10 Mistakes that (some) Managers Make

1. Putting Most of their Energy Into Avoiding Getting Blamed

The main objective for some managers is to avoid getting blamed for a problem. The result is that they reduce transparency and that decision makers are not able to make rational decisions because the information that they get is misleading.

This is a deep cultural problem in many organisations. If organisations are serious about becoming learning organisations they need to foster a no blame culture so that managers and teams are encouraged to make problems visible.

2. Not Focussing on Value Generation

Incentives or personal targets are often not aligned with generating value (by delighting the customer). Inappropriate objectives (e.g. on-time delivery) can result in dysfunctional outcomes such as launching a product when it is not ready, resulting in increased cost-of-ownership and unhappy customers.

3. Controlling Instead of Supporting

If there is a problem with the work of a team, the response of some managers is to put more controls in place. A better solution would to ask the team what they need to be able to work more effectively. If we focus on creating radical transparency and supporting teams, we won’t need so many energy sapping controls.

4. Watermelon Green

Traffic light or RAG (red, amber, green) status reports are common in larger organisations. High blame organisations often have an unofficial fourth status — watermelon green — i.e. green (everything fine) on the outside (political level) and red (serious problems) inside. When this happens senior managers don’t get the information that they need to make rational decisions.

5. Laissez-faire

Servant leadership doesn’t mean laissez-faire. Good managers need to show that they are interested in a team’s work. They should practice “management by walking about” or doing the “Gemba walk”. In a Scrum context, this could mean observing daily stand-ups, taking active part in sprint reviews and making it clear to the team that the manager’s door is always open in case they need support.

6. Belief in Perfect Resource Planning

Knowledge-based, creative work (such as most product development) is complex. It is not possible to plan in detail who should do what and when they should do it. Many managers persist in their belief of perfect plans and that the route to better efficiency is to maximize “resource” utilization. I’ve seen organizations where managers have daily resource re-planning meetings – they hang on to the belief that they just need to plan better. Instead they should focus on putting together great teams, supporting them and letting them get on with the work.

7. Belief in Top-Down Standardization

Some managers believe that the organization will be more efficient if tools, practices and processes can be standardized. This is rarely the case — the people doing the work are usually the best people to decide how they work and what they need to get the work done. Managers can play an important role in helping to spread innovations and other knowledge created by teams, e.g., by fostering communities of practice.

8. Belief that Trust has to be Earned

Effective teams need trust within the team and between team and manager (in both directions). Patrick Lencioni shows (in The 5 Dysfunctions of a Team) how teams cannot reach their potential without trust. Managers need to take the first step by being vulnerable, even if they are inwardly skeptical.

9. Just Paying Attention to Technical Skills When Building a Team

Highly effective teams need diversity of personality preferences as well as technical skills. Diversity of personality preference is important because it enables the key team roles (e.g. as described by Belbin) to be covered more effectively. Many managers just focus on technical skills.

10. Hiring People Who Are Too Much Like Themselves

Many managers hire people who are similar to themselves in background and personality. As a result departments lack the diversity that would enable them to become more effective.


  1. Very good and interesting set of points. I could be cultural….
    but in US and India there is a strong temptation for managers to micro-manage; even though they can be remarkably ignorant about programming and design.
    (partly covered in “controlling not supporting”).

    Also how about a tendency for knee-jerk reactions?

    Interesting blog, I think you should write more often!

  2. Hi Simon,

    thanks for the list. As I experience some of this mistakes myself, your post helps me to address them in more clarity.

    Best Regards,

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