Posted by Raechel Logan in Ty Kiisel: Strategic Project Management
I started my career in the industrial business. I worked with contractors, machinists and other tradesmen who were building and maintaining factories, refineries and other such structures. I spent most of my time with mechanical engineers and their blue line drawings. It was a much different work from the high tech world I live in now.
Some time ago, at the recommendation of a colleague, I read the book Shop Craft as Soulcraft
by Matthew Crawford. It was less a book about the author's love of motorcycles and more about the psychology of work than I had expected, but I enjoyed it. Because of my experiences as a young man, I think I could relate to his descriptions of the tactile nature of the work done in the trades as opposed to the more esoteric work done by knowledge workers in the high tech world of software and computers.
In the chapter titled The Contradictions of the Cubicle
, Crawford describes the difference between the way a team of knowledge workers is led and the way a construction crew is directed. I think there is something we can learn from his description:"...In the trades, a master offers his apprentice good reasons for acting in one way rather than another, the better to realize ends the goodness of which is readily apparent. The master has no need for a psychology of persuasion that will make the apprentice compliant to whatever purposes the master might dream up; those purposes are given and determinate. He does the same work as the apprentice, only better. He is able to explain what he does to the apprentice, because there are rational principles that govern it. Or he may explain a little, and the learning proceeds by example and imitation. For the apprentice there is a progressive revelation of the reasonableness of the master's actions. He may not know why things have to be done a certain way at first, and have to take it on faith, but the rationale becomes apparent as he gains experience. Teamwork doesn't have this progressive character. It depends on group dynamics, which are inherently unstable and subject to manipulation."
I'm not suggesting that project leaders need to have the same type of expertise as those working on the project team (the master and apprentice relationship). However, I think we can learn something by how the master interacts with the apprentice. It's definitely not from a private office behind a closed door.
I often wonder how much more effective a project leader could be if he or she stepped away from the computer, put down the Gantt chart and spent time with team members helping overcome obstacles and facilitating an environment where individuals on the project team could learn and succeed. I have met many project leaders who do this, and I observe that they are also very successful and an integral part of an organization's success (unfortunately, they are not always the norm).
Over the last couple of years we've heard a lot about the "new normal" and how it is impacting knowledge workers, project teams and project success. To be an effective project leader, I think we need to embrace some of the practices that are considered successful among the crews that work in the trades.
In my opinion, an important part of leadership is a willingness to roll up the sleeves and pitch in on a regular basis. I know that I have appreciated the leaders I have had who were willing to do that during my career. What's more, they seem to have a better handle on what I was doing and were better able to help me succeed.
Does it makes sense to lead a project team of knowledge workers the same way a master directs the work of an apprentice? Probably not, but there are things we can learn from that relationship—and I think we should.