The Care and Feeding of Monkeys

A fellow Automattician passed along this older HBR article that originally appeared in 1974. In the piece, the author describes how managers and leaders often take on unnecessary responsibility from teammates inadvertently. These responsibilities are referred to as “monkeys.”

An example from the article:

A fourth subordinate, Reed, has just been transferred from another part of the company so that he can launch and eventually manage a newly created business venture. The manager has said they should get together soon to hammer out a set of objectives for the new job, adding, “I will draw up an initial draft for discussion with you.”

Let us analyze this one, too. The subordinate has the new job (by formal assignment) and the full responsibility (by formal delegation), but the manager has the next move. Until he makes it, he will have the monkey, and the subordinate will be immobilized.

The language in the piece is a bit outdated (“subordinates” is an unfortunate term), but the piece is worth a read and reflection.

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