#85 - 1 Oct 2021
The cost of informal leadership; avoid late integration
Research: Informal Leadership Comes at a Cost - Chia-Yen (Chad) Chiu, Jennifer D. Nahrgang, Ashlea Bartram, Jing Wang, and Paul Tesluk, HBR
It won’t surprise you to learn that leading and managing takes a lot of time and energy, and sometimes comes at a cost of some good will. But if you have a formal leadership role, you at least have the authority of role power to back you up, and it’s your main job, not taking you away from other tasks.
But if you are lucky enough to have informal leaders on your team who are taking on responsibilities and doing the glue work of multiplying a team’s efforts, they’re not so lucky. The leadership work takes time and energy, causes some friction with team members, but they don’t get a pay bump, titled authority, or (typically) time away from their IC duties.
And we often put good team members in this position on purpose, to give them the opportunity to take on more responsibilities and grow their skills. We’re doing it for good reasons, which is fine, but it’s important to recognize the costs and support them.
Chiu et al. suggest:
Be a leadership coach
Communicate your expectations
Build a pipeline of informal leaders
and supporting your informal-leader team members by encouraging them to stay aware of their needs and energy levels, and helping them out when they need it (by taking work off their plate or adding support).
This one hits close to home, because our team is now in month number… well, let’s not dwell on details, but our team has been dealing with this for a while now, and it’s my fault. I assigned a big chunk of work without breaking it down, it turned into a massive long-lived branch form hell, and a number of important efforts are blocked on it.
Had I taken action earlier it would have been painful but straightforward to clean up, but now there’s no way out but through.
This isn’t just a software development thing, either. The longer individual pieces of a project go without having to work together, the worse the possible misalignment that can be discovered when they do connect.
Lankford points out three problems that I can personally attest to:
Silos [caused by unintegrated branches] break teams apart and cause delays
Increased inventory [of unfinished work] contributes to delays, which erodes team morale
Slow feedback leads to stagnation and painful rework
Anyway, don’t be like me, take Lankford’s advice and prevent this situation from happening in the first place, and if it does (a) fix it, even if it means throwing out work and (b) fix what caused it in the first place (in my case, assigning large-scoped un-groomed work) so it doesn’t happen again.