As we are slowly returning to some kind of a new normal and exploring hybrid work options, productivity challenging online meetings, home office days and virtual team setups remain our reality.
Managing a learning organisation, team energy and effectiveness has never been more more tricky, than in this almost-post-pandemic era. We have to learn new ways to stay productive again, even if they make us leave our comfort zones for a change.
Non-doing doesn’t exactly sound like a productivity spell, but it can become one. The idea is not new at all, but it might just be time to revive it.
Where does the concept come from and what does it even mean?
It’s an ancient idea that’s certainly stood the test of time, having first appeared in the great Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu’s writings over 2000 years ago. And although “wu wei” literally means non-doing or non-action, it’s anything but a form of passivity.
Think of non-doing as effortless action: getting the greatest outcome possible by doing the least possible.
Why is it relevant today?
But why should we embrace this very concept in an age of constant change, competition and pressure to perform?
For starters, because it’s time for leaders reinventing their management styles.
In the golden age of the knowledge society, autocratic management (even the parental style, with the kindest possible intent) is hardly ever a good strategy. The most successful companies and teams out there aren’t the ones that always follow the rules but the ones that don’t think twice before completely rewriting them. And they tend to have managers that expect the same from their employees.
In a game where creativity wins it all, good leadership isn’t about instructing, dictating or checking. It’s more about asking, inspiring and supporting. In other words, non-doing.
Here are our 4 don’ts, if you want to master the art of effortless action.
1. Don’t try to be a know-it-all
A company culture based on non-doing is built on the fact that no one holds the Philosopher’s Stone. Meaning that no leader or team member has the ultimate truth.
Why is this important?
First, because there is no Philosopher’s Stone – and noone is infallible.
Second, because if you obsess about single truths, you’ll encourage unhealthy group dynamics. Whether you’re in a meeting or in a classroom, if your feeling of being right shoots up, so does your feeling of authority right away. Authority limits flow, creativity and innovation.
When building a supportive environment instead of a domineering one, finding a single right solution or flashing your insight will loose its significance. You’ll embrace the search and remain open to experiment, take risks and even stay silent, as needed.
2. Don’t put people in boxes
Aka the number one rule for a strong feedback culture: try not to stick labels on people, whether positive or negative.
For example, if you say “You’re smart!” to someone, nobody will know what exactly was good about their work, including them. Similarly, if you tell someone they’re slack, you basically imply that there’s something wrong with them as a person, not helping with constructive feedback to improve.
That’s why labelling is one of the biggest obstacles to development both for individuals and a company as a whole.
Don’t put stars or talents on a pedestal, but put the valuable behaviours in the spotlight. Make sure these are transferred among people, supporting learning, growth and motivation at company level.
3. Don’t offer ready-made answers
In a non-doing organisational culture, employees value attention more than solutions.
So if someone has a problem, others shouldn’t tell them how to solve it, but help them find the answer instead. Even if this means that a task will take longer or require more attempts.
How will that help?
If you hand ready-made solutions to someone on a plate, you also take away something crucial: the opportunity to learn. If you want someone to grow, you need to assist them with creating a learning environment in which they themselves go through trial and error.
On the side, you’ll boost their motivation and who knows, even you might learn something new in the process.
4. Don’t take away responsibility from others
In other words: “No pressure, no diamonds”. The saying rings as true as ever: people can only improve if they’ve got responsibility, if what they do is meaningful and has consequences.
Autocratic leadership (including micro management) withdraws this power, as it takes away the possibility from others to become and remain in charge of their own work and growth.
So just because you think you’re better or faster at a task, don’t take it over from others.
If an employee would like to change something at the company, and it doesn’t directly violates shareholder interest or personal safety, consider letting them do it. The company is as much theirs as yours, and they need to experience this. Try make every project run by whoever is the most motivated. Work actively on creating a sense of ownership, and enjoy the benefits.
We at Codecool actively and consistently practice non-doing, or non-teaching at our courses. We facilitate discovery by learning instead of providing all the answers upfront. This way Codecoolers gain a deeper knowledge, enhance their creativity, develop a passion to learn more – and have much more fun.
Obviously, there are situations when non-doing is not good idea. If a fire breaks out, please ring the alarms, and don’t wait for a team consensus on possible even better solutions and learning opportunities.
The point is: the house is not always on fire, and you shouldn’t act like it is. Start with noticing if you do, and try something different for better results: try non-doing instead.