People problems are generally system problems

Consider a few situations that we’ve all likely been through.

a) A few folks on your broader product team seem to frequently spend their time chasing crazy ideas with no result to show for them.

b) You are working on an initiative with folks across multiple teams and find yourself constantly dealing with issues related to miscommunication.

c) You have a cross-functional partner who can’t seem to stop sending you new requests.

d) Your sales team just doesn’t seem to be cooperating.

In each of these situations, it is tempting to think you are dealing with people problems and that the solution is to simply isolate the characters involved and “deal with them.”

In truth, however, each of these could either be partially or completely fixed with better process/systems. a) The product team would spend their time better if the planning process was more rigorous, b) the multi-team initiative needs regular alignment meetings where the issues are consistently surfaced, c) the cross-functional partner needs to be made aware of your priorities (a shared doc?) and could benefit from a light-weight requests process, and d) the sales team likely needs better incentives to cooperate better.

Good management – whether within your team or in your project – is less about dealing with individual people and their preferences and a lot more about thinking in systems that will solve the people problems you face.

And, the first step to being that systems thinker is to be able to say – show me the people problem and I’ll show you the system problem that is the actual root cause.