Constant Gardening

Effective management is not an end goal, but a process.

photo of Fausto Sannino
Fausto Sannino

Project Manager

Posted on Dec 14, 2017

How effective management is a continuing story of growth

Producers’ Style

One of the things I struggled the most with in the past year was identifying the best way to lead my teams. I worked a lot on myself, observed my peers, and tried to learn from my leads, but in the end, I ran into into the well known dilemma: task-focused or people-focused management, which one is best?

Task-focused management combines strong analytical skills with an intense motivation to move forward and solve problems. People-focused management combines skills like communication and empathy. Teams are heterogeneously comprised of people with different needs and behaviours but based on my experience, they too eventually sort themselves into one of two macro categories:

  • Result-oriented - Team members who love organized work, take responsibility, are generally self-confident, challenging and energetic. They pay attention to details and processes, and tend to be reliable and conscientious.
  • Relationship-oriented - Team members who naturally focus on relationships, take care of others’ feelings, are good at building cohesion, and tend to be warm, diplomatic, and approachable.

Your personal style

What is our personal style and what happens when we apply the right approach, but with the wrong team?

Task-focused management is an attitudinal and behavioral approach where the leader, manager or supervisor focuses primarily on getting the work done. When this style is applied on result-oriented teams, high standards are maintained and with great efficiency. Team members rely on the structure and have good time management due to clear and sensible deadlines.

However, task-oriented management can lead to bottlenecks, reducing autonomy and creativity, and fostering dissatisfaction. This can have a negative effect on a company’s products as well, since it tends to kill innovation. Leaders who centralize all process or insert themselves too aggressively into decision making can overwhelm and suffocate team members with quieter personalities.

Applied to relationship-oriented teams, task-focused management can be perceived as uncaring: too many process to follow, no room for dialogue, top-down decision making, and the perception of autocratic organization. Working under intense scheduling and excessive task orientation can bring the company culture down. People who are self-motivated could become rebels in this kind of environment and it can affect the rate of employee retention in the medium/short term.

By contrast, a people-oriented management style tends to energize people because it makes them feel appreciated. This kind of leader cares about tasks and schedules, but believes that work culture is more important. People-oriented management makes people feel that they make a difference in the company. Each decision is shared and accepted following a totally transparent process.

Where this style falls down is that managers often invest so much time on relationship building through meetings and team-building exercises that delays occur. Some relationship-oriented leaders give employees allow autonomy to the extent that tasks may not be completed on time. Moreover, when applied to a result-oriented team, the lack of guidance, direction and organization can be a point of frustration and even stress.


There is no one 'right way' to manage, but a balance of multiple aspects

Finding Balance

We require leaders who try to balance both approaches. Some of us are naturally more task-focused: we tend to be good at decision making, problem solving and delegating. And some of us are naturally inclined to focus on empathy, listening, including others and encouraging cooperation.

Neither approach is better than the other. Starting with our natural management approach, we should strive to incorporate the strengths of the other style. People-focused managers can improve their decision making, while task-focused managers can try to be more empathetic for example. We add to our natural style new skills training, mentoring, experimenting, coaching or self-study, thus complementing the natural management style we already have.

The fundamental message is that you show the team you really care about them and their wellbeing. We should work as gardeners instead of craftsmen, as Nobel Prize-winning economist Friedrich August von Hayek advised in his 1974 acceptance speech.

When we create something we have a sense of control; we have a plan and an end goal. When the craftsman builds the table, it's built. Being a gardener is different. You have to create the environment, tending to the plants and knowing when to leave them alone. You have to make sure the environment is fertile for everything you want to grow (different plants have different needs), and even after the harvest you aren’t done. You need to turn the earth and, in essence, start again. There is no end state if you want something to grow. For both result-oriented and people-oriented teams, there is no ‘completed table’, only constant growth and, with conscious effort, improvement.

Fausto Sannino is a project manager at Zalando Payments.

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