“You can’t talk to my people” is NOT Requisite!!!

Exit Sign


I’ve heard that principles of Requisite Organisation mean that people can’t talk to people in other teams without checking with the manager first.  This seems to be against all modern ways of working together as an organisation, so just wanted to check in with you as I know you are an expert in this model.


I’m very glad you checked.  First principles, ‘Requisite’ means ‘what is required’ and in our model, which we call Requisite Enterprise as it uses these principles among others, it’s about designing and leading work so it’s fulfilling for customers, employees, beneficiaries and the planet.

This means that a way of working that causes frustration and disintegration of relationships is never going to be requisite in our model.  Saying ‘you can’t talk to them without checking with me first‘ is therefore obviously not part of what we teach in our workshops and online.

The Managerial Relationship

But…we can acknowledge where this comes from.  We use the Elliott Jaques idea of making managers accountable for their teams serving their customers (internal or external), and so give managers the authority to ultimately decide the way ‘work works’ and who does what in their area if that’s required.  This is called authority to ‘assign’ work.  And we describe the relationship between Managers and the team members using the Jaques term ‘Task Assigning Role Relationships’ or ‘TARRs’.  (BTW…we insist that before decisions managers also get the input of all those effected as an absolute minimum)

It is, however, a mistake to therefore think that this authority to ‘assign work’ means ‘a person may only do work directly assigned by their manager’, or even further ‘only the manager may talk to this person about work’.

This happens more often than you would think and usually not from a bad place – the manager is genuinely concerned about their person’s ability to deliver what they are there for.  It’s still not OK though, as this is the express train to ‘this Requisite stuff is restrictive and gets in the way of humans’.  And applied in this way….correct!

Cross-functional Relationships

Work doesn’t only come to people through their manager.  It can also come from across the organisation through a variety of relationships Jaques describes as ‘Task-Initiating Role Relationships’ or ‘TIRRs’ (read this post for more on these, including how to set them up).  A common one of these roles is an area set up to provide internal service to another area – this is an example of a ‘Service’ role relationship.  (Here’s where we laugh and say “I wish they would provide Service”.  Well before we get smart…lets see if what each area needs from each other is clear, and above all, is the wider work system they are both a part of clear, including who it serves and why.  No complaining allowed until we tick these boxes).

Take a typical Service role relationship – it would be silly to have to check with the most senior manager whether it’s ‘OK’ to request work of someone in the area, just like it’s ridiculous to have to find the manager of a restaurant to check with it’s ‘OK’ to ask a waiter for a beer!  And if customers ask the wrong person for a beer, or ask for things that are not on the menu, the problem is with how the Manager has set up their restaurant, not with the customer!  This is easily forgotten with areas which serve internal customers.

New and Different Stuff Happens Too….and that’s OK!

There’s another type of work that comes into an area too – new ideas.  To set up a situation of ‘don’t talk to my people without talking to me‘ is a great way to stifle improvement and creativity.  We need a base level of trust that people within a team will deliver their fundamental promises to their customers, and will not set off too far down pathways that take the team away from delivering it’s promises.  This is why the trusting relationship (i.e. no fear) between managers and team is crucial, so things such as this are openly discussed regularly.   People work and feel better when they are trusted with their judgement about how far they can drive off the road pursuing a new idea without damaging the car and still arrive on time.

Managers must make considered judgement calls when they have the urge to stop their people pursuing a possibility and helping others, as this sends messages that take a long time to undo.  If the actions of someone in the team seriously jeopardise currently existing promises to internal or external customers – stepping in is in order.  If not, it is wise to let the idea run it’s course if no planes will actually crash into mountains.  To step in when not necessary sends a direct message: ‘you are so untrustworthy in making decisions when something new comes down the highway that I’m not going to even let you see them until I have vetted them first‘.  No prizes for working out where this leads.

In fact, a situation where team members are involved in helping other areas with new ideas and improvements is actually a credit to the work system a manager has set up.  And when these ideas serve the wider work system we are all a part of…GREAT!  This is why the ‘don’t talk to my people’ routine is such a bummer – people thought they had the chance to contribute to something and create a better future together….and BOOM.  Lights turned out.  Back to everyone’s favourite organisational design – the silo.  And everyone’s favourite organisational vibe….malaise.

So let’s avoid that.

In summary, if ‘Requisite’ is ‘as required for fulfilment of customers, employees, beneficiaries and the planet’….then stopping humans having contact with other humans….definitely not Requisite.

Call it what you want, just please don’t call it our model.

Because it isn’t.

Adam is a partner of The Working Journey a niche consultancy that designs organisations into creative accountable enterprises that deliver...using ideas such as you just read. Want to chat? Send him an email by clicking here.

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