Daniel Duarte

Aug 29, 2020

10 min read

The worst organizational disease for Startups of the century: the “Mechanic Syndrome”

Imagine the situation, you take your car to the mechanic, you suspect a strange noise in your car. You have zero knowledge about it, but you have friends who say it is something simple. However when you talk to the mechanic he starts talking about a series of defects and names you don’t know. You just can think, “He’s cheating me”.

Have you ever had that same feeling when you get problems with your project / product? Or when you need IT assistance? You say that you would like a button in the middle of a screen, something that you think is simple and quick to do, but in addition to the team saying thats really tough one they say about GRID, about how this button needs to trigger method or class X, Y or Z, talk about the functions being synchronous or asynchronous, ask if they can simply give a single POST to update the database or if each step needs to UPDATE it … Again, you have no knowledge of technology. What to do? Does it mean that to deal with digital products I need to be technical? Is your team really cheating on you?

No, they may not be cheating on you and also no youdon’t have to be a technician to work on a digital product, but I’ll tell you more about this intersection of product and technology work at another time. Here we are going to focus on this feeling of beign “cheated” that you might felt: the mechanic syndrome.

This syndrome is very common in large companies and although it is already bad for them for startups it can be lethal, it can cause all the ruin of a team and the trust between the people who work in it. And the virus that causes this syndrome is the “lack of confidence” virus.

The process of trust in the work of others in a multidisciplinary team is something that gains a lot of strength today. Especially when dealing with a world where multidisciplinarity is being strongly encouraged, but the world was not always multidisciplinary.

Next, we will understand more in depth how this process works.

When did we start paying attention to multidisciplinary teams?

The need to work with multidisciplinary teams arose along with the advancement in technology, in 1964, the American engineer Paul Baran, working at RAND Corporation in a model of what would be the best form of internet communication. He proposed a model of decentralized connections. Until then, the form of communication was centralized, which made the whole system vulnerable, its proposal was to make this decentralized communication system into “loops”, so that the entire system could adapt as the information flow transits between the links, and that if part of the links were compromised, the entire system would not collapse.

Paul Baran’s Diagram (link)

Although Baran’s motivations were the cold war, the American concern about a nuclear attack left them incommunicable, this diagram was incorporated into the social sciences recently, and with the emergence of startups this model started to integrate the team management models.

When analyzing the organizational structures since the emergence of capitalism, it is very common to find in history nowadays indeed, of organizational models similar to the first two models of the Baran’s diagram.

The first one, very common in small companies, where all administrative and strategic decisions are handled by a leader. The second, more common in medium and large companies where we have a centralized and functionally decentralized business, where the strategy also permeates from top to bottom in the organization.

Ford Motor Company’s chart, 1 November, 1919. Cambridge, 2018.

In this type of management line authority occurs based on the issuing of orders and subordination.

“The line authority defines the relationship between bosses and subordinates: bosses have the power to issue orders and demand the obedience of their subordinates to themselves as well as the power to impose sanctions on them.” (PINTO, 2002, p60 Apud MAXIMIANO, 2000, p274- p281)

The great disadvantage of these models is that the departmentalization of functions creates a vacuum space of ignorance between what the links do, creates an environment where when people try to collaborate with each other creates voids in communication, since the reality experienced by other specialties is far from their reality and formation. This factor is an environment conducive to the formation of the famous “silos” and the lack of confidence in what the other does.

The third model proposed by Baran on the other hand, approaches a form of management that assists the work, called advisory or functional authority, which according to Pinto (2002, p60 Apud MAXIMIANO, 2000, p274- p281) becomes a consultative work between people about technical or functional aspects. This model is very common in startups and digital companies.

The disadvantages of the advisory or functional authority model, is that the departmental centralization process that was naturally in the hierarchies begins to lose strength. This model is very common nowaday in agile work methodologies and at Management 3.0. And with this weakening of the decision-making centralization of leadership whole people starts to participate in the decision-making process, mainly in minor decisions, such as the organization of daily activities to achieve the goals.

So why are companies opting for decentralized models that allow trust and communication? Studies by the Scottish Council for Research in Education [SCRE] consulting companies in Ireland have shown that companies following these precepts were more successful, collaborating from employees (Wilson & Pirrie, 2000, p2).

In Agile, especially in the Scrum Guide (2017, P3), the team that makes up the squad is a team with people who have specific roles and purposes and are essential for delivery, that is, it is a self-organizing and multifunctional group (2017, P6). The squad model, of agile teams alone forces an environment of collaboration and mutual communication, very different from what was done until then in the departmentalization by functions. In this model, people from different roles are placed together to achieve mutual goals.

These groups are essentially small, interactive and incremental (2017, p4) that become a network of collaboration and development. These same individuals are responsible for maintaining transparent and fluid communication, reviewing processes and methods and possible necessary adaptations (2017, p4 — p5). However, the most important value experienced by Scrum is trust:

“When the values ​​of commitment, courage, focus, openness and respect are incorporated and lived by the Scrum Team, the Scrum pillars of transparency, inspection and adaptation become alive and build trust for everyone.” (SCHWABER & SUTHERLAND, 2017, p5)

This stage of trust aims to break down communication barriers that usually exist when walls exist between areas in traditional models. Nowadays the most famous “breaking the silos”.

In Management 3.0, the thought created by the Dutchman Jugen Appelo based on agile methodologies has a process of aversion to the command-control models that have developed throughout history.

In this thought, the role of a leader is that of an advisor. The most common image used for the leader is that of a gardener, where he is responsible for taking care of a plant, watering it, pruning it and other functions, but it is not directly linked to the act of the plant blooming or not , this leader provides a collaborative environment and works to facilitate resources and advice.

In Management 3.0 management is too precious to be in the hands of a few people, everyone is responsible for maintaining the strategy defined for the company and must be an active, not reactive part of it, as was proposed in previous management models.

The work model by squads and purposes by Spotify, is one of the most famous cases today of implementing agile methodologies. For the company, autonomy and trust are fundamental.

In an environment of extreme competition Spotify, contrary to the centennial management consensus, allowing employees to help them move quickly.

According to Cruth, it is common in Spotify to allow teams to choose their own development tools and modify the code of another team, for example. Without the need to go back in software development time that you need team allocations, prioritization committees, among other forms of management that lead us to functional departmentalization.

Side effects of silo breaking

The introduction to agile methodologies (2000) and Management 3.0 (2010), are relatively new compared to the models previously presented of management that has more than one hundred years of existence. Thus, there are many professionals on the market today who still carry with them a legacy of traditional work models.

Thus, one of the main challenges for breaking these silos and for collaboration between people, collaboration based on trust and thus avoiding the Mechanic’s Syndrome, is to accept that where there are several people collaborating with each other, there will be conflict.

It is important to emphasize that conflict and confrontation are very different things, according to professor and doctor Mário Sérgio Cortella, conflict is the divergence of attitudes, confrontation is the attempt to annul the other person or another perspective (2016). The fact is that our society is not ready for disagreement without the attempt to annul, since children are not encouraged to discussion.

Believe that the breaking of silos and decentralization of communication without conflicts is like believe in Santa Claus. Where there are several people together there will be conflict and even so, everything is fine.

So, how to keep the environment healthy and prone to trust and collaboration when there are conflicts?

This is an intimate process, it has to do with humility and understanding that we will not always be right, our prioritization is not always aligned with the strategy, and sometimes we need to say “no”. It has to do with the maturity that the communication is fluid and with the objective of building collectively, and never to hurt or annul the others.

The best way to mitigate the side effects of this exposure that brings about disagreement is the learning posture. According to Cortella (2020), for this, it is necessary to be able to welcome those who do not agree with me.

Agreement keeps us stationary. Disagreement causes us to grow. CORTELLA, 2020

The leadership role becomes crucial for maintaining this network of collaboration. It is his role to mediate the environment so that collaboration brings competitive advantage, leaving an environment conducive to collaboration, mitigating harmful risks that confrontation brings to the environment.

I end with a quote that guides my life:

“I may not agree with what you say, but I will defend your right to say it until death” Evelyn Beatrice Hall, 1906 (1868–1956).

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