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When the Cat Is Away

Effective team performance in the absence of day to day management is a clear sign of trust


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So you are looking for the Holy Grail. You want your organization to be lean and scalable. A ninja-like operation – nimble and amenable to changes on all levels and on a continual basis. Sounds awesome –  it’s what every leader says they want, but how do you know if you are there or at least on the right path? Well one way to take your organization’s temperature is to watch how teams perform when their manager (cat) is out of the office.      

I still recall the advice of years past: Manage by walking around, where the daily presence of an authoritative figure was seen as the sign of a well-run organization. Employees knew they were expected to be at their desks and working hard. Leaders would wander the floor, observing, asking for updates and seeing if those TPS reports were done yet. Visiting leaders would look in the parking lot late in the afternoon observing how many cars remained, with a lack of cars resulting in some quiet words to local management. For many of us, this may sound like an exaggeration from a management style long abandoned. After all, it was 10 years ago when I heard almost that exact observation from one of our visiting executives, but management styles and employee attitudes change slowly and the impact of those old ways can still be seen if you know what to look for. 

Next time a leader takes that family camping trip or the long-awaited vacation to New Zealand, be a passive observer. 

Are decisions delayed?

Does throughput or energy wane?

Are meetings canceled because no one is there to drive them?

Perhaps folks start calling the next level leader to guide them or maybe call their boss while they are OOO. 

There may be good reasons for these things, however, consider some undesirable motives, such as a lack of empowerment or trust, which means you might have some work to do if you are striving for organizational flexibility. If, on the other hand, you see a team coming together, openly identifying and resolving challenges, volunteering to host meetings, and perhaps communicating decisions instead of questions , the odds are that you’ve built the foundation for a self-empowered team  and something powerful to build upon.

Effective team performance in the absence of day to day management is a clear sign of trust. Only a sense of mutual trust can lead to an empowered team capable of acting and reacting independently and efficiently. Leaders who build a foundation of trust are the keystone of a lean, scalable and truly agile organization and it shows most plainly when they aren’t around.

Bonus Tip: Looking for a lean organization? Manager time away doesn’t have to be all frolicking and fun.  They can take on other efforts if they have learned to avoid being pulled into the day to day on an ongoing basis.


Michael Oldach is a multi-disciplined leader in Healthcare IT.  He has guided teams in a variety of disciplines including development, software quality, customer support and operations. He is a certified SAFe Agile Scrum Master and Six Sigma Greenbelt.  Outside of work he enjoys Colorado’s diverse outdoors activities including Snowboarding, hiking, fishing and camping.

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