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Are they Working Hard?

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Esther Derby posted an article on her blog in which she examines the perception that all team members must be percieved to be "working hard" irrespective of the level of value being delivered.  The piece is titled "BUT ARE THEY WORKING HARD?

She opens by identifying the "lingering concern" that many managers face when their teams start to become self-organizing:

Recently, I met with a group of managers who work in an organization moving towards agile methods. People seem to be happy working on cross-functional teams. They solve problems and work things out without management intervention. Best of all, they produce working software that the customers like. This makes the managers happy. 

But the managers have a lingering concern: How will we know that senior developers are doing senior level work? How will we know they aren’t slacking off?

She relates the concern to "manager think" which focuses on individual achievement, rather than value produced by a team working together - assessment/ranking systems in most organisations emphasise the work of individuals over teamwork. 

Individual ranking/rating systems ignore interdependency. Finely differentiated job grade levels reinforce the notion that its possible to put a neat box around each person’s contribution. Further, they focus attention on “doing my job” –or not doing a job that a more senior (or more junior) person should do–rather than on accomplishing a broader goal–such as delivering customer value. Narrow functional descriptions (automation tester, exploratory tester, front end tester) have the same effect.

She points out a common perception:

Some people in management believe that if people aren’t pushed, pressured, and held accountable, they’ll slack off.

This results in micromanagement and task assignment focus that actually detracts from productivity:

Sometimes people create the appearance of striving (and doing senior level work) when they are pushed, pressured, and “held accountable.” 

She discusses the perception of "social loafing":

People talk about social loafing as if it is morally wrong for one person to reduce his effort because others are working at the same task. I hear the same logic when a well-functioning team makes work look easy. Someone inevitably complains that if they aren’t struggling, they must not be working hard.

She ends with the statement:

When people are in small teams, and engaged in meaningful work, social loafing is rare and working hard is common. But it might not look that way to someone who hasn’t see a thriving team.


One common approach to "working hard" seen in many organizations is to expect teams and individuals to work longer hours.  Unfortunately the evidence indicates that this does more harm than good.  INC columnist Jessica Stilman examines the impact of extended working hours on productivity and performance.  In an article titled "Why Working More Than 40 Hours a Week is Useless

According to a handful of studies, consistently clocking over 40 hours a week just makes you unproductive (and very, very tired).

She summarizes research which shows that short bursts of overtime can result in brief productivity improvements, but that consistently working long hours detracts from performance:

The clear takeaway here is to stop staying at the office so late, but getting yourself to actually go home on time may be more difficult psychologically than you imagine. . . For many of us, there's actually a pretty strong correlation between how busy we are and how important we feel. 

Long hours, in other, words are often more about proving something to ourselves than actually getting stuff done.

What happens in your organisation - do managers focus on working hard or producing results?

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