5 min read

Sharing Is Caring

Sharing Is Caring
Share Bear! I'm more familiar with the 80's version though. All credit to Boomerang?

As time goes on, it has become increasingly obvious that the space I'm responsible for is too big and I can't manage it all alone.

I mean, I could, but stretching myself that thin feels like it would end badly. Nobody wants that. Not me, not the people I'm responsible for, not my manager and certainly not the business.

Thanks to some organisational shifts over the last few quarters, I've started sharing my space with a fellow manager of excellent pedigree.

It reminded me that I was never very good at sharing, so I've got some reflections.

Share Bear Was The One Focused On Sharing

The first reflection is about alignment.

When you're a solo manager occupying a space, alignment is important. You need to align with your manager, your peers and your senior engineers to minimise confusion and ensure that things progress smoothly.

But it's nowhere near as important as when you're sharing that space with another manager. Somehow who has equal stake in the decisions being made and the direction being set. A partner, rather than a slightly disconnected peer.

The last thing you want to do is give people mixed messages, and for two managers sharing a space when they are used to operating mostly alone, creating mixed messages is irritatingly easy.

As is typical in these sorts of situations, the most important mitigation is communication. Over-communication in fact.

Don't assume that the other manager has the same stance and opinion about various things as you do, actually check. Don't arbitrarily make decisions unless it is very clear that the decision you're making only affects a slice of the space that you are wholly responsible for.

In fact, even then, just don't.

It doesn't take much effort to send a Slack message to your managerial counterpart and then wait a few moments before shooting your mouth off.

What it takes is discipline and patience though, which definitely require adjustment if you're not used to it.

It doesn't mean you have to be perfectly aligned. In fact, don't aim for that, because it's impossible. People are different and that's okay. In fact, that's a good thing, because you get different ideas and points of view, which can make the end result better than if it only considered the perspective of a single person.

I Mean, They Were All Pretty Good At It

The second reflection is about strengths and weaknesses.

As much as you might like to think that you're capable of doing anything and everything, the truth is that you're better at some things than you are at others. That's entirely normal by the way, and nothing to be ashamed of.

Sharing a space with another manager is a fantastic opportunity to find ways to align the work that needs to get done with the strengths of the person doing it.

Note that I'm not saying each person should restrict themselves to only the work that they are good at.

That would be silly. You still need to be able to grow and improve in your weaker areas and engineering a way to not do that sort of work is a recipe for disaster. You'll leave huge gaps in your skills and experience, limiting your future effectiveness.

If you're lucky, like me, the manager that you're sharing the space with has complementary skills. They are good at things you're not and vice-versa.

This is the best possible situation to find yourself in.

Not only do you get better outcomes in general (as a result of playing to your strengths), but when it comes time to improve on your weakest areas, you have an expert right there who can help you get better.

For example, I'm highly organised, good at following patterns, conscientious and excellent at communicating context and change. I'm less good at dealing with vague situations, coming up with ideas of my own and building close relationships.

So, I take a lot of responsibility for building and maintaining our project backlog, ensuring that we regularly groom it and that we have all of the information that we need in order to make good decisions during planning.

My managerial counterpart takes more responsibility for the people side of things and tends to have a much more accurate read on how people are feeling and why. They also help to motivate me to push through vagaries and generate clarity.

It's a pretty sweet deal.

I Don't Know If They Shared Sharing Though

The last reflection is on decision making.

As a manager, you make a lot of decisions. What takes priority over what, who is working on what, what restaurant to go to during social activities, what processes the team should use, etc, etc.

A good manager doesn't make decisions in isolation. They work collaboratively with the people they are responsible for, gather opinions, collate the information and then ensure the decision is made so that things keep moving forward.

They are ultimately accountable, though not always directly responsible.

Sharing a space with another manager complicates the situation, because it's not always clear who is ultimately accountable.

Obviously, all decisions should be collaborative and well communicated, involving all of the managers concerned. I've already been through this in the reflections about alignment above.

But requiring that level of involvement all the time can delay decision making. Slow decisions kill momentum, so are to be avoided as much as possible.

Instead, it's important to set expectations around what sort of decisions should require full collaboration, versus the ones that can be made in isolation. Typically, this is a question of impact, in that if the decision has a lot of impact, it should be collaborative, with less impactful decisions requiring less collaboration.

For example, a restructuring of the team that changes who is allocated to what is something that would require lots of collaboration. A decision about which restaurant to take the team out to for a celebration? Not so much.

Well, unless you are deathly allergic to shellfish that is.

Another way to stop decision making from slowing down to a crawl when sharing a space with another manager is to clearly delineate which areas each manager is ultimately accountable for. This indicates clearly that even though collaboration is desirable, if a decision needs to be made, one manager has the authority to push forward as they see fit.

This concept can be difficult to deal with if you're used to having ultimate control over your entire space. Pushing through that discomfort is a good growth opportunity though, so savour it.

Finally, if push comes to shove, introducing a tiebreaker into the decision making process can ensure things don't become deadlocked, especially when you only have two managers sharing the space.

This is more of a break-glass situation though, and every time it's used, you both should think long and hard about why it was necessary this time and how to avoid it being necessary in the future.

After all, a house divided cannot stand.

Care Bear Stare!

As you can probably tell from the reflections above, the last few quarters have been a learning experience, both for me and for my new partner in crime.

I think we've done a pretty good job of adapting to the new normal though, and while there has definitely been irritation on both sides at various times, we've worked through those things like the professionals that we are.

I'm sure Share Bear would be proud of us.

Plus, you know, if things go downhill, we can always resort to the fighting pit.