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September 15, 2021

Do It With Me, Not For Me! -- #MTtalk Roundup

Yolande Conradie

You cannot transmit wisdom and insight to another person. The seed is already there. A good teacher touches the seed, allowing it to wake up, to sprout, and to grow.

Thich Nhat Hanh (1926 - ), Vietnamese monk and peace activist

Some of us may have grown up in households that were steeped in tradition. Others in less traditional set-ups, or in families where tradition simply didn't play an important role.

In the Afrikaner culture that I grew up in, we had a delightful and delicious tradition -- baking many and varied types of cookies at Christmas. We baked for days on end to fill every cookie tin on our kitchen shelf, and to fill baskets and boxes with cookies to gift to friends and neighbours.

As an adult, I chose not to continue many of the Christmas traditions. However, filling brightly colored gift boxes with beautifully decorated home-baked cookies is still one of my favorite Christmas activities.

Planning a Baking Day!

I have a friend who comes from a different cultural background. She also loves cooking and baking. When she heard that I was planning a baking day (or three!), she was delighted. She cajoled me into promising to teach her how to bake my Christmas cookies.

A week before Christmas, it was finally baking day. My friend arrived in a jubilant mood, and I was excited too. I already envisioned the beautiful and tasty treats that we would proudly deliver to our families, friends and neighbors!

In South Africa, December is in the middle of summer and it's usually very hot. Add hard work and long hours in a hot kitchen to the mix, and you have a good recipe for frustration and irritation!

In my mother's kitchen, I knew that tensions were rising as well as cookie dough when my mother started saying, "Let me do that, you're taking too long." Or, "Give that to me, it will take you longer to start than it will take me to finish." Sometimes, she simply shooed us out of the kitchen by giving us menial tasks like sweeping the porch or watering the garden.

Determined Start

Baking with my friend got off to a slow but determined start. I showed her how to measure ingredients, which tins and trays to use for what, and what some baking terms mean, such as "creaming" butter and sugar.

I'd calculated what needed to be done by the end of the first day if we wanted to finish all the baking in two days. However, techniques and skills that I had used countless times since I was child, were new to my friend. And some of them would be challenging to a seasoned baker, let alone a first-timer.

On my own, I'd have done quickly and correctly. But by midday, I could feel my frustration rising. Guiding and supervising my friend had put us well behind schedule.

There was, of course, any easy solution: I could take over and just let her watch. But I had made a promise that I would teach her, and reducing her to an onlooker would not teach her much.

Mouth-Watering Baking

After taking a break, we reviewed our situation and came up with a plan: we'd reduce the variety of cookies, bake more of the simpler versions and get creative with the icing.

At the end of the second day, we had 20 gift boxes, lined with colorful tissue paper and wrapped in cellophane, each displaying a mouth-watering selection of cookies.

My friend couldn't wait to get home and share the beautiful fruits of her labors with her family. She had already video-called her sister and was excitedly chattering away, describing what she had learned. She was thankful, proud and confident. Two days of learning from an "old hand," had taught her more than a lifetime of reading recipes and looking at pictures.

When I saw how she beamed, I was doubly glad that I didn't act on my thought to do everything myself just because it would be faster. I would have done everything for her instead of doing everything with her, and the "doing with" is what made all the difference!

Opportunity to Learn

Not only would I have robbed her of an opportunity to learn, but I would have robbed her of that new-found confidence and the pride she felt at having accomplished something new.

From my side, it took patience, and I had to keep a lid on the frustration I felt. Once I had shown her how to do something, I had to give her the time to practice without micromanaging her every move, whilst also correcting what needed to be corrected. Talk about a fine balance!

Doing Things "For" Others vs. Doing Things "With" Others

In our #MTtalk Twitter chat this Friday, we discussed the consequences of doing things for others vs. doing things with them:

Q1. The saying goes, "If you give a person a fish, you feed them for a day. If you teach a person to fish, you feed them for a lifetime." Do you think that's true or false?

@pavelStepanov77 True, because allowing them to grow by teaching the skills they need can take them further.

@lg217 I feel that is true, because if you give a person a fish to feed, then yes they enjoy the fish for the day. But by teaching the person to fish, now you are creating an opportunity to learn something new and to benefit from on a regular basis.

Q2. Why is it easier to take on a task yourself rather than leave a team member to struggle with it?

@nsdesign You don't learn from doing things. You learn from doing something, and then reflecting on it.  Don't let a colleague struggle with a task: support them, help them, show them, teach them, discuss it with them, and let them truly learn by doing and reflecting.

@SizweMoyo Training takes patience and understanding, and can become frustrating when results don't match the expectations. That's the struggle.

Q3. How do you feel when you intervene in this way? Powerful, smart, efficient, kind... frustrated?

@SoniaH_MT When intervening in this way, I feel relieved because the task would’ve been completed. But frustrated if taking on the team member's tasks recurs.

@ColfaxInsurance Frustrated. Because we feel that we can't necessarily trust the other person to do it "right" (our way), and that we are taking another task on when we might not have the time.

Q4. What are the warning signs that you’re taking over?

@Yolande_MT  If you reduce everyone else to spectators, you've definitely taken over!

Q5. How do you respond to a request for help?

@yehiadief By being part of the team, getting the task done without trying to impress anyone. Constructive criticism and instruction is a must.

@NWarind Happy to lend a hand, but only if I have first-hand info to know how can I help.

Q6. How do you involve yourself in someone else's work if they haven't asked you for help?

@ColfaxInsurance Ask what they're doing in casual conversation, how it's going, and share your own experiences (if it's applicable).

@Midgie_MT I have learned, with time and experience, not to get involved if they haven't asked me! I can offer help and be available, yet not impose myself on them.

Q7. Share some experiences of times when you have done things with others, and describe what impact it had?

@CaptRajeshwar When I do my desk cleaning in the office, all the team do it without asking. Every week for one hour we do it, and [it's become part] of their routine. It changes their mindset about workplace etiquette.

@SarahH_MT  I used to meet regularly with my direct reports and ask them if there was anything they'd like my input on, and ask them what support would be the most helpful right now? That's how I stopped myself taking over!

Q8. Can you ask for help yourself? Do you delegate? Why/why not?

@HloniphileDlam7 I can delegate, but asking for help is difficult if I haven't started. I come from the school of "start and get help on that draft."

@Dwyka_Consult  I sometimes honestly forget to ask for help. I get so caught up in what I'm doing that I forget there are other people in the world too!

Q9. What factors would lead you to reclaim a delegated project to finish it yourself?

@TheTomGReid Changed schedule, reduced resources, changed scope, changes in technology - anything that makes success significantly less likely. However, do not take over. Take them by the hand and lead them down a path of optimum success. You are, after all, a leader, right?

@DhongdeSupriya Many reasons, like delayed delivery, wrong assessment of competence, unpredictable complexity! So it's not why but how I reclaim that is more critical. Collective vision to big picture helps.

Q10. In what ways will you enable/empower others to act in the workplace in future?

@MikeB_MT I want to work with colleagues who feel empowered and supported to take risks, to lead and contribute on projects, and continually grow in their profession. This is accomplished through trust-building, risk-taking, ongoing development, and lots of communication.

@MindfulLifeWork By further developing a coaching and developmental mindset... ask and listen more, talk less!

To see all the tweets, you can read Wakelet collection of this chat, here.

Coming Up

While working from home, it was easier for some people to do things for others. At the same time, others felt that working virtually provided them a great opportunity to coach people to work more independently. Right now, there's a  new phase on the horizon with many companies adopting hybrid working.

Next time on #MTtalk, we're going to talk about your fears and solutions regarding hybrid working. In our Twitter poll this week, we'd like to know what you think of when you hear "hybrid working."

Useful Resources

In the meantime, if you want to explore the topic that we covered this week, check out the resources below. (Please note that some of these may only be available in full to members of the Mind Tools Club and to Mind Tools for Business licensees.)

Preventing Manager Dependency

Empowerment and Delegation

Fostering Initiative in Your Team

How Well Do You Develop Your People?

"Laissez Faire" Versus Micromanagement

How Well Do You Delegate?

Avoiding Micromanagement

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