Sometimes it's fun to explain the skills behind plugged-in management. At least once a day I have a conversation like this one:

Friend: Hey Terri, how’s it going?

Me: Pretty good. Editing my book draft...

Friend: That’s great! What’s it about?

Me: Plugged-In Management [in the early days, and still in the academic world I called this systems savvy, I've edited the material below to depict that shift] -- how people need to weave together technology tools, organizational practice, and peoples’ skills to succeed.

Friend: Hmm. What’s the title? Me: Still working on it. [Plublished after this post as The Plugged-In Manager: Get in Tune with Your People, Technology, and Organization to Thrive]. What do you think of “Weaving: Working and Managing in the 21st Century?”

Friend: Hmmmm. How do you get from “plugged-in management” to “weaving”?

Me: Well, plugged-in management is the ability to weave together the technology tools of our work (everything from email to the size and type of tools a crew would use to build a fence), the way we organize our work (for example, teams spread all over the world, the size of fence-building crew, formal and informal leadership, hiring and pay plans), and the knowledge, skills, and abilities of the people we’re working with. You typically can’t just make a change to one of those three dimensions without making an adjustment to the others as well.

Think about it this way: If your organization wants you to team up with a group in another country and time zone, you may also need to change your work hours, and be sure the team has access to a good teleconferencing technology and gets some basic training on how to use it. You can’t just declare that they should start working with the other team and not “weave” in some other changes to support it. You should be thinking about all your technology tools, organizational practices, and people as you think about how to get work done with the other group. Keep in mind too, there’s probably not one best way to get the work done. Some teams use the latest and greatest technologies (and make sure they have the latest and greatest skills to use them), while other teams decide to stick to phone calls and faxing notes around. You just need to be sure that the whole approach works well as a system.

Friend: Ok, I see how it would matter in a high-tech setting, but tell me about the crew building the fence.

Me: Even a fencing crew will be better off if they balance the technologies they have access to with the size and skills of the team members. A bigger posthole-digger may mean the work goes faster, but you need two heavy people to run it, and they may need to take more breaks. A good team leader, or a strong self-managing team, will have taken a look at the project and brought the right tools and people for the job. They also will have made thoughtful choices around how to manage quality, speed and safety. Different projects may use different pay plans; for example pay by the quality of the project, pay by experience or skill, and or a bonus for finishing early with no injuries. Same story as in high-tech, no one best way, but all the parts have to be woven together.

Friend: Do these teams ever get stuck in “analysis paralysis”? You seem to want us to stop and think about how we do each task.

Me: From what I see, people with strong plugged-in management skills find it natural to “stop-look-listen” before jumping into a job. Doesn’t have to take a long time, but just like crossing a street, it’s better to take the time to stop and look than it is to get hit by a truck....