Firing People and Being Fired

You can tell a lot about a person’s relationship to power from whether or not they’ve ever fired anyone and how. Do they understand the scope of their power, both formal and informal? Do they realize that not firing someone can be just as impactful in both positive and negative ways as firing someone? How do they deal with the aftermath?

I would love to experiment with getting folks to talk about their experiences firing others and being fired as a way to talk about power and to align around what success and failure might look like for everyone involved when power is wielded.

A Rant About RACI

If you’ve ever worked in a large organization and especially if you’ve worked with or are a consultant, you’ve probably come across something called RACI. Or RASCI, or DARCI, or MOCHA, or any of its many variations. If you haven’t, don’t feel bad. As you’ll see in a bit, you’re better off not knowing.

Sometimes, it’s not clear who’s responsible for something getting done, who needs to be informed, who would like to be informed, and so forth. Sometimes, this is a problem.

In my household, we expect the dishes to get cleaned, but no one is assigned that role. It generally works itself out, but sometimes, the lack of clear roles creates contention. I won’t lie, when there is contention, I’m usually the cause. Fortunately, I live in a functional household, where we are usually able to handle the conflict constructively (i.e. I get off my lazy butt and do the dishes.)

Frameworks like RACI try to help people by defining a clear-ish set of roles and encouraging groups to agree on who has which roles when. The intention is good. I am a big proponent of being explicit about agreements.

Unfortunately, RACI is often more onerous than helpful. First, the distinctions between roles are not always obvious. For example, what’s the difference between “responsible” and “accountable”? I can draw a distinction between these two terms, but if I have to do that, then I question whether or not the framework is that useful in the first place.

Second, the roles are not always useful. The reason there are seemingly hundreds of variations of RACI is that folks are always trying to fill in the gap.

Third, people often end up conforming to the framework blindly without checking to see if it’s actually working for them. I have never seen a group successfully implement RACI or any of its variations. Of course, that doesn’t mean it hasn’t happened. (If your group is successfully using RACI, I’d love to hear about it.)

Here’s what I’ve found actually works, both with groups I’ve worked with and healthy groups I’ve observed:

First, groups should have regular roles conversations, first to agree on them, then afterward to check in and make adjustments. In my working agreements template, I have folks do a simple exercise:

  • Write a bulleted list of your roles and responsibilities
  • Share them with each other, and let each other edit, add, or challenge until everyone agrees on each other’s list.

The key is not to simply do the exercise once and forget about it.

Second, groups should be clear about how decisions are made. It’s okay for this to be a shared role (i.e. consensus among two or more parties), but it’s important in these cases to talk explicitly about what success and failure look like. Again, the key is to check in regularly afterward and to make adjustments.

On Loathing “Team-Building” Activities, and When They’re Appropriate

When I first got into this business almost 20 years ago, I quickly adopted a mantra: “No trust falls.” Most people’s experiences with trying to help groups collaborate more effectively — especially in corporate circles — falls under the category of “team-building activities” — rope courses, escape rooms, cooking classes, and yes, even trust falls. More often than not, I find these entirely misplaced.

Having fun together is a wonderful intervention. I personally love these kinds of activities. I think games in particular reveal so much about human nature and about group dynamics, and that they’re a fantastic and fun way to develop collaboration muscles.

The problem is that, with most groups, there are often simpler, more straightforward, higher-leverage interventions that people should be addressing first, things like having real, sometimes challenging conversations about roles and agreements. You can even do these in dynamic, dare-I-say fun ways! However, when you avoid doing this work in favor of team-building activities, the latter can come off as corny, irrelevant, even harmful.

All that said, if you’re doing the necessary work, a good team-building activity can be a wonderful complement. My friend, Pete Kaminski, has a saying for remote teams, which his friends jokingly refer to as The Pete Rule:

Time together in person is too important to spend working.

What he meant was that a lot of work can easily be done remotely, but developing deeper bonds is much easier face-to-face. When spending time together, people should prioritize accordingly.

I’ve been coaching a client on developing good team habits and was recently advising him on an upcoming offsite. Over the course of several sessions, we talked through his goals and walked through a number of possible exercises and scenarios. Finally, I sat back, thought for a long moment, then said, “I can’t believe I’m saying this, but I think you all should just spend a day doing something fun together!”

So-called “team-building activities” have their place, but only when designed with intention. Always start with the work first.