Are you in a supporting or reporting relationship?
Are you in a supporting or reporting relationship?

What is your reporting relationship at work? Do you have people that report up to you? Do you report up to someone else?

You likely answered “yes” to one or both of these questions. (If you didn’t, you must own your own business as a sole proprietor.)

The nature of these reporting relationships is important. The most common approach is for a boss to manage people below them on the organizational chart. This is  problematic for many reasons:

  • It burdens the boss with instructing their direct reports about what to do and requires the boss to check up to be sure things are done.
  • It limits the direct report’s personal investment (doing what others want rather than what they want), and decreases the worker’s efforts at problem solving.
  • The relationship has an imbalance of power made worse by the dynamic of one person telling the other what to do.

An alternative to a reporting relationship is a “supporting relationship”. Invert the org chart, and the “boss” is supporting those who are closer to the actual work. In a supporting relationship, the boss is clear about the goal, but does not have to be as directive. Once the worker is clear on the goal, they can pursue it with their own ideas and solutions, driving deeper engagement and satisfaction on the part of the worker. The boss becomes a coach for the worker, helping the worker succeed.

This issue of supporting vs. reporting relationship is at the heart of the Lean principle of Respect for People. I see it as more important than the other Lean principle of continuous improvement. We can achieve improvement using PDSA and Value Streams, but it won’t be continuous without Respect for People that ensures those doing and improving the work see it as their own.

A supporting relationship between a manager and worker ensures this. A reporting relationship does not.

How is your relationship with your manager? Do they support you, or do you report up to them?

As a manager, how do you relate to your workers? Do you have a supporting or reporting relationship?

The more our relationships are based on supporting, rather than reporting, the healthier our organizations will be, the better our work will be, and the lower the levels of burnout will be.

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