This was the question asked by a head hunter as we were exploring a position she was trying to fill in for her client. I took a pause, thought about it and said “Yeah, sure”. And that conversation thread stopped there while we moved onto other aspects of the job description.
This is an attempt to discuss this topic in more details. There are two broad types of roles:
a. Individual contributor– When you do not have a team reporting to you and you must do/drive things on your own
b. Team management– you have certain people who report to you. You are responsible for their work- allocation, review, improvements, etc.
One might argue that having this black and white approach to essentially classify every role in the industry might not be good idea.
Origin of this classification, I could assume will be from manufacturing industries- a worker will mind his/her own business and the supervisor will mind the workers.
But is it ok to extrapolate this to our knowledge/ service economy?
This forms the basic premise and reason for this piece- to ignite discussions and debates on this often neglected and having a very simplistic view while hiring or designing the organization. And also understand from you- where do you fall? You see this relevant question in your day to day work life?
A Product manager is typically classified as an Individual contributor role. One of my friends who works with a large eCommerce company tries to explain this by saying “You will need to exercise influence over multiple stakeholders without having authority to do so”.
Interesting choice of words- Influence & Authority. Over who? Teams.
Day 1 of my new job — My CEO said “Though it is an individual contributor role, you have to manage everything on your own. We won’t be able to help you. We have 6 vendor teams. You need to weave magical thread and keep all of them in same line. They won’t report to you. But you will have to manage and build their capabilities and ensure successful deliveries”. Phew!
Where am I? Drive a team of 100 people but you are an individual contributor role…
Another myth, individual contributors are aloof, introvert, socially-awkward people who because of their social skills or lack thereof are doing their work in isolation. I agree not.
Most of individual contributor roles, I have seen are natural consensus builders who know how to navigate across teams spanning multiple geographies and move everyone towards a common goal.
The world does not function in silos. Neither does the IC role. There are human interactions, influencing, pushing, cajoling, fights…Short of deciding the salary of the person you are working with*, rest every dynamic is same as of team management.
*if your organization believes in 360 degree feedback, there goes this perk as well.
For team management roles, it no longer be measurable by aggregating output from your team members. If your 10-member team is making outbound calls, 100 each every day, you are not making 1000 calls. That cannot be the sole KPI. This breeds inefficiency and lack of accountability.
For my team leaders, I always ask them to think of projects/initiatives they will drive on their own and they will assume ownership and accountability.
I see most of 100% team management roles transitioning to be a lesser % of team management and more of semi/fully autonomous teams who are facilitated/guided by a team leader/manager who will have his/her own set of deliverables.
It might sound cruel to a few people. Isn’t it difficult to manage people- handle their tantrums, eccentricities and getting work out of them.
Performances cannot be improved if you are a hanging sword all the time. Creativity needs nurturing. Direction and a whole lot of factors which are outside this article’s scope.
I see a lot of interviewers specifically asked “What have YOU done instead of asking team management related questions”.
There is a certain anathema about being a manager these days- managing people. People prefer being called leaders than managers because it adds a certain abstraction to otherwise same role of effectively leading people and getting things done- the charisma, the drive, energy, passion, long term thinking- all terms for which there is no definitive quantitative measure. Another aspect seems like a tactic to save their jobs. Managers are rationalized in cost cutting initiatives, leaders are not.
So next time you get into this conversation or have to design your team, think about if you need to create such boundaries. It is restrictive not only in thinking but in overall design as well. Usually, it is in hands of the person doing the role to define the role- the Good, the Bad or the Ugly aspect of it is the delivery or results.
Moral of the story: There is convergence of both team management & individual contributor roles into a single role which has elements of both- having some deliverables which you own and work on individually- research, write a paper and drive work via directly reporting or non-reporting teams.
No job works in isolation or being in total people management zone. Be flexible enough to do what is required to get the job done.
It is an important design element of overall Organization. If built right, the interactions and expectations can lead to much better results than convoluted understandings and setting boundaries around job families. A focus on the tasks at hand and let the “how” determined by people.