I recently attended a workshop called ‘Beyond Management – how to get to grips with social complexity and the desire to control’. It was hosted by our friends at Development Action and facilitated by Allan Kaplan and Sue Davidoff from The Proteus Initiative.
The description of the workshop was: ‘to provide participants with an experience, one which gives people working in a social context a different way of interpreting the work they do, and through this, a better understanding of what can and can’t be managed’.
In other words; how to stop being a control freak.
Well at least that was my impression and that is definitely a lesson that I know I need to learn over and over again. (I’m famous for my to-do lists.) Judging by the responses of most of the other people there, it’s a lesson others need reminding of occasionally too.
The points I remember most are these:
1. In life and work we are all subject to factors and events which are utterly out of our control. This could be decisions by Ministers, global events or behaviour of others. This unpredictability can be frustrating and often our response as managers is to try to exert control. Yet unpredictability is part of life. We can’t (and shouldn’t) control people, so why do we think we can ‘manage’ them?
2. Often there is already a built-in order in what seems like chaos. Our instincts (or job descriptions) often mean that we try to control things which feel chaotic. But when a rigid external framework of order is imposed on an organic process it may never do the entire project justice. We may miss subtle, but important parts of process.
The challenge laid out to us in the workshop was this: Instead of trying to ‘manage’ people and control projects we could increasingly view our roles as facilitators. This would mean increasing our trust in people and processes to manage themselves. How many of us in management positions are willingly to make ourselves that vulnerable, especially when we ourselves are perhaps being held to rigid requirements?