Distance management

The closer you are to the problem, the better you understand it.

The farther you are from the problem, the easier the solutions come to you.

Leaders are always playing a balancing act with their distance from problems. You want to understand and solve, not understand and endure.

When I was a first line manager, I noticed that I spent most of my time with filter operators. This was because any slips at filtration would immediately affect the internal customer I am supposed to serve.

One day, I did an assessment of all work areas, to understand their saturation. I discovered the filter operators actually had a lower saturation than many other work areas, yet they looked the busiest.

I was always with them, so I understood all their challenges, yet I could hardly see solutions. It was always a rat race at filtration whenever I came on duty. And it was not unique to my shift. The philosophy was – “Run fast enough not to stop the production line and handover before the baton gets too hot.”

I decided to spend more time with the work area that had the highest saturation, to understand the systems in place that made it more manageable. I took my observations and applied them at filtration.

At the start of my shift, I designed a plan of what should happen by the hour, and then I left the filter operator alone, with a clear mandate that I should only be called when there was an issue that would make him miss the schedule of activities.

After some time, I got the filter operators to work out their own schedule, bring to me for alignment, and follow their plan.

I started enjoying line management after I hacked that.

These days when I see line managers spending so much time at any work station, I smile, and advise – “You think the job here is so difficult because you are occupying the space required for the growth of your teammate. It is unwittingly also limiting your growth, because this space is not designed for you.”

– Osasu Oviawe

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