11 October 2023

The Concept of Dive Culture: Moving Away from an Authoritarian Management Style | Part 2: Control and Competence


In many organizations, leadership is about controlling people. The world in such companies is divided into two groups: leaders and doers. What we learn, assimilate or practice falls under this model. It is also present in literature and film. This distinction makes it possible to achieve a great deal, especially with excellent bosses.  

However, it was mainly developed at a time when a common man was poorly educated and was responsible mainly for manual work. As a result, its purpose is to extract from people layers of work of just this kind. Nowadays, the work we do is cognitive in nature, so this model is no longer suitable for white-collar employees. 

In the previous article, I described the first pillar of the concept – Clarity. Now I am going to focus on the other two aspects – Control and Competence. 


The concept of Dive Culture: Control 

Often, the logical inconsistencies of a project are not noticed at any of the review stages. This is because, at each stage, the team focuses on making sure that everything is correct in terms of content and process (documentation), rather than on making sure that the product can be of value to users. In short, during verification, the team puts an emphasis on avoiding errors, not on delivering value. 

Besides, some Investors expect the team to present a perfect product in the first go. Unfortunately, this does not go hand in hand with efficiency, as a lot of effort can go to waste. During each phase of the product verification process, the team should talk to the Product Owner. The fear of criticizing an incomplete plan/product must be overcome, and patience must be exercised in the development of the software. 

Control, according to the Dive Culture concept, involves making decisions about not only how we will work, but also what direction we are taking. Here are some mechanisms typical for managing control. 


  • Show me what you are working on 

It is important to realize that demanding perfect products at the very first inspection of implemented functionality can result in a sizable loss and frustration permeating the entire organization. That's why asking "Show me what you're working on" can reveal how a well-intentioned but misinterpreted intention can lead to a significant loss of resources. Short conversations at an early stage translate into better results. 


  • Intention 

Use the word 'Intend' to turn passive doers into active leaders. Simply say what you intend to do. Intend is a powerful control management mechanism (as are other 'stand-alone phrases' like plan, will do so). This may seem like a minor linguistic trick, but it puts the responsibility for planning and working entirely in the hands of the team. It is therefore ultimately worthwhile for team members to present complete thought processes and rationale for what they had planned to do. 


  • Fight the temptation to provide solutions 

Some time should be set aside for others to be able to respond to the situation. You need to create space for reaching an open decision with the whole team – even if it is to last a few minutes more. In this way, the team anticipates decisions and communicates its needs. 

If a decision needs to be made, ask for a red team exercise – this is a group whose job is to increase the efficiency of an organization by taking an unfavorable stance or a point of view. This group challenges the plans, operations, or ideas of the organizations concerned, which results in an in-depth analysis. If there is little time to make a decision, ask the team for quick input, then make it. If a decision can be postponed, force the team to offer their own input to the solution. Value disagreement. If all team members think like you, you don't need them. 


  • Think out loud 

In general, the idea is to think out loud, saying what our goal is and why. The team should think out loud, expressing their worries, concerns, and reflections. This strategy contributes a lot and creates a much more flexible system. When I can hear what my team members are thinking about, it is easier not to intervene and let the plan run its course.  


  • Approach inspections enthusiastically, see audits as a development opportunity 

In the event of doing something completely innovative and uniquely expert, auditors should be seen as advocates, with whom we share our practices. When it comes down to areas where we are doing poorly, see them as a source of information and solutions. "I have a problem with this. Do you know how other teams solve it?" This allows you to learn more and do your job extraordinarily well.  


The concept of Dive Culture: Competence 


Competence means that a person has the expertise to make a specific decision. To strengthen competence, the following mechanisms can be implemented. 


  • Take thoughtful action 

The mechanism is to initiate thoughtful actions. Expressing them with intentions (and gestures if necessary) in the presence of the team. It allows everyone to intervene and correct erroneous actions even before they are taken. Many people talk about teamwork but do not elaborate on the mechanisms needed to implement it. Taking deliberate action is certainly such a mechanism. 


  • We learn (always and everywhere) 

If you have to do what you are told, you do not need to understand your craft. If, on the other hand, your decision-making ability increases, you will need detailed technical knowledge on which to base those decisions. The greater technical knowledge of your team will automatically result in greater commitment, motivation, and initiative. This is why it is so important to encourage your team to elevate themselves to a higher level of competence. 


  • Don't instruct, confirm that they can do the job properly 

Confirming readiness differs from instructing in that, during confirmation, the team manager asks the team members questions. Confirming readiness ends with a decision on whether the team is ready to carry out the upcoming activity. In this case, the role of each team member becomes important, as each is responsible for knowing his or her tasks. 


  • Repeat your goal frequently and consistently 

Repeat the goal every day, in every meeting, in every circumstance. Does it seem unnecessary? Boring? On the contrary. It makes the purpose of your actions clear.  


  • Define goals, not methods 

Indicate what your end goal is, not the specific methods. By doing so, you will give the team the motivation to devise the best possible strategy to solve the problem. When you free people from 'just do as I tell you', they will start coming up with lots of nifty ideas. Such a principle forces a focus on achieving goals/excellence rather than simply avoiding mistakes. 


Control and Competence – summary 

In summary, leadership is about communicating your values and potential to people clearly enough to inspire them to see it in themselves. Leadership is also an art. The art of enabling, of unleashing human potential and talent. Human genius, passion, loyalty, and persistent creativity can only be voluntary.  


At the heart of this model lies giving team members control over the work they do and how they do it. In practice, this comes down to allowing them to make their own decisions. This is because I believe that human beings are born motivated by nature, in a state of readiness to take action. They just need to be given the opportunity to do so. At the end of the day, it is unlikely that an inherently passive species will take over this planet. 


If you are interested in this topic, I encourage you to read the book: David Marquet's ”Turn the ship around! A true story of turning followers into leaders”. 


Agnieszka Topczewska-Pińczuk
Scrum Master | Project Manager

I believe that anything I do, I do for the end-user. I maximise value by:

- setting a path to the product's goal, helping developers do what they need to do

- frequently inspecting the result of their work to confront assumptions with reality

- adapting to the changing needs of Stakeholders based on feedback and measurable data.

I manage IT products agilely and know how to make your vision a reality. Would you like to work with me?