Figure 1. Management as a practice
The moment I typed the heading, the Word spellchecker highlighted that there was no such word. It is in a way correct. It is refreshingly new. I came across it after reading the inspiring book, ‘Simply Managing’ by one of my all-time favourites, Henry Mintzberg. Today’s column is an elaboration of it in relation to the Sri Lankan context.
Living in communities is nothing new for the East and West alike. We have Sangha societies in the Buddhist context. We also have monasteries in the Christian context. The commonality in both is the way a group of members of a community live. It involves the sharing of a common set of values, respecting one another and a high degree of collaboration. Also, it invites the members to display synergy in their actions and reactions.
“We need to rethink management and organisation, beyond leadership to communityship, by realising how simple, natural and healthy they can be”. So says Henry Mintzberg in the concluding sentence in his seminal book ‘Simply Managing’.
Mintzberg’s preference to managers
“It seems that we are over-led and under-managed,” says Mintzberg. Many may disagree. Yet, you cannot undermine this candid Canadian veteran. Having contributed to management in proposing ten key managerial roles way back in 1971, he is sharp and sensible in his criticism.
I had this confusion early in my management teaching stages about the real difference between a manager and a leader, and in a broad sense management and leadership. Thanks to global thought leaders, now I have a clear way out.
For me, management is a process and leadership is a phenomena. Every manager has a ‘leading’ function to perform. When it gets expanded, he/she thinks and acts more as a leader. What Mintzberg invites us to do is even go beyond. In his website blog (www.mintzberg.org), Mintzberg elaborates why he says so.
“How can you recognize communityship? That’s easy. You have found it when you walk into an organization and are struck by the energy in the place, the personal commitment of the people and their collective engagement in what they are doing. These people don’t have to be formally empowered because they are naturally engaged. The organization respects them so they respect it. They don’t live in mortal fear of being fired en mass because some “leader” hasn’t made his or her numbers. Imagine an economy made up of such organizations.” (www.mintzberg.org)
There is a clear invitation to shift from a ‘one-man show’ to a ‘one-team show’. In other words, we need no one superstar but a galaxy of superstars. I have been subconsciously promoting this at the Postgraduate Institute of Management, and now I am more convinced when I hear the inspirational ideas from Mintzberg in a similar fashion.
Manager in action
In creating the communityship experience in a workplace, managers have a vital role to play. Mintzberg highlights management as a practice involving art, science and craft. I attempted to reflect more on this and to elaborate further. Figure 1 contains the details.
It is interesting to identify manager as a Poet, Physician and a Plumber, to use three simple metaphors. He or she has to engage in envisioning, exploring and executing. As a Poet, a manager shall create a vision for future, in displaying his/her leadership qualities. As a Physician, he/she can analyse, diagnose, resolve and do many other tasks in exploring a scenario. As a Plumber, he/she can attend to operational issues that need immediate attention, in fixing things and in executing.
Synergy and communityship
One key feature in communityship is synergy. Synergy is all about working together. It is synchronised energy in action. Stephen Covey, in his bestseller “seven habits of highly effective people”, describes synergy as follows: “Synergy means that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. It shows that the relationship, which the parts have to each other, is a part in and of itself. It is not only a part, but also the most catalytic, the most empowering, the most unifying, and the most exciting part.”
“Synergy is everywhere in nature,” he goes on further. “If two plants are placed close together for growth, the roots improve the quality of the soil so that both plants will grow better than if they were separated. In short, one plus one equals three or more. The challenge is to apply the principles of creative co-operation, which we learn from nature, in our social interactions…The essence of synergy is to value differences – to respect them, to build on strengths, to compensate for weaknesses.” There is much food for thought indeed.
“Probably we never fully credit the interdependence of wild creatures, and their cognizance of the affairs of their own kind,” so said Mary Austin, a renowned American author. The way geese fly in a ‘V’ shape and the way wolves run as a pack are just two prominent examples.
Symbiosis as the basis
Synergy we see in nature is associated with the complex term symbiosis. It is close and often long-term interaction between two or more different biological species. In other words, a close prolonged association between two or more different organisms of different species that may benefit each member.
Way back in 1877, Albert Bernhard Frank used the word symbiosis to describe the mutualistic relationship in lichens. It is also described as the living together of two dissimilar organisms, as in mutualism, commensalism or parasitism.
The term, ‘symbiotic relationship’ is often used in the area of sociology. The word symbiosis has first been used to describe people living together in a community. It is, in fact, a true adaptation from the biological meaning of “living together of unlike organisms”.
Communityship through team effectiveness
As we saw, synergy is associated with working together. Teams and groups are often interchangeably used to describe a set of people working together. In perusing through the literature of Organizational Behaviour, veterans like Stephen Robbins and Fred Luthans have identified a group as a set of two or more individuals interacting and interdependent with each other in achieving a common objective. A team is one step ahead. I would simplify a team as a group with synergy.
We can get many examples from the field of sports. Let’s look at Cricket, where the next 20 -20 World Cup tournament is looming large. A cricket team is effective if it is consistently winning. What are the contributing factors for team effectiveness? I would propose four Cs in line with Stephen Robins’s recommendations. They are combination, composition, context and conduct.
This refers to work design. Whether the team members are having a set of specified tasks with needed autonomy to carry them out is important. For that to happen, tasks have to be well designed in with the set goals in mind. The team members should identify themselves with the tasks and see the significance of such tasks. In a Cricket team, a wicketkeeper should know exactly what his role is in order to win a game.
In the game of business, employees should be clear about why they do what they have to do, and how best they should do it. A creative writer in an advertising team who has a sense of pride in his/her work with freedom to make decisions is one such example.
As we know, five fingers of a hand are different yet they are all parts of the same hand. Diversity is a key factor of team effectiveness. Meredith Belbin did a fair amount of research on team roles and came up with nine different team roles. Ensuring that people with appropriate personalities fit the required tasks is essential in this respect.
The flexibility of team members in moving beyond the specialised tasks for the betterment of the team is another important aspect. A specialised bowler of a cricket team should be a good fielder and also a satisfactory batsman. That is all about flexibility. In a business setting, the ability to attend to a colleague’s duty in case of a need is handy with a true sense of multi-skilling.
This is all about a means to an end. Clarity of goals is one key aspect. There should not be any “social loafers” as Stephen Robins labels the category of people who are just “passengers”. Every team member should do their best in order to make their team the best team. The Sri Lankan Cricket team who won the world cup in 1996 is one such example.
Conflicts between team members should be kept to a minimum or else the process will not run smoothly towards the achievement of results. I have seen how the egos of different team players clash in the search for supremacy and dominance. Some find it difficult to give up in order for others to take over. The end result is inevitably a losing team.
There has to be a climate of trust for teamwork to be fostered. Management, leadership and communityship are all fostered in such a setting. With the right direction with the required resources, a team would have the right forward journey.
Communityship can be viewed as a way the East and West meet together. Its practical nature and productive features should motivate us to embrace it as a sure-fire way of achieving sustained results. Sri Lankan managers should relate, reflect and reinforce how they act, react and interact in fostering communityship.
(Prof. Ajantha S. Dharmasiri can be reached through email@example.com)