Rose hip on trellis

Tasking, Trusting, Tending: Gillian Stamp’s Tripod of Work

Forrest ChristianChange 1 Comment

Trust is hard. It’s the currency of everything social and, as the social capital people like Francis Fukuyama point out, it underpins everything necessary in a society. Some societies rely on

Gillian Stamp — Stamp is a longtime researcher and consultant to all types organizations. She created the Career Path Appreciation (CPA), co-author of several papers with Dr. Jaques, including key work on Stratified Systems Theory, and developed some pieces that bring a humanism to levels of work. One of these is the Tripod of Work.

The tripod visualizes tensions that we all feel when managing. We have to get things done and so require Tasking of our subordinates. Yet they need to feel that they have freedom to do their jobs which requires Trusting. “Trust but verify”, as we said in INFOSEC, and so in management: people need Tending to ensure that they are on the right path, getting the right growth opportunities, feeling connected. As we do this we provide review of their abilities to complete their tasks, including any issues and roadblocks that arise.

That’s an interesting set and it’s already been useful in understanding some things.

(Yes, I’d read this years ago but clearly forgot about it. Funny what reading your unpublished drafts will do….)

Tripod of Work; TASKING - judgement - TRUSTING - coherence - TENDING - review - TASKING ....

Tripod of Work (via Gillian Stamp)

One of them is an application inside a local church where parishioners were feeling stifled. For years no one did anything. There was always a good bit of blame slinging but I couldn’t quite get a solid handle on the issues at play.

What turned it was a something a leader of what I suspect to be a non-profit said to Stamp, which she quotes in Trust and Judgement in Decision Making. The executive knew that trust was a nadir and would have to be rebuilt before he could move forward. But how to do that without destroying the fragile state of trust that was left?

So where to start? Well, tasking and trusting will give me the ‘in’ to reinforce, extend and elaborate both on the boundaries and on the choices they can use to achieve what we all want – and we must shift the culture from blame to learning. So, if I make sure people are aware of the framework within which they have freedom to act, there will be clarity and evidence as the starting point for review rather than just vague expectations and that will feel fairer.

I was struck by how apropos to the local church this was.

What had happened, I suspect, was that the staff of that congregation had begun to mistrust or distrust that the parishioners could do the work. They may have had particular desires that were not adequately communicated, or they may have been insufficiently trained in the level of knowledge and expertise members (who are non-professionals) bring to the table, expecting too much initially and so getting to “We’ll just do it ourselves as staff because they don’t know how”. The members, not knowing where they were trusted to do things, simply stopped doing anything but filling the pews.

And there was a lot that stopped doing that, too.

Now I’m not advocating that Protestant churches be run like businesses. If you’ve read my ranting on evangelical church organization you’ll know that I’m not a fan necessarily of that model. But this opened up a way to see things and move forward with grace.

There was another comment that stopped me. A different executive pointed out that one has to accept one’s role. When we are in positions of authority, we “need to resist the temptation to pretend, consciously or sub-consciously, that actually ‘I am not the real leader.'” We cannot say that someone else has the authority and thereby the “buck”. No, that must stop with us.

This is a grave temptation in more than just the government. Software managers often try to follow their subordinates’ demands for flat organizations. But by denying the power relationships we simply make power go into shadow, where it becomes evil. Where power is clear and relationships defined, most of us feel more comfortable.

And much of power is informal, something Wilfred Brown understood (and which Elliott Jaques would later forget). Brown knew that as CEO he was heavily constrained. There were laws and regulations, expectations of his Board and shareholders, demands from customers who could take their custom elsewhere. And let’s not forget the power of the lowly worker, who through collective action simply shut down the place. It doesn’t take a strike, either, as anyone who has tried to cross the U.S.-Canadian border has discovered when the officers decide to “work to rule”, exactly following the letter of the manual for their jobs.

Which once again proves that all work requires judgement and that trust is necessary for society get moving.

I recommend most of Stamp’s stuff. It’s mostly available on the web but can be wickedly hard to find. Below are two links to articles on her old website. Bioss used to have more, but they have been changing their website. If you can’t find something, ping me and I’ll see if I have it (I almost always OCR the simple image scans, too).

Image credit: “Rose hip on trellis”. Leon Brooks, 2013. Public domain. Via Wikimedia Commons.

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