Good Intentions Are Not Enough, Part 3

Balancing Freedom of Motion With Guardrails

Reviewing my last two blog posts, I realize I still have more to say on this topic.

I am greatly challenged by this idea of guardrails and business rules. Generally speaking, I am a fan of The HP Way of management, where the idea is that you empower people to solve problems instead of having them paint by numbers. In fact, this was one of my very first blog posts when I first started writing almost five years ago.

How do you balance this leadership approach with setting constraints and rules on people?

So, as is my particular idiom, let me tell a story.

As a young kid playing soccer, there are generally two approaches to playing. The first is when a group of kids all gets together on the playground with a soccer ball, and the second is when you play the game of soccer with a field, goals, and sometimes a referee.

Although the first free-form approach is fun and valuable, you will not play much soccer. You might have fun, but there will be fights and arguments over rules. With the second approach, players use established boundaries and a framework. Players can focus on tactics and strategy and work together to achieve a common purpose.

The parallels to an organization here are apparent and provide a vital lesson. When you are focusing on accomplishing a specific milestone, such as a delivery for a customer, you need rules and boundaries and a framework to work together as a team. That’s how you can score goals most efficiently. But when you are in R&D mode, exploring and thinking of new ideas, you can open up the playing field a bit more. You are still on a playground, and you probably won’t score very many goals, but you might discover a fantastic new technique or game idea.

As a leader, think about the current scenarios for your organization and make sure that both of these fields are available for the team to use as applicable.

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