The obsolete supervisor

I know I was planning to write a post on how hard it is to let go of the concept of a testing phase, but an article I read today really caught my eye. It was all about how hard it was to manage off-site staff. It really resonated with me as it discussed how you supervise and manage people that are offsite. The article relied so strongly on only traditional methods, it could have been written in the 60’s or 70’s. As I read the article it seemed to imply that if you worked with job descriptions, set performance goals, measured progress by deadline and milestones, and created a reporting structure everything would work out ok.

It is articles like this that make me wonder how far we are away from working with people in the manner that Agile proposes. It is so common for people to use the manager and supervisor term and interchange it with the leader term. I firmly believe leadership has nothing to do with status or role and is all about action and initiative. In many projects I have been on, many developers have been better leaders than I. The supervising and managing of people is a holdover from when we believed people were not wanting to do a good job and they needed someone to ensure they were not slacking off.

Leaders on projects provide value by managing the process, not people.  Then together with the entire team they collaboratively discuss the vision and create a plan to achieve that vision.  Leaders assist the team in removing barriers and resolving issues so that the team can succeed and achieve the goals they set together. No where in the article did it mention the value in having the employees together building the collaborative plan. We have to change of thinking that leaders create the plan and bring them down from on high to the people assembled and then instruct them on what tasks are required. Is it any wonder people lack motivation to achieve the goals when it is introduced in this manner?

When people together build the plan and understand the reason behind what it being done, breakthrough performance results. Supervisors are only required when those team visioning and planning activities do not occur.

One of my favourite quotes captures the essence of this discussion:

“If you want to build a ship, don’t drum up people together to collect wood and don’t assign them tasks and work, but rather teach them to long for the endless immensity of the sea.”  ~ Antoine de Saint-Exupery

3 thoughts on “The obsolete supervisor

  1. Wow. Great post! Leadership does come more from action that status or role. Yet, there are many organizations out there that still firmly believe in the power of the status/role and then infuse that culture on all their employees. I hope you’re lucky enough not to experience those types of organizations (often).

    • Thanks Liza. Actually I’ve been lucky enough with my company to consult with clients and take the walk with them into the agile world. Doesn’t get much better than that
      ! 🙂

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