The One Man Show

Think back to the last few times you’ve found out about a problem at work.  Which of these statements did you hear:

Option 1: We’ve assigned a team to fix the problem
Option 2: We’ve found volunteers who’ve formed a team to fix the problem
Option 3: We’ve assigned a person to fix the problem
Option 2: We’ve found a volunteer to fix the problem

I’m guessing that you’ve heard Option 1 most often: “We’ve assigned a team to fix the problem.”.  The assigned team concept seems to dominate most problem solving in large organizations.   If assigned teams dominate the problem fixing landscape then you would assume that they create the best results in fixing problems.  Do they?  Nope.  You can choose your source, but many say only two in ten change efforts succeed and I bet if you looked at the raw data you’d find most of those eight failing teams were all of the “we’ve assigned a team to fix the problem,” variety.

Now recently I’ve had experience with Option 2: “We’ve found volunteers who’ve formed a team to fix the problem.”  This is the Guiding Coalition method I’ve blogged a lot about.  It’s a useful method for wide classes of problems; yet even it seems to have its limitations.  For example, if you team every problem then you end up with a lot of teams; when the membership of these teams often overlaps you create individuals as constraints for multiple teams.  Another limitation of the volunteer teams method is the sheer number of people you must have, regardless of personnel overlap, to create multiple teams.  If you don’t just apply these ideas to businesses and include volunteer organizations, they often have very few volunteers to handle very many tasks. A team for each task is impossible.

We still have two options left.  Which is best of those two for achieving success?  It’s no contest; one is miserable to watch and the other is an overlooked gem.

I’ve rarely seen Option 3 work: “We’ve assigned a person to fix the problem.”  In my observations, the task is doomed from the assigned person’s first action. Most often their first action is: Delegate the task to subordinates.  What’s funny is those subordinates most often turn around and create their own Option 1 team of assigned people to fix the problem.  This new Option 1 team buried under Option 3 is a team more powerless and lacking of personal commitment than the worst purely Option 1 team.  These sad teams often encounter their first obstacle, stop, wait to see if anyone notices, then evaporate.

Today I’m fascinated by the practical workings of Option 4, “We’ve found a volunteer to fix the problem.”  My fascination was sparked last night as I attended a volunteer community group’s board meeting.  Half way through the meeting an appointed officer asked for the floor.  He told the board that he would love to stay on in his appointed position for another year, but he had a condition.  His condition was that he would not have a committee to assist him in his duties; he was going to be a one man show or nothing.  He didn’t offer this condition as a threat and there was no malice in his voice.  His condition was borne of knowing how he works best (he mentioned how he prefers to do his tasks sometimes late into the night or on breaks from his busy travel schedule) and breaking free of the burdens of scheduling committee meetings and coordinating others.  Those latter tasks were tasks he didn’t enjoy and he didn’t feel they were benefiting him or the community group.  You couldn’t argue with his results as the treasurer’s report showed money flowing into the organization (he’s chair of fund raising) and the board obviously appreciated his work by praising him often during the meeting.  Acting without a committee, he was proving to be a more than successful member of their team.

I’ve included all these details of his story because the detail shows you the burden of proof he put on himself to justify his “one man show” condition.  Desiring to work independently on a project is a rational position (i.e., allow me the fullest flexibility to play to my strengths and control my schedule while I commit to this duty I’ve accepted freely) yet this rational position, Option 4, is rarely taken.  Why? It shouldn’t require such a burden to prove it is a worthy choice of the four options.

Now what can you do armed with knowledge of these four options and aided by your own observations of their successes and failures (plus my two cents thrown on top)?  Next time you have a problem:

If you have enough people, try Option 2: We’ve found volunteers who’ve formed a team to fix the problem.

Then try Option 4, “We’ve found a volunteer to fix the problem,” and help them whenever they ask.

If you must, use only the purest form of Option 1, “We’ve assigned a team to fix the problem,” but look for passionate volunteers to add to their ranks as soon as you can.

And only if you don’t care if the problem ever gets solved, try Option 3, “We’ve assigned a person to fix the problem.

Pick a different option and see if your results improve. If you believe the research and your own observations, when you use Options 1 and 3, only one in five problems get fixed.

With those odds there’s a big upside to trying Options 2 and 4  if you’re just willing to change who you send out to fix the problem.

In the end it’s up to you, but why not try something different?

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