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Letters to a Young Manager

The Lego's Lesson, #9
LTYM > Managing People II

Dear Sophie,
You asked about how to handle a deadline with your team. The short answer is "it depends."

One of my earliest management training classes had a fun exercise using Lego blocks. Our objective was to build a house with windows and a car from a small bucket of Lego's. We broke into three teams in three rooms: front-line supervisor, middle manager and senior manager. The senior manager had the budget, and a clear goal with spec's. The supervisor led the team that was to build the house. And the middle manager ran between the two. [2]

The first part of the exercise was about talking about the process as we went along, taking the time to review what went well and not so well, and how to improve.

Then the exercise changed to build a similar house, but on a very tight deadline. Everyone became task focused. All the process concerns went out the window. There was only time to do. Those who objected were shut-down by the singular focus: get it done! There was no time discuss anything; and no time to improve.

What it taught us was that sometimes good communication is hindered by the chain of command, and sometimes it's hampered by an unrealistic time-frame. As a manager, sometimes you need to focus on the what, and sometimes on the how. It depends.

[1] The Chase Manhattan Management training course, Waterville Valley, NH.
[2] This first part was also a separate exercise about communication among the management levels, the problems of the chain of command, etc.


Leadership is situational

Discussion Questions:

1) What experiences can you point to where deadlines impacted the project, whether too tight or too loose?
2) What problems may be created by having too much time for a project?
3) What suggestions do you have to mitigate tight deadlines? (Hint: think phases)

For Further Reading:

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