Cafe Witness

Friday, April 25, 2008

Spiders, Starfish and Central Command

Bureaucratic as it may be, a certain truth made itself apparent to me today:

When working with large groups of people, make sure everyone is on the same page.

All for One and One for All

The Spider and the Starfish is a book that touts the adaptability of "leaderless organizations." It was a big success because people love the idea that they can work freely, without having to answer to 100 bosses.

Of course, they still have to answer to at least one...

Even a Starfish Has a Head (Sort Of)

Here in Pittsburgh, several dozen of us are working to bring PodCamp Pittsburgh 3 to life in October. While I love seeing so many passionate people dedicated to the same common goal, the downside is, sometimes we move too fast for our own good.

Today, we launched registration for the event... only for one of our co-organizers to notice that we hadn't actually worked out one of the financial details. As such, we had to halt all registration until that detail is worked out -- a situation that may require getting up to 10 people together in the same room (or on the same conference call), just to make sure something we *think* we all agree on is something we actually do agree on.

So, ironically, having *more* volunteers than we've ever had before is actually slowing down the entire planning process because we've now realized we don't have those top-down approval procedures in place. Of course, once we do, life gets better -- so, in light of that concept, here are...

3 Tips for Working with LOTS of People

1) Know Who's in Charge of Whom.

Sooner or later, everyone has to answer to someone. Knowing who you have to answer to, and procuring their approval (or working out any discrepancies) early on, saves you the worry of wondering if you're on the right track.

2) Talk Regularly.

There's nothing more frustrating (for both sides) than nearing completion on a project, only to find out that you're doing it wrong. If you need approval, get it. If you have questions, ask them. Don't presume that something being "almost done" is a license to do it incorrectly.

Likewise, don't keep people waiting for your approval. Delegation only works when the people expected to carry out the work know that they actually *can*.

3) Keep it Simple.

No one needs to open their inbox and find 100 emails, only 90 of which actually pertain to them. If you need approval on a dozen aspects of your project, sum them up in one email or phone call and direct it to the appropriate person(s).

Presumably, this means you'll need to work out the specifics of your project as early in the process as possible. The more actions that can be auto-approved (because they meet pre-approved standards), the faster that work can get done -- and the more time everyone saves.

Do you have any more tips that have worked for you in the past? Leave them in the comments below.

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