Book review: How to Manage In a Flat World

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Arrgh! The world is flat, the ancient philosophers were correct! I don’t know what I’ll do!
This book is not about how to deal with changes in the natural laws of Planet Earth. It’s about managing people scattered all over the planet.
The subtitle of How to Manage in Flat World is 10 strategies to connect with your team wherever they may be. You will need to read the entire chapter before you can access the 10 strategies in chapter 8.
Susan Bloch and Philip Whiteley discuss how work has changed. There is no clear line between work and home anymore. People have fluid relationships to work because they are ‘always-on’. This is especially challenging for those who manage international teams – as many do these days.
Fostering trust is a key theme throughout the book. The authors write:
Trust and teamwork do not have to be considered as soft matters. They are the basis of how products and services are delivered. Socializing and gossiping with colleagues, or calling Dmitri or Christina in a small group from another country to ask “How are you?” is a key part in making businesses succeed. We take it for granted that IT support personnel will fix any problems with the internet or LAN connections. We must take the human connections that are slowing down as seriously as the LAN or internet connections. In fact, we should take it even more seriously. Technology is designed and managed by humans. Both the electronic and human Internets require equal attention.
This concept of the human web is what really piqued my interest. Although project managers have known for years the importance of people skills, global project teams have made this much more difficult.
The authors recommend that you combine business meetings with team-building activities and “time to hang out together” as it is “highly beneficial for all parties.”
It can be difficult to manage dispersed teams, especially if you rely on video or telephone conferencing. The book also emphasizes the importance of face-to-face meetings for team management.
The book is divided in two parts. The first section focuses on the dynamics of dispersed teams. It examines the medium and the message, setting direction and national culture. The first part explains that command and control leadership styles don’t work when there is trust, quality, and depth in the relationship.
The second part focuses on the role of the individual manager in all this. It covers work/life balance when your team operates in multiple time zones. It also demonstrates that intelligence is a prerequisite for managing complex and dispersed teams. This is particularly interesting to me because I believe project management as a discipline relies too heavily upon processes and templates without engaging with EQ enough. It’s a balance, as with all things.
The final chapter will discuss the ten strategies for managing in flat worlds. In summary, they are:
Leadership style that inspires and empowers
Flat structures can be managed
Recrute the right people
Show the way
Communicate often and effectively
Recognize that teams are not just a matter of luck
Trust builds
Respect cultural differences
Accept that work/life balance can be a blessing or a curse in the flat world.
Be a part of the human internet
This book has a lot of information that will help you be a better manager even if your teams don’t span continents. This was my biggest take-away message.