Thursday, December 1, 2011

Part 11 - Don't put all your ranking officers in one shuttlecraft.

(This is part 11 in a series of 16 posts about IT leadership in higher education titled Everything I Need to Know about IT Management I Learned from Star Trek. See Part 0 - Introduction for the full list.)

According to Star Trek you should never put all your ranking officers in one shuttlecraft. If we were to apply this rule to management, I would suggest this rule is about diversifying your risk while at the same time learning from the diversification.

We don’t normally use shuttlecraft at work, but I like to think this rule is about making sure your leadership team isn’t all thinking the same way. In other words, diversify your risk by diversifying your team. Look for ways to avoid groupthink. Look for ways to prevent your whole team from having a similar mindset and doing everything the same way. Create a leadership team of differing personalities. You want a leadership team with broad perspectives and unique problem solving techniques.

For you as their leader it makes your job harder in the short term because you need to blend a very diverse set of skills. But it is easier in the long term because you get more bandwidth and capacity to handle a broader range of complex issues. Varying perspectives may require more effort to coordinate, but they keep you out of trouble and help prevent bad, narrow-minded decisions.

I worked for a manager early on in my career who insisted that everyone on his software development team have a computer science degree from the same university. With that sort of similar background we were able to gain consensus very easily and quickly. But we had a very narrow view of the world. That tendency prevented us from trying different approaches and solutions.

As a team, we came up with technologically innovative algorithms and elegant back-end systems. But none of us had any user interface design experience or training. Our brilliant solutions were nearly impossible to use by normal human beings. Diverse skills and attitudes would have prevented this problem from happening.

So don’t use one shuttle craft, use many. Spread out your risk and learn from a multitude of different voices. Voices whose hearts and souls come from very different places to sing together in one choir. As a manager, your role is the conductor, the teacher, and the mentor who builds the choir.


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