Connecting with Humans

I just read Zappos is struggling with Holacracy because humans aren’t designed to operate like software. I’m not surprised. That’s because we are humans who work with other human people. I want to talk with people when I want to talk with them, not when some protocol tells me I must.

It’s the same problem when managers talk about “resources” and “FTEs” (full-time equivalents). I don’t know about you. I work with resourceful humans. I work with people, regardless of how much time they work at work.

If the person I need isn’t there, I have some choices:

  • I can cc the “other” person(s) and create a ton of email
  • I can ask multiple people and run the risk of multiple people doing the same work (and adding to waste)
  • I can do it myself—or try to—and not finish other work I have that’s more important.

There are other options, but those are the options I see most often.

We each have unique skills and capabilities. I am not fond of experts working alone. And, I want to know with whom I can build trust, and who will build trust with me.

We build relationships with humans. (Okay, I do yell at my computer, but that’s a one-sided relationship.) We build relationships because we talk with each other:

  • Just before and just after meetings. This is the “how are the kids? how was the wedding? how was the weekend?” kind of conversation.
  • When we work with each other and explain what we mean.
  • When we extend trust and we provide deliverables to build trust.

When we talk with each other, we build relationships. We build trust. (Some of us prefer to talk with one person at a time, and some of us like to speak with more. But we talk together.) That discussion and trust-building allows us to work together.

This relationship-building is one of the problems of geographically distributed teams not feeling like teams. The feelings might be missing in a collocated team, too. Standups work because they are about micro-commitments to each other. (Not to the work, to each other as humans.)

I’m a Spock-kind of person, I admit. I work to build human relationships with colleagues. I work at these relationships because the results are worth it to me. Some of you might start with the people first, and you will build relationships because you like people. I’m okay with that 🙂

We work with people we like, respect and trust. Once we break that respect and trust, it’s impossible to work together.

Even I, who is a Spock-like person, knows I am a human first. That means I have emotions and I can’t put them away at work. I don’t want to! Let’s celebrate our humanity and learn how to work together.

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2 Comments

  1. Dave Gordon

    Why we sometimes use terms like “resources” and FTE:

    Few projects consist entirely of a cross-functional team, assigned to work full time on a shared goal. Take the implementation project where some vendor supplies product experts, various functional teams provide SME’s when needed, data custodians map the existing records to the new container, various IT teams provide services ranging from software installation to DBA support to information security audits, and so on. It’s not uncommon for hundreds of people to briefly “touch” a project like that and then move on to their next ticket or return to their BAU workload.

    Consequently, middle management and the people who make plans with them try to estimate the workload, using some artificial assumptions that are never valid, but as close as possible to recent experience. They recognize that it would be better if there were one or two people whose skill set was so broad that they could deliver every service needed and assign them full time, but then a fight would erupt over which project got McGyver.

    So instead, they try to define roles which don’t depend on a specific cast member. Sure, people want to work with someone who is a known value (which is why Danny Trejo plays the same bad guy in about 11,000 films), but the only way someone can move up from entry level is to get some visibility (which is how Danny achieved his level of success).

    The people you will connect with every day are your tribe, but the people you connect with intermittently are the future of your tribe.

    Reply
    • johanna

      Dave, that last sentence is a gem:

      The people you connect with intermittently are the future of your tribe

      I can certainly understand the reasons to use resources and FTE when you don’t yet know who will work on what, especially when providing services. I wonder about the times we think we need service people or teams. I have a post upcoming about component teams and when to use them and when not.

      I wish there was One Right Way to manage all the work in an organization. There is not. I appreciate you for providing another perspective. Thank you.

      Reply

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  1. New PM Articles for the Week of January 2 – 8 - The Practicing IT Project Manager - […] Johanna Rothman reflects on the failure of Holocracy at Zappos and the way we naturally develop relationships. […]

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