Bob Sutton (@work_matters) tweeted this the other day:
Perhaps companies ought to stop using “IC” or “Individual Contributor.” It seems to absolve such employees from helping others
I retweeted it and we had some back-and-forth about what to call people i organizations.
Let’s eliminate these words for people who are not managers:
- Individual Contributor: There are no one-person projects or efforts. Every work has at minimum, the person doing the work and the customer for that work. In what lifetime does a person work alone on anything in the organization?
- FTE (Full Time Equivalent): FTE implies we have working units who are fungible with other working units who get paid the same amount. (Uh, no. Not at all. We have people who work.)
- Resources: Resources removes our humanity. I have said before that people are resourceful. They are not resources.
We could call them any of these:
- Team members
- Staff (I used to use this word. I’m not so sure I like it anymore. But, I’m sure you can go back in this blog and show me places I’ve used it. I’m learning, just as you are.)
I like team members or people the best. That’s because I don’t see people working alone. Even in non-agile organizations. People work with other people. Even if they don’t collaborate together to finish the work. Even people who are part of one specific team often collaborate across the organization. Do let me know if you have a better idea.
Now, let’s go to the word, “Manager.” Managers are people and team members too. However, they float among different teams. Let’s take the first-level manager.
First-level managers are part of the team they manage, but not in the same way as the people doing the work of that team. First-level managers (project managers, functional managers, Scrum Masters) facilitate the team’s work. They serve the team.
In addition to the team they “manage” (no one manages people; managers decide on results and create the environment in which people/team members deliver results), these managers are also a part of other teams. Those teams might be people like them, such as functional managers who report to a Director or VP. They might be part of a team of project managers/Scrum Masters, etc. Those teams might not be explicitly defined in the org. However, effective managers use their peer group as a community of practice. They build relationships and learn what other people do.
Mid-level managers are often part of more explicit teams. They might be part of a program team, or a project portfolio team, maybe even a product line management team. They are often part of a team of the managers who report to them (their staff, “down” the hierarchy) and the managers they report to (“up” the hierarchy). Those teams might have a cadence of meetings to troubleshoot problems that prevent the first-level teams from delivering the results the org wants. These managers serve the organization, also.
Senior managers are often a team. They decide on the strategy together. They make financial decisions together. They set financial boundaries for the different work or departments. And, they also are part of their teams of managers “down” the hierarchy, their staff.
For me, team members are part of one feature team or work group. The managers use their small-world networks to build relationships and accomplish work throughout the organization. Managers are often part of several cross-functional teams, regardless of whether those teams have a name.
Hierarchy is a convenient way to organize, to draw boundaries around decision-making and financial responsibilities. I don’t have a problem with the words managers or team members. As with Bob Sutton, I have a problem with “Individual contributor” because no one works alone. We happen to pay people based on their “individual” contribution and that’s a leftover from the piece work days. Knowledge work doesn’t work like that.
We are all part of teams of some variety. If you think about names that are reasonable for your people (team members and managers), terrific. I certainly don’t have all the answers. (I wrote a little about what managers might do in agile organizations in several places here. I think the most recent post is What Development & Test Managers do in Agile Organizations.)
I only have a problem when we forget we are all people. Do let me know what you think.