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Maybe Try Not To Help Quite So Much

November 26, 2019

We finished putting up our Christmas lights today. We is two of my 17 year old sons and me. Our Christmas display is kind of involved. We have LED lights around four of the windows facing the street. We also have blue and white icicle lights on the eves and a large lighted arch over the door. Finally, we have the railing from the house down to the street wrapped in sixteen 50′ strands. It’s all controlled by four controller boxes that my neighbor programs.

Wrapping the railing always takes the most time. And it has to be done in a particular way. Otherwise, the lights will be out of sequence when the program runs.

I had one of my sons doing a bunch of the wrapping this year. I explained how the lights needed to be arranged. I even did several of the sections. And when he got done, I needed to go back and rework some of the sections.

In fairness, he did better this year than he did last year. He’s willing to help, but doesn’t always know how. Anyone who’s raised kids knows that at times it’s easier to just do it yourself than to have kids, especially little kids help.

We let them “help” anyway, of course. It’s the only way they will learn how to actually help.

That works fine in families, but it’s harder to implement in business. There are certainly aspects of it. For example, I love working with interns and new college grads. They are new to business and often teachable. I enjoy teaching and helping to train new employees is a great opportunity to teach.

It’s harder when it’s management who is “helping.” As a program manager, my job is to take requests from clients and turn them into deliverables. I sometimes describe it as “pigs flying.” The client says, “I want flying pigs.” The program manager then goes to the development team and says, “the client needs animated gifs that look like porcine.”

As a program manager, or a team manager, the worst thing you can do is assume you know what the client, or your team needs. If you have a team member who said, “I need help on X,” don’t assume that you know what they mean or what they need.

In fact, the best option is simply to ask them. Talk to them. If you are going to build a solution, if you are going to respond to their request for help, don’t assume you already know what they need. You may end up building a solution without a problem.

Managers and teams need to have a partnership. Managers should never assume they understand their team’s challenges better than the team member.

Because what ends up happening is that rather than actually helping you end up making your team members’ jobs harder. Just as I had to go back and redo some of the work my son did on our railing, you end up causing your team member to do more work not less.

They are libel to prefer you’d rather not help at all.

Rodney M Bliss is an author, columnist and IT Consultant. His blog updates every weekday. He lives in Pleasant Grove, UT with his lovely wife, thirteen children and grandchildren.

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(c) 2019 Rodney M Bliss, all rights reserved

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