smaller tasks or sub-tasks.

Once the tasks are understood and broken into task with steps needed to accomplish it are defined, the estimations would be a function of difficulty and volume of work.

It works actually like story points does in Agile. The stories can be placed on matrix based on story points. It would be easier to develop time estimates for stories with lower story points and hence they are prioritised to be picked up. The above model can also be used for prioritising projects in case of a clogged pipeline. The teams would also be able to compare stories across sprints based on difficulty level.

Please do wait for an illustrated example of this in next blog post.

ERP does not build systems, It only digitises them

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One of the common quick fix solutions I hear from business owners of small to medium sized entities is to get an ERP installed and it will fix their broken and in some cases, non-existing systems. Their expectation from the technology is that it will bring in the required discipline besides implementing readymade systems. Unfortunately a software is as disciplined as the humans who drive it. In real life, it is common to see people develop work arounds or defeat the systems. For example in one case, salesmen would put a dummy entries with negative value in sales orders when they were close to exhaustion instead of repeating the whole process of creating a new sales order. It is also equally common to see shared passwords, especially in accounts where access to certain data cannot be provided to temporary resources. The most interesting was a case where a person would only make summary entries in ERP and maintain elaborate segment wise books of accounts in Excel.

Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) started as a material planning software that helped managers in getting real time information in different functional areas such as inventories of raw material, finished goods and work in progress in different stages of production etc. Soon ERPs went beyond database management and integrated key processes such as procurement to payment, order to cash and thereby reducing errors and improving efficiencies.

Different companies have different workflows and business rules depending on how they evolved and developed. A good ERP is flexible enough to accommodate different workflows and procedures. But unfortunately, it also makes such ERPs more complex and expensive. One risk of changing existing systems to suit ERP or utilize specified workflows in ERP is that it may result in loss of competitive advantage. There would also be additional cost of learning a new way of working. A corollary is that ERPs do not help in designing of systems, yes they can offer options that a company can choose provided the implementation agency has the patience to educate.

Before a company goes in for ERP, it would help if it documents its systems. That is, it should have defined workflows, practices, controls such as authorization levels for reviews and approvals. This would not only smoothen the process of implementation but also reduce the number of conversations that end in frustration for both the customer and for the ERP implementing agency. One of the biggest frustration for implementers is reconciling different versions of same process from different stakeholders and verifying that they got it correct.

The key thing that a company has to focus on is how to remove redundancies and avoid duplication of documentation in cross functional processes. For example, in most companies, invoices of vendors are still received in procurement. Procurement department reviews them and then forwards a copy to accounts for payment. Both departments end up storing a copy. A good control will be that invoices are received directly by accounts. Accounts conducts three way match, ideally four way if hard copies are also included, and raises queries, if any. Something similar happens on sales sides, where sales invoices are reviewed by Sales department and then forwarded to the customers. It also generates twice the amount of paper copies.

Business men may want to implement ERPs in their companies for the efficiencies and better controls the software would bring in while equally mindful of the risks of unauthorised practices. ERPs bring in its own set of discipline like respecting access roles and authorisations. It would work better for companies to formulate a cross functional team for implementation of ERPs. The team would document the existing systems, research and work with implementer in configuring so as to minimise customisation.
To recapitulate. Implementing ERP would standardise workflows, improve quality of data, quality of reports, efficiency and collaboration but not checks and balances.

If you are evaluating ERPs, Best of luck.

Maslow’s Hierarchy: Use it to shape your Organization.

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Maslow was a psychologist who proposed a hierarchy of needs. He categorised the needs as, a) physical needs that consist of need for physical well-being like food, water, clothes for protection from heat or cold and physical safety such as house, etc. b) social, psychological and emotional needs, that is, need for social recognition, inclusion, love, etc. and c) self-actualization, that is, realizing one own’s potential. Maslow believed that all human beings want to achieve self-actualization; hence move up the hierarchy of needs, and before a person could move to higher level, he has to master/satisfy his needs in lower levels. The hierarchy is shown in the figure below.

His premise was that as basic needs would be met with, the person would grow and develop social needs and finally go in for self-actualization. Subliminally he was referring to different classes in the society. A daily wage worker would be more worried about fulfilling his physical needs than social needs or self-actualisation needs as compared to a billionaire who has left all the insecurities behind him and now can work on what he actually enjoys and would help him achieve his potential. One of the examples is so many workaholic billionaires who work not because they have to earn a living but because that’s all they enjoy or find meaning in their life.

In life, every person is a discreet individual with his own needs; these needs may cut across the hierarchy (as proposed by Maslow). The priorities and needs of a person may change over a period of time depending on age, income levels and personal growth. Our behaviour and desires may express multiple needs at the same time. For example, when a person eats at a Michelin Star restaurant, is he fulfilling his physical need to eat or his esteem need or his desire to eat delicious food? Similarly, what needs does Ferrari fulfil? A person can be seen as someone with multiple needs, and these needs overlap with each other.

Every person has all the needs but the intensity of needs may change. For example, level of physical needs changes with earning levels of a person. People get used to a lifestyle and may feel insecure if lack of money may lead to decline in standards of lifestyle. The definition of what is essential or necessary changes from a person to person.

As the person grows rich or in stature, his insecurities may reduce and make him aim for self-actualization while contrary to expectations a person may also give up money for self-actualization. India has seen many spiritual Gurus, e.g. Prince Siddhartha, also known as Gautam Budh and Lord Mahavira who, though born in royal households and destined to be kings, gave up everything to find true meaning of life.
Maslow’s assumption that everyone would want to move up the need triangle is debatable and has been questioned. But for HR teams, it can be a good framework to understand profile of its personnel. It would help them in following ways:
– In designing incentive systems
– To define the profile for recruitment, but most importantly
– To shape the culture of their organisation.

Most firms design an incentive schemes that are mix of cash and recognition. For example, incentives most organisations have cash rewards, ESOPs or cash bonuses for their employees. The top performers may be additionally incentivised or rewarded with CEO’s or President’s Award, paid holiday tours abroad etc. These awards address primarily the physical and social needs. Rewards and incentives for top performers are aimed at esteem needs.

A founder who wants to develop a software development team or an ad agency that delivers high quality work, may want to hire a bunch of passionate persons and give lot of autonomy to the team(s). Same will be true for a band of scientists say who are working in basic research or cutting edge technologies. An example of it is Academic world, where most people are internally motivated and are provided lot of autonomy. They set their own targets, determine their own research and in some cases also decide on their research associates or assistants. Academic institutions are also characterised by less inter-dependency and hence allows for individual excellence. Things change in business world, where a person is expected to work with others.

Some of the ways of developing work places where employees could aim for self- actualization could be
1. Remove hygiene factors. Presence of hygiene factors, takes people away from their work. It works as a road block in cultivating ownership amongst employees. Some of the key hygiene factors are
a. Money or Salary – The discontent in salary emanates from comparisons within and outside of the company. Most employees triangulate their salary based on their personal needs, salary levels in the industry and salary levels within the company especially within their own band. A mismatch in salary that the employee expects and the company provides becomes single most important reason for disgruntlement. A salary lower than what other colleagues are getting is seen as “I am being valued less”. This affects the esteem of the employee as well. We at Srijan followed Open Salaries to minimise this discord. (https://rajneeshrastogi.wordpress.com/2015/06/23/open-salaries/)
b. Democracy – Excluding people from decision making process or not being heard or grievances not being addressed is another reason for employees to feel less valued. Create an organisation where people can speak up if they have a problem or if they want to contribute. This would address the issue of hygiene factors. Create an environment where people can speak up without fear of losing job for criticising. Let them share their disagreements be it with strategy, colour of wall paper or the quality of coffee.

2. Recruitment and induction –
a. Hire passionate people-Let people come and work in the company for free for a week. See if they enjoy the work. Let them make an informed choice. Get a feedback from the colleagues on them.
b. The behaviour of people reflects their passion, their needs, their beliefs and assumptions. Most people are looking for jobs and careers but they stick to work places/ companies where most of their needs are met with. People may blame their bosses, lengthy or excessive work hours or lack of growth opportunities but the underlying cause would be unfulfilled needs or unhappiness with something. So the one week spent in office would also help colleagues understand the candidate/person. A feedback would help from the colleagues would help in understanding if the candidate would fit into the organisational culture.

3. Staff Interactions – HR/ Founders can design company in a way that allows/ facilitates interactions between staff to fulfill their social needs e.g. seating the whole team together in open work spaces without cabins and cubicles fulfils social needs such as need for inclusion. This also facilitates communication and reduces information asymmetry between team members. Structuring organisation around team would also help. (https://rajneeshrastogi.wordpress.com/2017/03/18/building-football-teams-at-work/ )

4. Allow people to experiment. Allow people to fail but do not tolerate mistakes – Most organizations are so focussed on success that they just build on their formula that made them successful. The managers and the company fail to experiment as they are afraid of failures. Let people experiment and learn. Takes failures in strides. The behavior in small and medium sized family owned companies is a good example. A father, who is grooming his child, is tolerant of Child’s failures. He would allow him to experiment and fail. But unfortunately he would not be as charitable with his employee. No wonder the son takes ownership, but the manager does not.

5. Devolve decision making to teams – One of the surest way of promoting ownership is devolve decision making. Responsibility without authority has no meaning. The senior management should devolve planning, implementation and control to lower rungs of management. This would give them autonomy and control over their operations. Teams develop their own sub-culture and help people bond, collaborate, cooperate and hence learn and grow. Essentially fulfill their social and self-actualization needs.

In a competitive world which is changing very fast, organizations need people who take pride in their work and own it. The traditional model of seeing employee costs as zero sum game is not going to be effective. HR departments will have to go beyond traditional roles and responsibilities and would have to add creating organizational culture to their job descriptions. Creating work spaces where people can achieve their full potential would be one of it.

Changing Management Paradigms

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The classical tenets of Management were developed at the time of Industrial revolution. The leading management Guru was Taylor who led thinking on how to increase efficiency, reduce wastefulness and improve profits. Taylor developed what is now called scientific management. The management style broke down work into small pieces that could be performed by an individual. Hence the individual loses his sense of ownership as his work is a small cog of the wheel. Pride of building a house was replaced with mundanity of layering bricks. The system also required a close watch on workers and led to hierarchy of supervisors whose main responsibility was to monitor others.  The classical function of management was described as “Planning, Resource Allocation, Monitoring and Control”.

In the last one hundred and fifty years, the world has changed tremendously. Today with information technology the work has become more complex and inter-dependant. The work is becoming more knowledge based and hence humans now have to be motivated to create and produce unlike 1800s when they had to drive machines.  Development of intelligent machines would add more complexity to our roles.

So the challenge before managements in future would be

  1. How to develop workplaces and design motivational schemes so as to acknowledge and fulfill need for self-actualization by knowledge workers. Get knowledge workers to share their knowledge, cooperate and collaborate with each other.
  2. Develop control systems that are effective yet allow senior management to devolve decision making to the operational teams.

This would be possible with learning organizations. Organizations that would be able to respond to changes in the environment and adapt. My experience with diverse organizations has made me believe that democracy is a pre-requisite to a Learning Organization and teams are essential to democracy.

Team based structure would allow organizations to be nimble and respond to tactical opportunities available in the field. (https://rajneeshrastogi.wordpress.com/2017/02/26/what-corporate-managers-can-learn-from-football-teams/). Peer based control systems would ensure that all the members of the team conform to the norms. Consensus based decision making process would also ensure that the teams take optimal decisions. Structuring team based networked organizations has been possible and one of the most notable examples has been US Army operations in Iraq (https://rajneeshrastogi.wordpress.com/2017/03/18/building-football-teams-at-work/).

Some of the challenges that I foresee in developing empowered teams are 1) Developing leadership in teams and 2) Developing good sub-cultures within the team. These challenges also define role and functions of Management or Board, that is, to ensure that all the teams understand the purpose and their role in achieving it, hold people accountable to maintain culture of the organization. The responsibility of the team to have adequate resources and developing a plan can be delegated to the team. Would it take a big load off shoulders of management?

Building football teams at work

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The world has become very complex and is moving to an age of artificial intelligence. Toffler would have defined it as the fourth wave. This age is characterized with quick dissemination of information, a globally connected world with services being provided digitally over the wire. The markets, including financial markets are interlinked, connected and inter-dependent. The orderly world, in which companies knew and understood their business environment, knew their competitors, could predict and prepare strategic plans has now given to a world where their business could be upstaged by a disruptive technology from a startup on the other side of the world. Competition is always on heels threatening to bite if pace slackens. Organizations can only survive by building teams that can respond to changes in environment, take decisions and implement them. These are teams that have the authority, responsibility and accountability for their decisions, something similar to football teams (https://rajneeshrastogi.wordpress.com/2017/02/26/what-corporate-managers-can-learn-from-football-teams/). With increasing complexity and increasing dependence of tasks, a person could be member of multiple teams that may run horizontally across functions or may run across vertically in a functional area. (https://rajneeshrastogi.wordpress.com/2015/02/26/team-based-on-organisations-a-new-organisation-structure/). For example CFO in a country office would be member of senior executive team and also a member of finance team. The structure can be a strategic choice for the organizations to succeed.

The role of CXOs (CEOs, COOs, CMOs, CFOs etc) would be to build effective teams and build a culture with shared values that binds teams together. Effective teams are characterised by cooperation, collaboration and seamless interchangeability in roles. Teams, like Tribes, also have their own norms that all team members are expected to follow, and use peer pressure or social pressure to ensure compliance.
Organisations need to provide an enabling environment for teams to flourish and succeed. This would require changes in structures, policies and workflows. Some of my experiences are shared below

1. Recruitment is team’s responsibility. Interpersonal relationships are an important element of team success besides trust. Hence it is essential that primary responsibility for recruitment resides with the team. The team could recruit by building consensus amongst its members or giving each member a veto. At Srijan Technologies, a company I worked with, our philosophy was that recruitment is everyone’s responsibility. Beyond functional skills, it is attitude and other soft skills that are important but are difficult to gauge through questions. Attitudes and biases can be sensed by individuals. That is why we preferred in-person interviews over ones on skype or phone. While the immediate team got more weightage, the interviews also included extended teams or other stakeholders who would be working with that candidate. We once had a situation where a senior developer and the CEO had differing judgements on a business analyst candidate. We had an open discussion on the issue and finally went with the senior developer’s choice. Another instance I recollect is from CARE, an international NGO. We were interviewing for a project manager for a program with commercial sex workers (CSW). The project director included some CSW’s in the interview panel. His hypothesis was that if a candidate is not comfortable interviewing with a CSW then they would not be comfortable managing the project, and a CSW could best assess the candidate’s comfort. I would say the same logic extends to teams.

2. Successful teams sit and work together. Getting all the members to sit together is the most effective way to minimize information asymmetry within a team. Physical proximity promotes and encourages transparency. There are no barriers to communication such as inertia of lifting a phone or calling someone when s/he is busy. The team members can see each other’s availability and quickly resolve issues. One of the biggest advantages of such arrangement is the formation of deeper bonds within team members. Teams provide an emotional anchor especially to new members. The company does not have to run a mentorship program. The team members act as mentors and guides. Since the same cannot be done for Distributed teams – other tools and practices need to be adopted. For example, scheduling a daily team meeting; Tools like common folder with access rights to everyone. Thanks to tools like google docs, chatbots, etc., Distributed teams can collaborate effectively.
3. Democracy in organization and teams – One of the ways to improve decision making in teams is to encourage team to take decisions by consensus. This may seem like wastage of time, but it ensures ownership of decisions by all the team members. People understand democracy as decision making by voting or decisions of majority. But actually democracy is much more than that. ( https://rajneeshrastogi.wordpress.com/2015/04/27/indian-experience-with-democracy/ ). At Srijan we encouraged teams to take decisions by consensus.

4. Team is the Boss. We delegated all operational decisions to the team such as negotiations with the customer, pacing the project, allocation of work to the team. Decisions on approval of leave or work from home was delegated to the team. A supervisor is supposed to monitor the work, but its peers or team members who can provide the best assessment of whether a person has turned in an honest day’s work or not. In my work life, I have come across situations where companies have multiple layers of authority delineation. In practice, I have seen managers trusting the teams or person on the ground and approving those requests without even simple questions. Organizations can cut down on decision making processes by delegating most of the approvals to the teams and also empowering teams by giving them authority but also hold them accountable.

5. Communication, Trust and feedback – It is essential to build trust and communication between the team members. This helps in reducing politics or charges of favouritism. At Srijan, we would even have 360 degree feedbacks with all the team members sitting together and providing feedback to each other. The rule was that anything that cannot be said in open should not be said. The fact that the organization was structured around roles and not positions also meant that there was no competition amongst team members. At the organization level, the company used to keep open books. We had sessions where the balance sheet and profit & loss account was shared with everyone. The most important behaviour that seniors have to demonstrate is to allow juniors to question them on their decisions. Give out a message that no subject is taboo and all conversations are welcome.

6. Abolish performance appraisal system and have Shared Goals and Shared rewards. Teams can only work when the team shares rewards and frustrations of defeat and no single person is singled out for either. It is no wonder that football (soccer in US) does not have man of the match award like cricket has ( https://rajneeshrastogi.wordpress.com/2014/12/28/teams-and-performance-appraisal-systems/ ). A good team of learners who are motivated and enjoy their work would like quality output and ease out anyone who slows down the team. More often than not, the person would automatically move out. As Gen. Stanley McChrystal mentions in his book “Team of teams” most often repeated reason for dropping out of Seal’s training program BUD/S was that I cannot slow down the team. Rather be the weakest link in the chain, people move out.

Replace Performance appraisal with performance feedback and counselling. Use it to provide feedback to an employee. https://rajneeshrastogi.wordpress.com/2015/07/07/salaries-and-performance-appraisal/. We at Srijan used system of Salaries and performance bonus to reward performance during the year.

7. Define purpose of the organisation and teams. In this fast changing business environment, the companies will have to redefine their indices for growth. The inspiration to growth will come from purpose. What the organization plans to do and achieve. Similarly teams find meaning in their work if they identify with its purpose. If the team knows its purpose, it will also be more confident in moving away from established procedures to ensure that the purpose is met with.

8. Define values and hold teams and people accountable. The team has to fit in the larger organization and should share the same values and culture. Culture and values act as glue and bind the teams together. A very good example of it is Mckinsey that operates as distributed teams but come together as one company with one culture.

In a nutshell, if companies can create teams with diverse set of people, develop a culture of trust and decision making by consensus and are willing to share information with the teams, remove barriers to flow of information within the organization, then the organizations can create self-managed, self-learning teams

Indian experience with Democracy

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I took Organisational Learning and Development as one of my electives in MBA. The decision was more out of curiosity rather than interest at that point of time. The course kindled my interest in learning in organisations. Over a period of time, with my practical experience and after reading many books, I realised building a democratic organisation was key to building a learning organisation.

With that realisation, I started searching for democratic organisations when I came across blog from Rahul at Srijan. He was trying to build a democratic organization. The first thing when I started talking with people was they do not want decision making by voting. Then I realised that most people associate democracy with decision making by casting of votes and hence as a corollary decision of majority. This definitely was not the intent of Greeks when they talked about democracy. Voting was just a tool to hear people’s decision and one of the stages in decision making process.

I researched on democracy and had to go back to Greeks, who invented Democracy. The motivation for Greeks to reform their political process was to provide more political power to middle and working class or basically empower them so that the power distribution in decision making is not loaded in favour of landlord or rich. That’s how they came up with concept of Demokratia, or democracy. Every member of ekkelesia had equal right to address political assemblies (isonomia). This provided a right to everyone who was affected to speak and influence decision making process. Basically it was a right to be heard. This was strengthened even more by Britishers by introducing “privilege”. Privilege is immunity granted to a member of parliament so that the person can speak his mind without fear of prosecution. Ofcourse this was before Indian MPs decided that it extended to watching porn and Indian Supreme Court decided that privilege extended to voting in exchange of money in parliament.

Is Indian Parliament a democratic institution? No, it is not. The MPs do not have right to dissent from their party’s view point. The members cannot vote against party position or party whip. This goes against the basic grain of democracy.
The main objective of democracy was decision making by merit. The assumption was that democracy would bring together diverse set of people and provide them with a platform where they can discuss issues, challenge each other’s mindsets and take good decisions. The parliament would the place where they would be able to challenge the assumptions and hypothesis, which in turn would lead to decision making by consensus and hence better decisions or laws. Unfortunately, our democracy is characterised by more of personal attacks rather then discussions.