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What is the Goal of Management?

Earlier, I talked a couple of times about some possible deconvolutions and separations of a number of traditional management roles.

Today, I want to talk about the goal of management. What are the principles underlying how we support and direct our teams? What are we trying to accomplish?

We want to look at some of the various goals we might have as managers, and then see how those may map onto different roles that might be allocated to different team members.

I like to say that I have two goals as a manager: 1) Support each of the people on my team to develop themselves as best they can, and 2) Achieve results for the larger organization that we are part of.

Sometimes these goals are in conflict, but I put them in this order deliberately, to show[1] that helping your people is often the best way to help your organization, that in general, these goals are in alignment.

But I digress. What are the goals of a team?

1) Support and develop each of the team members
– Help each of the people figure out how they want to develop
– Help each of the people develop themselves
– Help them remove internal[2] obstacles in the way of their development
– Help them remove external[2] obstacles in the way of their development
– Give feedback and suggestions for improvement
– Have difficult conversations with more pointed suggestions for improvement
2) Achieve results for the larger organization
– Provide guidance (estimates, progress reports, and risk levels) to the rest of the organization[3]
– Estimate the amount of time/effort[4] required for a task
– Perform tasks (may include investigations to better define tasks)
– Perform prioritization of project work
– Perform prioritization of triage tasks/incoming requests
– Firefighting of emergencies
– Define & subdivide tasks
– Work with other teams on projects/tasks
– Unblock and remove obstacles for other team members

Next time, we’ll see how these tasks are divided, in traditional management, and in typical Scrum/Agile. We’ll also start looking at how you can use this more granular list of management roles to start training up your management bench. Stay tuned!

[1] At least through repeated assertion…

[2]You can interpret the concept of ‘internal’ and ‘external’ obstacles in a number of different ways. In this context, I’m thinking about ‘internal’ as ‘inside your own head’, but ‘internal’ could just as easily mean ‘in your team’, or ‘in your organization’. This duality could easily be split into multiple roles. I separate out ‘inside your head’ because I see ‘Inner Game‘ issues as requiring a different approach than talking to people other than the one with the obstacle.

[3]I had originally written this as ‘up the hierarchy’, but this information is also useful to other parts of any organization, and I’m trying to generalize this to less hierarchical organizations.

[4]Perhaps wall-clock time vs. % of a two-week sprint, for example.

Weather Only A Druid Could Love II

He walked down the street, skipping between the puddles and weaving between the umbrellas. It was one of those days where he wasn’t exactly sure where he wanted to go for lunch, but he was pretty sure it was going to be one of the local takeout places. He felt himself gravitating towards the little hole-in-the-wall ‘BBQ’ place, where he had oddly never seen a barbecue, nor any food that was barbecued. Walking in, he ordered his usual, enjoying the fact that they now left the onions off his salad without asking, and even remembered his dressing choices (balsamic).

Stepping outside, he walked through the geometric tree garden. That probably wasn’t its name, but he didn’t know how to refer to it. There were little (to him) trees inside half-toroidal bollards. Normally, when he walked this way, there would be people sitting on the bollards, sometimes two people conversing, sometimes people taking a brief moment of solitude and recharge from whatever emotional labour their ‘normal’ daily life entailed.

Today, there were a few stalwarts, sitting huddled on the bollards, each of them inside their own bubble. It reminded of what a woman had told him about her experience living in London, that ‘each person was their own country.’

Some of them were smoking cigarettes, most were on their phones, hunched over the screens to keep them dry, hoarding the few minutes they had to themselves all day, resentful of the rain for robbing of some of the little joy they ever felt.

He gave this whole montage a wide berth. It felt rude to intrude, and once again, he was still enjoying his walk too much to want to, even by trying to share a smile or nod.

The rain continued its gentle mist, he continued his walk. When he was growing up, he had always seen himself as a wind-lover, based on how much he loved the summer breezes and winds, especially when they whispered through the trees, but it seems that his love was actually for the outdoors, whatever its weather might bring. He was looking forward to what it might bring next, whatever that may be, as long as he was outside.

Forgiveness and Daily Standups

Recently, I wrote about forgiveness.

I made a comment in there about how it was super-important to make regular forgiveness a cornerstone of your management technique.

Forgiveness is so important because it allows your people to take calculated risks, with the knowledge that they can make mistakes that will be forgiven.

Like how brakes on a car allow you to go faster[0], forgiveness of error allows people to take larger risks, to go faster.

It’s also similar the to risk/reward tradeoffs that people make while investing. If you can’t forgive yourself for the large drawdown, you will never make the large returns.

So, these are nice words, but how do you do this?

First, I want to focus on one of the words I wrote above: ‘regular’. Specifically, ‘regular forgiveness’.

I first learned this from my undergrad thesis supervisor[1]. Every single meeting we had, no matter how much I had accomplished since the last meeting, he would always talk about where we were right now, and what the next step was. It felt like a safe space, where I was not going to be judged, and I’ve tried to bring this to all of my teams since.

Fundamentally, people worry about being embarrassed and being judged, by their manager, by their peers, or people that they don’t even know[2].

Daily standups can help you remind your team that they everything is okay on a daily basis. Think about it. That regular contact is telling your entire team not just that they’re important, but also telling them that you know what they’re doing, and you approve. It gives them that solid floor underneath them that they can jump from every day, knowing that you and your whole team are waiting and willing to catch them tomorrow if they fall.

You can do this today, with your daily standup, or your weekly meeting. “Where are we right now? What is our next step?” It might take a while for people to unwind, but if you give them time, they will see that you mean it. It is powerful once it works.

The fear of being judged by people you don’t know is the most difficult to fix with this method. You can help someone understand that you will not judge them for things they do, and it’s somewhat more difficult (but totally doable) to create and reinforce that culture at your site, but it’s much more difficult to convince someone that they person that they’ve never met, perhaps on the other side of the world, won’t judge them for asking a stupid question or wasting their time.

All you can really do for this is to make a local culture of acceptance and non-judgement, so that people at least have a safe space to jump off from to take their risks.

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention gender and cultural issues. I’m not enough of an expert on either of these to really comment in depth, but all of the above are often more difficult (sometimes much more difficult) for those who are not part of the dominant power group in a society.

As a general rule, think about how tense you get when asking your boss about something. Now, what if that was your boss’s boss? Now think about for each type of privilege that you don’t have, you add one level of hierarchy and tension.

So, for you, asking your boss is like, well, asking your boss. But for your female co-worker, asking her boss might be as difficult as you asking your boss’s boss.

This is why it is so important to make your organization’s culture as accepting and non-judgemental and as forgiving as possible, because you never know how much more difficult it is for the person sitting next to you to do the things that you might do every day.

Let me know what you think in the comments below!

[0]Thanks, Jay!

[1]Thanks, Brad!

[2]I’m not actually sure which of these is a stronger fear.


Recently, I wrote about forgiveness, and how important it was in my achieving a deeper understanding of meditation.

Forgiveness is an interesting topic, going back millenia. Sun Tzu wrote about it in the context of magnanimity: “Treat the captives well, and care for them. This is called “winning a battle and becoming stronger.”

One could also argue that all of Ancient Greek literature is a lesson on why forgiveness is so important.

In some readings, forgiveness was one of the virtues of Hinduism.

Islam, Judaism, Buddhism, and many other religious and cultural traditions also have many things to say about the importance of forgiveness[1].

However, one could argue that forgiveness is most important and truly central to Christianity. The oft-cited Parable of the Prodigal Son speaks of the power of love to enable forgiveness (and also apparently of the importance of emotional conversation between parents and children, but I digress).

The reason I mention all of this is to give context for forgiveness. When I was growing up, it was a common concept[2], but I don’t really think I internalized it. It’s from my undergrad thesis adviser that I take my canonical example of forgiving the people working for you, and making a daily or weekly clean slate, so that you can do your best work[3].

I took this example with me, and I think helped a lot as I led teams in a variety of ways. But I had never really thought about forgiving myself.

I mentioned earlier that if you want to truly relax, to meditate, to be in your body, inside yourself, you need to have a safe space inside yourself.

But if you have not forgiven yourself, if you are constantly criticizing yourself on the inside, you do not have that safe space, and are prone to self-medicate in various ways[4]

I cannot tell you how to forgive yourself. The power of much of organized religion is that it promises to give you that forgiveness that you cannot achieve yourself.

But I can tell you something of why it is important, and how I got there. All of this arose when I was involved in a dispute. Emotions were running high, and it was distracting me from everything that I find important. Somewhere around then, G suggested that I forgive them. It’s similar to letting something go, to letting the emotions roll over you. This helped my isolate my emotions (my reaction) from what was happening outside me. I understood that I could not control what happened outside me, but I could control myself.

This helped a lot, but it was still predicated on controlling myself, not fully trusting my emotions. Still avoiding my inner thoughts because they were still not a safe space.

This last breakthrough came through a guided meditation, where I was already in a physical and mental safe space, where I was given the permission to forgive myself. I am not going to give you that permission, because I cannot. Only you can give yourself that permission. But know that you have the power to do so, somewhere inside yourself.

“Give a person forgiveness, and they will forever be asking you for such. Teach a person to forgive themself, and they shall become more serene than you can possibly imagine.”

[1]You could even argue that the Babylonian code of laws was an early attempt at forgiveness, where ‘eye for an eye’ was more forgiving than a centuries-long blood feud. Note that this link to an article on this topic is rather lurid and not for the squeamish: [link]

[2]I even went to church for a while when I was younger, and I always enjoyed the construction of the line ‘forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us’.

[3]I will likely write more about this. I think it’s super-important.

[4]Any distraction will do. Not sleeping, workoholism, Oblivion, and running are among the more socially acceptable ones.

A Guided Meditation

This was inspired by a guided ‘being in your body’ meditation with Gorett, my life coach. You may also be interested in my previous post on this. Anyway, here goes:

First, you want to be wholly in your body.

Close your eyes, and make yourself comfortable.

Walk through each of your senses, and see what each of them are saying.

You may still see some colour, depending on how much light there is where you are. You may see some bright spots and dark spots, depending on what you were last looking at. Watch them. Watch them fade as your eyes acclimatize to being closed. You may see some of the sparkle patterns or moving objects that happen sometimes when you close your eyes. Watch them for a while. See how they move. Acknowledge them. Understand that they happen and that that is okay.

Next, figure out what your ears are telling you. You may hear someone in the next room, a siren in the distance, the beating of your heart. What do you smell? Is it a familiar smell? Is there anything at all? Can you smell yourself? Sometimes you can smell the inside of your own nose, similar to how you can see the inside of your eyelids. Acknowledge these things, glory in them, let them wash over you.

What are you tasting? Is it the thing you just ate? The mint from the toothpaste? Something else? Acknowledge it. Experience it fully, let it wash over you.

Where is your body? Think about each of your limbs and where they are. Are you sitting down? Lying down? Experience it fully and let it wash over you.

What are you touching? Are your hands in your lap? What is the sensation of your hands on your legs? Feel your hands, your lower arms, your upper arms as they come out of your shoulder. Flex your shoulders just a little bit to remind them that they’re alive. Feel the sensations as your muscles move. Now relax your shoulders, your arms. Feel your toes. What are they feeling? Feel your feet, your ankles, your calves, your knees, your thighs. Feel your pelvis, your hips, rotate them just slightly to know they’re there, to put them in a slightly more comfortable spot. Feel your lower belly, think about what you most recently ate, and let it go. Take a deep breath and let it go. Feel your heart beating. Feel your breath in and out. In and out. Move your shoulders again. Feel your neck, feel your ears, the hair on the back of your head, your chin, your mouth, your nose, your cheeks, your eyes, all the way to the follicles on the top of your head.

Breathe in, breathe out. Breathe in…breathe out. Breathe in…breathe out.

You are in a safe space now. You may be hearing a voice right now, telling you things about yourself that you don’t want to hear, that you have something lacking. Acknowledge that voice, feel it fully, experience it, and let it go. Breathe in, experience it, breathe out, let it go. Breathe in, feel it, breathe out, let it go.

You are now allowed to forgive yourself. We are forgiving ourselves for many reasons. We could talk about absolution, we could speak of religion, or spirituality, but here we are forgiving ourselves because the voice in our head is getting in the way of us doing the things we want to do. Acknowledge the voice, experience it, forgive it. Breathe in, breathe out. This is a safe space of forgiveness.

Be in your body. Check in on your body, are you still comfortable? Things may have shifted. Move yourself a little bit to make yourself a little bit more comfortable.

Breathe in, breathe out. You are in a safe space. Acknowledge, fully experience, forgive, let go. Breathe in, breathe out. You are in a safe space. Acknowledge, fully experience, forgive, let go. Breathe in, breathe out. You are in a safe space. Acknowledge, fully experience, forgive, let go.

Now, on your own time, you can take as much time as you want, you can open your eyes and share with me how you are feeling, what you might be thinking. On your own time, take as much time as you want.

How do you Stop Yourself From Acting?

I’ve been working on a number of posts, now that I feel that I can start writing again. It so happens that I’m feeling (I think) a little more tired than usual[1], and so it feels slightly more difficult than usual to put words to electronics.

So, I’m working on a number of posts, each of them with perhaps a paragraph or two so far. A couple of them have really poignant titles, that really speak to me. Titles so near and dear to my heart that I’m afraid to publish something that isn’t perfect. So, I start another post instead of publishing something.

It is this fear of not being good enough, a falling out of trust with my own ability that is stopping me right now. Or rather, it isn’t, as I seem to have found a way around it.

It involves trying things, trying different channels of thought until I find one where the words flow well enough from my fingertips. I think it helps that I’ve had that feeling before.

I’m tempted to make a sequel to something I’ve already done[2], but interestingly, this feels even easier. I think it may be because struggling with uploading pictures to WordPress is such a bear.

Anyways, words flowing from fingers. Following the flow wherever it takes you. You see the shoals of writer’s block, of tiredness, and you sit down, fully accept them, then playfully try different things until you find something that just flows around them as if the obstacles weren’t there at all.

More on that later. Happy creating!

[1]Who knows what is actually happening, with the amazing ability of the brain to convince you that you don’t need to be doing things.

[2]Anything on this blog entitled ‘Burning Man in Pictures’.

Burning Man 2015 in Pictures LXX: Decompression in Reno

It’s always an experience coming home from an immersive event. Good movies can do it, especially when you’ve experienced catharsis, I’ve also experienced it a good meditation or epiphany.

But when the event is weeks long, with a totally different culture and social mores, the decompression experience can approach culture shock in its intensity.

When I first came home from Burning Man in 2013, I was biking down the Danforth, looking at all of the establishments along the road. Because I was still decompressing, I saw them as emplacements whose main goal was to persuade passers-by to give them resources.

we had decided to spend a day or two in Reno on the way back from the Burn in 2015, a trip which I will document later. Today it’s more about the decompression experiences.

We arrive at the hotel in Reno!  Also visible: Mike, possible Marc.
We arrive at the hotel in Reno! Also visible: Mike, possible Marc.
Our pristine hotel room.
Our pristine hotel room.
Is it a strange alien beast, or bungee cords?
Is it a strange alien beast, or bungee cords?Is it a strange alien beast, or bungee cords?
This is what playa dust looks like in Real Life(tm).
This is what playa dust looks like in Real Life(tm).
These were the best bike locks.  You just had to spell a word, such as 'HIRP', and it would unlock.
These were the best bike locks. You just had to spell a word, such as ‘HIRP’, and it would unlock.
POLT.  Also, we left these locks (and our bike baskets) behind for the next renter.
POLT. Also, we left these locks (and our bike baskets) behind for the next renter.
In the Reno airport, we saw an installation that seemed somewhat familiar.
In the Reno airport, we saw an installation that seemed somewhat familiar.
Your trusty correspondent, outfitted in full Space Cactus regalia.
Your trusty correspondent, outfitted in full Space Cactus regalia.

And, that’s all she wrote.

There are still many more photos to process (we had so many people helping us plan and build!), but this is the chronological end of the project (modulo a couple of moves of the installation parts when they arrived home). It feels good to feel like I’ve finished something, even if it was in much more depth than I had ever expected.

Here’s to next time. Thanks for reading. 😀

Burning Man 2015 in Pictures LXV: Mirror Blaze Teardown Continues!

Last time, we watched the first stage of the Mirror Blaze teardown. Today, we witness the second part of the teardown, and some of the (very very very sooty) effects of having flame effect equipment in an enclosed tube for a week.

Mirror Blaze, at the start of phase II.  Note the wind bracing sticks at the top.
Mirror Blaze, at the start of phase II. Note the wind bracing sticks at the top.
Callum pulls up the fence protecting the fuel depot for Mirror Blaze and FaIRE Hockey.
Callum pulls up the fence protecting the fuel depot for Mirror Blaze and FaIRE Hockey.
l-r: Case, Kosta, Kevin, S (slight case of clamber), and Splat
l-r: Case, Kosta, Kevin, S (slight case of clamber), and Splat
l-r: Kevin, S (slight case of peeping), Greg, Splat
l-r: Kevin, S (slight case of peeping), Greg, Splat
The disassembled pieces of Mirror Blaze pile up!
The disassembled pieces of Mirror Blaze pile up!
Greg holds up some of the padding used to protect the quartz tube from the metal straps holding it up.
Greg holds up some of the padding used to protect the quartz tube from the metal straps holding it up.
The quartz tube, marks left over by the silicone and not-so-flammable fabric padding.
The quartz tube, marks left over by the silicone and not-so-flammable fabric padding.
The quartz tube, in situ.  Note the sooty colour.
The quartz tube, in situ. Note the sooty colour.
Kosta unhoking 'Flamey', the flame effect.
Kosta unhoking ‘Flamey’, the flame effect.
'Flamey' is quite 'sooty'.  But the aluminum foil protecting the wiring held up!
‘Flamey’ is quite ‘sooty’. But the aluminum foil protecting the wiring held up!

Next time, the rest of the Mirror Blaze tear down!

This is What Privilege Feels Like…

This is what privilege feels like…

So, I was walking down the street at lunch today, and I had been walking behind someone for a while. We got to a point where I could pass them, and suddenly I was passing them like they were standing still.

Normally, I would think nothing of this, as it’s happened too many times to count. But thinking about it, I really hadn’t sped up that much. It *must[1]* have been that the other person, sensing that I wanted to pass, read my small signals, and slowed down so that I could pass more easily. Not thinking about it, or even noticing it, I took them up on it.

When you’re walking or driving, these little non-vocalized communications are essential for safe movement of traffic.

Outside of that, when someone defers to you and you don’t even notice?

That is what privilege feels like.

[1]It is entirely possible that the person became uncomfortable with someone following them[2], and let them pass for that reason. The privilege argument above still holds if the follower who is stood aside for does not notice, or bulls through anyway.

[2]The case above was around noon, outside on a busy street in an affluent neighbourhood. But I know that I don’t like it when people follow close behind me, and perceptions can vary.