With the majority of large companies now embracing international functions or more modern styles of working such as matrix organisations or remote and virtual team working, most time management courses have failed to grasp a simple principle: time management is no longer about achieving everything in less time. Talking simply about managing priorities no longer applies. The Germans have a great term for it: Konfliktmanagment (conflict management)
For English speakers, ‘conflict management’ can mean something completely different (personality clashes, for example) but the concept of managing conflicting priorities is a good one.
Old fashioned time management training assumed that it was possible to everything in the allocated time. In today’s working environment, where we answer to multiple people, this may not be the case. Having to say ‘no’ or ‘not me’ to someone senior can create stress, guilt and defensiveness, whilst for those managing, being told ‘no’ can create project problems.
Learning how to have ‘upstream visibility’, being involved and being able to influence projects before any tasks are defined/allocated may prove a more important skill for many than trying to fit more into an already crammed day.Learning how to manage networks and visibility can be hard for many senior project managers. Often they are logical ‘left brain’ thinkers, and some of the softer brain’ skills required to manage in virtual teams and international contexts can be challenging. For example, in Finland there is a terrifically strong work ethic. Learning to say no can be harder than in many other cultures.
Whilst we can all find ways to become more efficient, giving yourself permission to disappoint yourself, and others, accepting that there will be winners and losers, is the first step to making better use of time – replacing the task based ‘time management’ with a more fluid ‘conflict management’. The conflict has always been there, but working across multiple teams and cultures can make it more apparent.
Senior management must acknowledge this, and empower middle management with the skills and training to manage in this kind of environment. They need to create alignment wherever possible (avoiding unnecessary conflict), and learn to let go – micro management has, in many cases, to become a thing of the past – and hail a new era where middle management has both the power and training to manage . It’s like watching your children grow up: handled the wrong way, time management in complex environments can be like watching stroppy teenagers; by contrast, handled the right way it can be both liberating and rewarding for all parties.