How well do you spin plates?

Published on 2011-05-24

Many team members at ClarkMorgan Corporate Training know that I like to speak in metaphor.  I enjoy thinking about how something we do in day-to-day life, or easily relate to, can help people understand a business issue, cross-cultural issue, or the purpose of an initiative or policy change.
To gain the answer for what makes a good manager, for example, we simply need to watch a plate spinner of a Chinese acrobatics troupe.  Much like a manager, a plate spinner’s job is to initiate and execute tasks and projects. And just like a plate spinner, a manager has a maximum number of items/projects/tasks that they as individual can successfully keep ‘spinning’ at any one time.
Many managers, facing the problem of how to maximize the number of plates they can spin, and now, armored with a team, begin to think of how they can use their team to support their plate spinning.  A manager who begins delegating their team to wipe sweat from their brow, or getting them water, or telling them when one of their projects is getting out of control, is merely an individual contributor in ‘mangers’ clothing’, that is, a manager, who doesn’t realize their number one priority is to enhance the abilities of their team, by training them how to undertake projects themselves.
A true manager understands the need to train others to spin the plates, just as well as he or she does.  Will this approach, of letting others take control of plate spinning, effect quality and reduce the time that the manager can dedicate to other projects?  You bet!  So what does a shortsighted plate spinner say, “I can do it better,” and they are probably not wrong.  To that manager, I would say “We can do it bigger and better.”  Training others to manage ‘plates’ (ie. projects) with the proper approach, is going to heighten our ability as a team, and a company to be better at what we do.
Understanding how and where learning and development can enhance abilities of individuals without negatively impacting day-to-day operations is paramount to creating buy-in from all levels of the organization.  Creating an organization that helps managers learn how to train their subordinates is critical to ‘selling tickets to the show’.