Business first: I need your suggestions.

More and more, COVID-19, race relations, and politics seem to be crowding out all other subjects in my day-to-day thinking. That doesn’t make them interesting reading. There have to be other topics to write about that are timely and relevant without being repetitive and boring.

So give me some hints — let me know what other subjects you’d like me to cover in these weekly screeds.

And why.

You’ll be helping both of us.


– Bob

P. S. Oh … before I forget and apropos of nothing in particular, are you as puzzled as I am that with all the buzz about the Microsoft Duo, nobody has even mentioned its uncanny resemblance to the ill-fated Microsoft Courier? It’s sad beyond words when yours truly has the best memory on the block.

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The KJR Manifesto devoted two chapters to the primacy of relationships in effective organizations. It might be time for a re-think.

Chapter 4 (Relationships precede process) describes the “process distrust loop” — a diagrammatic representation of how poor working relationships and the distrust they breed act like sand in an organization’s operational gears, just as strong, positive, trust-based relationships are an organization’s metaphorical graphite dust.

Chapter 5 (Relationships Outlive Transactions (it earned the acronym ROT) talks about relationships in more personal terms, describing the impact of winning the proverbial battles (transactions) in ways that result in losing the legendary war. Personal success, that is, depends far more on working relationships than on even the most important achievements.

So here we are, collaborating via Zoom or WebEx, TEAMS or Slack, IM, email, and other electronic channels (sorry if I left out your favorite). Sometimes we have a foundation of trust from prior face-to-face teamwork, but increasingly we don’t. We have nothing to base trust on, and have structural reasons that make distrust logical: With workforce reductions turning many situations into games of musical chairs, trusting a total stranger just means I’m more likely to be the one with no place to sit on the day the music dies.

Wise leaders have been doing everything they can to overcome these challenges. As I said a couple of weeks ago, “Merely competent managers will accept purely transactional relationships as an inevitability and adjust how they assign and receive work accordingly.

“Excellent leaders will fight this every step of the way, recognizing that effective organizations are still built on trust-based relationships. For example, just because Zoom has supplanted … let’s start calling them “flesh-to-flesh” interactions … is no reason for leaders to abandon the once-common practice of weekly or bi-weekly one-on-one conversations with their direct reports.”

But I been thinkin’. Is it possible I’m just geezing, anchored in ancient thought patters and mistaking How We’ve Always Done Things for How We Should Do Things Now?

Much as it pains me to suggest it, this might be the right time to think about adopting a post-relational, purely transactional model of interpersonal interactions and organizational effectiveness.

Call it the Grasp the Nettle strategy.

Don’t get me wrong. When the situation allows for it, interpersonal trust repays the investments needed to achieve it many times over. Call it the Return on Relationships, and when it’s possible it’s huge.

But wishing something is possible doesn’t make it possible. Given the inflectionary, linguistic, time-differentialed, structural, and above all cultural barriers to relationship building, it might make more sense to just give up and base all work and responsibilities on specific assignments — nothing more, nothing less.

The specifics depend on … well, the specifics of the situation. As an oversimplified overview, managers might organize the work to be done into two categories: delegations and a Kanban queue.

Delegations are operational responsibilities. They’re for categories of work that, taken as a whole, deliver the results the organization is responsible for.

The Kanban queue lists everything that must, should, or might get done that doesn’t nicely fit into one of the delegations. Employees who have enough spare capacity can snag one of the queue items and get credit for dealing with it.

And maybe even extra credit for collaborating on it with another team member.

Not that organizing work this way will be easy. Especially, organizing tasks to minimize the extent to which team members are dependent on each other will be a challenge. If you don’t, should Fred’s inbox be empty at the beginning of the day because Adina’s didn’t finish the work in progress Fred is supposed to add his bit of value to, or didn’t finish it to Fred’s satisfaction, we’re right back into the process distrust loop with no resolution in sight.

Traditional trust-based teams solve this through an arcane procedure called “helping each other out.” Transactional not-really-team members might mitigate the challenge by working on something in the Kanban queue while awaiting the work in progress to show up.

They might use the time productively by taking on-line training classes or perfecting their FreeCell skills.

Or, they might try something radical, like getting to know their teammates better.

I know it sounds like crazy talk …