being good at being managed

As I’ve continued thinking about some recent lessons on project management, and reflecting on the management situations I see every day (at school, work, church, etc.), there is another idea that’s occurred to me. I still feel very strongly that managers need to be closely attuned to the human needs and relationships within the teams they lead; however, I’m realizing that there is also a good measure of responsibility on the team members to be good at being managed.

An example:

I was recently volunteering at an academic conference that was being hosted in our area, along with some of my colleagues in the BYU IP&T program. The conference was a great experience overall, and was an enjoyable opportunity to help out a bit. There was a point, however, where some instructions came from the conference organizers, through the chain of command, that was going to require us volunteers to work short shifts late into the night on one particular day of the conference. Where we were all trying to keep up with schoolwork and work obligations on top of hosting the conference sessions throughout each day, this wasn’t the most convenient job to take on. And where it didn’t seem that it would improve the experience of the conference attendees to any significant degree, we questioned whether the job needed to be done in the first place.

For us volunteers, a group made up of designers-in-training, this presented an opportunity to improve an inefficient system, and we initiated a conversation with the conference organizers about some alternative approaches for meeting the needs of  the attendees. The organizers were very friendly and generous in talking about these ideas, but I quickly realized that the decision had already been made about how they wanted things to be handled. Furthermore, with so many other things on the organizers’ minds in the middle of this multi-day event, it was not at all helpful for us to keep pushing them to revisit this decision. Having organized a (much smaller) academic conference myself, I know that sometimes hosting involves going to extreme lengths to make relatively small gestures in making your guests more comfortable. We were being asked to help make just this kind of gesture, and the most helpful thing we could do was follow through with the plans that had already been made, and just accept that it was going to require some extra effort on our part.

This didn’t mean that we should have accepted the role of the blindly obedient servants; when I talk about “being good at being managed” I don’t at all equate this with “being easy to control,” like the placated masses serving under a strong, authoritative regime. Nor do I mean to say that the conference organizers should have ignored our concerns (and, again, they did a great job of taking our suggestions seriously while also clearly communicating their needs and decisions).

The point I’m trying to make is that as a member of a team, as a part of any group trying to work together, your value is largely determined by how well you can support and follow through with the decisions that are made by the group and its leadership. And it’s not unreasonable for managers to consider this qualification in choosing who to work with and who to exclude from a project or enterprise.

In a way this is kind of the complementary idea to what I wrote before about managers being aware of the personal, human needs to their team members. Good team members will also be aware of and attentive to their managers’ needs.


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