Quantum Theory and Management Techniques

by David Hinde on 17/02/2011

One of the difficulties with learning and indeed teaching management theory is the lack of definitive rules we can apply to managing people. This is a particular challenge for new manager. A lot of my work is in the digital sector, so usually these people have spent their formative years in business doing technical work, where there is a clear logic to tasks. I program a computer with a line of code, and then it acts in a certain way. Of course nothing is so clear in management. We could try exactly the same management technique on two different people and get two different results. Indeed you could try the same technique on the same person and get different results on different days!

New managers are understandably looking for some ideas that will work. When they look at the plethora of management courses and books with a whole range of often conflicting advice it can be very confusing. I was running a course a few weeks ago where we were discussing a theory showing how to effectively build a good team. One attendee came and apologised to me after the session but said he just didn’t agree with the model. He had read another book that said you just needed a focused goal to produce a team. My theory had said you’d needed good relationships, communication and cohesive management of tasks. When I said I agreed with him that a focused goal could be important, but maybe the factors in my theory might be important too I could tell that he felt I had fudged the issue.  Indeed he wrote in his evaluation report that he felt I wasn’t definitive enough about how to manage.

I am reading a fascinating book at the moment, that’s attempting to explain quantum theory to ordinary people. How tiny things like atoms behave turns out to be very different than the every day world.  We can’t say definitively that an electron or photon will always do something in a certain set of circumstance, but we can predict the probability that it will do that thing. This was a dreadful shock to physicists in the early 20th century. They were used to being able to definitely say that the moon would be in a certain place or that a pebble would drop with a certain acceleration. It was pretty much universally rejected, until after more and more experimental evidence proved it to be correct.

It’s the same in management. My friend on the course, may be struggling for a definitive set of logic, that will always lead to a great team, but after he’s run a few teams with perfect goals and seen some work and some not he’ll realise that he’s left the world of certainties behind when he moved into management. There are many factors that lead to a great team. We can draw on theories to give us some initial ideas but its really through trial and error that shows what will work for you. Of course, just when you think you’ve got it, along will come a new project and a new team and turn all those ideas on their head!

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