Generators, Funnels, Umbrellas and Filters

Generators, Funnels, Umbrellas and Filters
Photo by Jacek / Unsplash

I don’t know the origin of a theory I heard a while ago. It says that managers fall into one of three categories: muck generators, funnels, or umbrellas (you can replace “muck” with a less professional four-letter term if you prefer):

  • Generators are the ones who cause problems for others, often creating issues through inconsistent and unpredictable decisions.
  • Funnels don’t cause any problems by themselves but pass the problems created above them onto their teams.
  • Umbrellas, on the other hand, are held up in this theory as the ideal: they stop problems from getting to their team and protect them from the issues created elsewhere in the organisation.

In practice, it’s possible to be more than one of these (you can create work for other teams while, or even because you are, protecting your own). I’d go further and argue that you shouldn’t always act as an umbrella for your team. If a team is completely insulated from everything going on elsewhere in the business, it limits their career opportunities. How can someone be expected to learn how to deal with turmoil if they’ve never been exposed to it? It also affects transparency. Your team can’t be expected to know what you’re working on if they are isolated from it.

Instead, I’d argue the best thing a manager can do is act as a filter. Part of effectively managing a team involves judging what you should and shouldn’t tell your team. There will be times when they absolutely need information to do their jobs effectively, times when they can help you, and times when an individual has an opportunity to grow by being involved (and crucially, with their manager’s support). There will also be times when the team need to be protected from outside noise, and will perform much better if, as their manager, you can deal with the things that will disrupt them.

As with so many management skills, judging when to intervene and when to let things through is a subtle art. Some of the things to take into account:

  • Is this going to disrupt the team? What is their current workload, and are there any imminent deadlines they are working towards?
  • Can someone on the team, with the right support, learn from this?
  • Will knowing this or getting involved help the team?
  • How does sharing or withholding the information affect the team’s trust and morale?
  • How experienced are the team? Are they already familiar with the culture of the company?

I don’t think there are any hard and fast rules about this – it depends on the situation and the team. But it’s an important one to keep in mind while helping your team grow and progress. | @robl |