Have you ever thought about the impact a manager can have on their team members’ performance just by the words they use? How big a difference can they possibly make? Well this week, we demonstrated just how significant that impact can be by running an ever so scientific test. We got two teams together and their task was to build a prototype wobbly bridge for a new children’s playground.  They had all the resources they needed: string, lollipop sticks, glue and wire.  They had a budget to stick to and 40 minutes to make the bridge in.  The only difference was the management style the two teams received.

Management Style 1: The Enabler

The manager of one team experienced what we would call “enabling” behaviours – they made sure the task was clear, that the team realised that they had been chosen to do this task because they were really capable, that they understood why they were doing this and that they really understood the client’s needs.  Then the manager got out of their way and let them get on with it, every now and then checking in on progress and asking if they needed any additional resources to get the task completed.  Occasionally the manager gave the occasional observation about team work and asked them how they could improve a particular aspect of the project.  All the time, the language was about possibility and positivity. 

Management Style 2: The Restrictor

The manager of this team provided a very different management style.  This was a restrictor, who talked to the team about limiting their expectations, about doing just enough and providing the cheapest solution.  They talked to the team about how junior they were and so this would be a tough task for them, even though it was the simplest we could find.  All the time, the language was of limitation, of issues, of what’s not possible.  They were constantly on the participants’ backs, giving them negative feedback throughout the exercise and expressing surprise at how little had been achieved.

What do you think happened? Do you think if you experienced either of these styles that your output would be any different? They were stunned to see the results at the end. Two very different bridges.  One was simply incredible, and the other incredibly disappointing.  The first bridge came in 13% under budget yet still looked fabulous. The team were creative, inventive and worked really well together, carving up tasks to better use the time.  The second team were demotivated and divided, creating two bridges which were very cheap but not in line with the brief at all.

Of course, we could have just told the participants that this is the impact our language and beliefs have on the people in our teams but would they really take that in? They had to experience it to believe it.  Such a fantastic exercise which we will definitely be using again!

To learn more about how we can help you inject some exercises like this into your learning and development, get in touch at info@management-dynamics.com.