Two logging companies with 10 people each challenged the other to a contest to see who could chop down the most trees over the course of a week. One team decided they could go faster if all 10 of them hacked at trees all day. The other team decided to surrender one team member to be their Enabling Manager with a focus on production capability. Who do you think won?
The team with 10 choppers won the first day. And then they never won again.
Although they all swung hard and were able to cut down many trees, they were much more exhausted and had to chop more times to cut down each tree. They were working harder, with more team members, but were getting less done because their processes were not as effective as the nine-person team. Each day, they produced less and less than their competition, and they dealt with more injuries, problems, and morale problems.
When they compared their performance with the other team, they would become frustrated because they thought they should be winning–they were working harder! The more frustrated they became, the harder they flailed their axes in desperation. Ultimately, their production failed completely and they decided to go home.
The team with nine choppers and one Enabling Manager lost the first day, because one less person was chopping. Yet they won continuously after that because their future performance was being enabled in every way by their Enabling Manager.
Here are some of the things the Enabling Manager might have spent time doing to enable their team (you can probably think of many more):
- Sharpening axes, and finding ways for people to keep their own axes sharpened during down times
- Researching tree notching and cutting techniques that would help workers fell trees faster
- Testing whether working together to cut down trees is faster or slower than doing it alone
- Finding the best steel-tipped boots and other clothing to protect against work injuries
- Investigating the best foods and snacks for energy, the best rest schedules for performance
- Coordinating the clearing of felled trees to make way for the chopping of new trees
- Researching the replacement of axes with chainsaws so the team could eventually take tree cutting to a whole new level
At first, it may seem counter-intuitive to dedicate one person to improving the capability of production, yet production is not effective unless someone enables it. The Enabling Manager is a specialized role that ineffective organizations will not support or understand. It is also a role that many production-focused individuals will not excel in. The key is to find someone who has eyes to see past visible content to the context, dynamics, and levers that drive empowerment and excellence behind the scenes.