Now, let’s talk about one of the essential components of fully empowering your team: Pods.
I know what you’re thinking: What the hell is a Pod?
In this context, a pod is neither a place where peas grow or a reference to a species of plant-like aliens.
The pods I’m taking about represent a new way of thinking about how to better organize your business to empower everyone on your team.
Most companies today still operate under a top-down hierarchical structure, with employees answering to a boss who reports to a manager who reports to a vice president who reports to a CEO. It’s an old model, one that probably dates back about 200 years to the Industrial Revolution. But what may have worked for steam-powered factories doesn’t necessarily translate well to today’s businesses.
Today’s firms are more efficient, and more successful, when employees feel invested in the mission and the work. That’s empowerment. And the best model for achieving empowerment is the pod. As I described in Teams Become the Hierarchy, a pod is a self-directed team that is constantly evolving to meet the needs of the company and the customer.
If your company currently operates under a hierarchical structure, creating pods may mean blowing up existing teams, and this may cause anxiety and even resistance – if your team isn’t prepared.
That is why creating a pod-based system should never be the first step on your company’s empowerment journey.
There are four stages you must move through before making the transition to a pod-based system.
In the first stage, you are organized in a typical hierarchical structure. The boss makes most of the decisions, the team members have little or no authority.
In the second phase, teams gradually assume more authority, team members are included in discussions, but the decisions are still made by the manager.
Next, the team begins to make decisions, but those must be approved by the manager before being implemented.
When your team members have the knowledge they need to make decisions and they are comfortable with that authority, you’re ready to move to a fully pod-based structure.
Pods are project-based. You might create one pod that is charged with achieving a particular sales goal, and another to work on upgrading inventory control. Determining which team members go into which pod is a matter of matching skills to mission.
I recommend limiting pod size to no more than 10 members. Any more than that and the group may splinter into sub-pods and become unwieldy. It’s also easier for members to be overlooked, or to get away with contributing less.
Each pod has a leader – the Pod Meister – but every member is involved in making decisions, and every member is expected to contribute. The Pod Meister must be attuned to the level of experience and skills each member brings to the assignment – those with more experience in the subject matter, or in working in a pod, will need less guidance. Those with less experience will need more.
The leader’s job is to act not as a supervisor, but as a coach, providing team members with the knowledge and guidance they need to accomplish a task and make good decisions. The Pod Meister is also responsible for setting boundaries.
Here’s what I mean by that: Let’s say you’ve asked a pod to choose an outside consultant for a project. But after the choice is made, one or two pod members aren’t happy with that choice. So, they go out on their own and invest time and effort recruiting a different consultant. After all, you’ve empowered them to make decisions, you’ve charged them with finding the best consultant, and they’re doing both. What you, the Pod Meister, haven’t done is set boundaries. Every team member should be clear on their responsibilities and limitations, and the fact that they are working as a team.
It is also the Pod Meister’s responsibility to make sure everyone is engaged. And while everyone is engaged and able to make decisions, everyone also is accountable. Of course, because pod members are human beings, there inevitably will be situations in which some members feel another is not performing. The Pod Meister’s role in that case is not to discipline or fire that non-performer. Instead, in a fully functioning pod system, the team meets with that person. And the discussion begins not with accusation or scolding, but with “Let’s talk about your lack of performance and figure out a solution.”
It may be that he has been sick, or is going through a crisis at home. Or maybe that person is simply on the wrong team. Ultimately, the pod members, as a team, can decide that a member isn’t working out.
The pod system works because all members have a shared goal, and shared investment in success. And that is what empowerment is all about.
About the Author - Thomas Ajspur
Thomas is a seasoned entrepreneur who began working with Microsoft Dynamics 25 years ago as an ERP user and implementer, and then utilized it as the system to run his own business. In 1999, Thomas joined the Microsoft Dynamics Professional Services industry with a focus on building ERP high performance organizations in Europe and the US and is known in the industry for selling large international AX deals. He is CEO of ENAVATE Holdings, LLC.