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Every teams project is a cat

By February 2, 2017June 15th, 2021No Comments

James Everingham, Head of Engineering at Instagram wrote an enlightening post entitled The Principles of Quantum Team Management. Having started his career at Oracle and Netscape, he has plenty of experience to share regarding team management.
He talks about how he originally found management tough and therefore started to design a management system for his own use the way he would design a machine or software system, with few dependencies, single owners and minimal decision points.
“Setting up your team the way you would set up a machine can give you a ton of leverage — as long as you realize how complicated and unpredictable the people in that machine can be”.
This is where he starts to draw a comparison between quantum mechanics to his term ‘quantum leadership’. Using the fundamental principle of quantum physics called ‘superposition’ and the ‘cat in the box’ theoretical experiment, which you may have heard before, he concludes that…
“Every team’s project is a cat, and every manager has to constantly decide whether to look in the box at the risk of killing it”.
In most management situations there’s a feeling that the voice of authority should lead, show the path, provide the answer, yet it’s nearly always better to guide a team so as to enable the creation of a better solution. It sounds like common sense, but how many times have you stepped up and jumped to provide the answer?
As soon as you say what you think the solution is, everyone gets less enthusiastic and therefore less creative (you open the box and kill the cat). Employees want, and need, to think, challenge and create in order to maintain there edge in a constantly changing environment. Plus if you offer a solution they’ll always expect you to come up with answer.
“Being a good manager is not about avoiding failure — it’s about enabling as many different paths forward as possible for as long as possible”.
He goes on to explain that visible hierarchy tends to limit creativity. If you didn’t know the job titles or levels of seniority of others in the team, the ideas would speak for themselves. Therefore traditional corporate infrastructure negatively influences team dynamics.
There are two things which also came to mind when I read the post;
1. The link with Dan Pink’s Drive and his outline of Autonomy, Mastery and Purpose — which for us is now about the changing expectations of employees, of more freedom, flexibility, a sense of purpose and ultimately empowerment.
2. How Culture suddenly starts to take centre stage — in order to hire or even retain great people the culture and environment in which they work becomes the determining factor (and maybe we should be using the word ‘work’ less often and lean more to ‘create’ since machine learning will be doing more of the ‘work’ and it’s the creation that’ll be important).
This is further underpinned in James’s final outline of his 5 Principles of Quantum Team Management:
1. Manage to multiple “states” as opposed to singular outcomes.
2. Be hyper-aware of the observer effect.
3. Know when to open the box.
4. Understand and create strategic entanglements.
5. Embrace the challenge of self-observation.

Agile teams and Culture are also key themes in our book
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Image source Michael Green

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