Managing is investment in the highest quality input to get the highest quality output from teams

Joris Merks-Benjaminsen
November 13, 2023
Share this post
This is some text inside of a div block.
A young tree doesn’t grow faster when you pull it hard. It’s more likely to die.

On the Managing Without Power site, in the course, and on the book cover I use the symbol of a tree with coloured dots. The tree is a powerful analogy for the investments required to grow teams and organizations that are bigger and stronger than yourself. The analogy is also a reminder of what not to do.

When you think you can create a high performing team or organization by just raising the performance bar, you’re wrong.

The tree represents three things in the context of Managing Without Power:

  1. The uselessness of driving performance by pressuring people, and ongoingly asking them to report back results to you: a young tree doesn’t grow faster when you pull it hard. In fact it’s more likely to die, the same way you kill intrinsic motivation by pressuring and micro-managing a team.
  2. The importance of investing in the things that really matter: nurture a tree and it will grow into something bigger and stronger than yourself. Personal care, trust, safety, clarity, encouragement and meaning bring people to the highest level of performance.
  3. The importance of clipping: a tree grows stronger when you cut away the unhealthy branches, and branches that compete for light and energy. When you fail to hold low performers in your team accountable, or don’t deal with behavior that isn’t in line with team norms, your team will never be high performing.   

Many managers told me they don’t have the time to do the things I advocate for. For instance, many said they can’t afford to spend several hours on a career conversation, or to meet for an hour weekly with each team member that reports directly into them. I acknowledge the job of a manager is fragmented and full of conflicting demands, so you’re always time poor. But managing is an investment game. Output is a consequence of input. When you try to get a team to perform by demanding output, yet don’t invest enough in high quality input, you never get there. Problems keep circling back, solid or high performers leave, while low performers REFUSE to leave. When you fail to invest early, things keep popping up that demand your time on a moment you no longer control. The amount of time you lose then is larger than what your investments would have cost.

Even worse is loss of opportunity: a high performing team that works based on intrinsic motivation typically delivers more than you ask for. They come up with solutions you didn’t think of. Finally, a high performing team attracts more great people. Managing Without Power is about investment in high quality input, to get the highest quality output. There is nothing that you can do as an individual that is faster, better, more impactful or more efficient than what a high performing team or organization can do. So investing in your team almost always pays off many times.

Why the coloured dots in the tree? Because there’s no way you get there without consciously investing in inclusion. A high performing team or organization is one where all kinds of people can be their best self and work well as a team, so inclusion is the ‘default setting’.

When you think you can create a high performing team or organization by just raising the performance bar, you’re wrong: what you’ll get is a culture of swimming or drowning, where people compete rather than collaborating, and where primarily people with somewhat thick skin and sharp elbows succeed and survive. Raising the bar for performance starts with investing in your team by applying five brilliant basics:

  1. Meaningful conversations about career and personal growth: seeing the full person, as unbiased as you can.
  2. Aligning direction and expectations by writing clear objectives and key results with your team members, preferably every quarter. 
  3. Being disciplined with meaningful meeting habits and cultivation of team norms, preferably every day.
  4. Measuring progress and providing ongoing support and feedback.
  5. Fair and predictable performance reviews.

When you think you can’t afford the time needed to do these things ask yourself one more question: would I also not be able to find this time if it were the boss of my boss asking for input?

The book Managing Without Power is now available on all local Amazon stores. Curious about our trainings Managing Without Power for managers and leaders? Check

Share this post
This is some text inside of a div block.