As part of “Project 2012,” the team established an explicit expectation that we all operated as a unified team, and that we were all accountable and dependent on each other. This may seem like something every team should have, but the point was to explicitly state – and collectively agree – that we would operate in this manner from now on, and to acknowledge that team success depended on team cohesion.
Rather than a traditional org chart of any kind – even a very flat one of manager (me) and then the rest of the staff reporting up – we are formed more in the shape of a 7-sided polygon. Not only is each point connected to a neighboring point, but also to everyone other point. It’s like a 7-point web, really (but a polygon is easier to visualize when I’m describing it to others). We are all the same level. Each position is empowered to act individually to the benefit of the team. Each position has internal and external responsibilities. The Classrooms and Media Production Manager, for instance, has the internal operational responsibilities of updating our classrooms, the internal programmatic responsibility of researching new educational technology that can be used by faculty in those rooms, and the external responsibility to interface with university Media Services. Law Tech is dependent on the Classrooms Manager to keep up with Media Services such that we are effectively never surprised. The Classrooms Manager is dependent on Law Tech to support efforts made while collaborating with Media Services, provide input, etc.
The polygon is actually also a great management tool. It may seem that the team is decentralized but, because the dependencies are emphasized so heavily, one can never go too far without running into a checkpoint with another team member. One can have an idea about a classroom technology, talk to other schools that have used it, and talk to the manufacturer. But once a reseller is contacted, a dependency on the budget manager (me) comes into play. Even before that, dependencies on Operations to make sure the new technology will fit our overall maintenance system or on the Help Desk to make sure the technology can be supported arise. Each person on the other end – me as budget manager, Operations for maintenance and Help Desk for support – depends on the Classrooms Manager to check in with us at the appropriate points. Failure to do so is letting us down.
In an ideal world, the polygon empowers individuals, improves communications, and leads to overall team improvements in creativity, collaboration, and performance. At the least, it allows me to expect more from the team (and myself – this isn’t always easy for me to navigate, either) and react to deviations from the polygon approach as appropriate. So I’m not giving up all responsibility – far from it. I am asking each team member to step up (and of course I am putting myself in the mix at the exact same level, which I think is a good part of a team-based operation).
As today is my first back from paternity leave, having put in the polygon – at least conceptually – proved to be very comforting as I shifted all of my attention to my family. I knew things would not go perfectly (and truth be told I’m still sifting through stuff now) but I also knew that, when in doubt, the team could “go to the polygon” and ask more of each other, and have more asked of them.
We’ll see how the next few weeks go as I switch back to a more regular schedule.