Acoustic Post - Reverse Shadowing

By Sabhya Soni

Should a leader get involved in day-to-day work of an employee?

Can a leader enhance the decision-making skills of an already efficient team?

Do you want to be a leader who sets an example by actions and not words?

These are some questions that every leader grapples with. The answers could be many. However, most of the answers further lead to skepticism – will it be seen as micro-management? How will my team take this approach? Is there a better alternative? And so on.

Today’s complex disruptive work environment demands a leader to be in touch with the ground reality to ensure high efficiency and accelerated decision-making. Uncertainties in the mind can be managed through a new work technique called ‘Reverse Shadowing’ (RS). It is a leadership model where a leader works closely with employees, metaphorically, being in their shoes.

While it is a great way for the management to engage in purposeful observation, the ‘in reverse’ component opens the space for the leader to learn along the way, through ‘shadowing’. RS enables the leaders to train, coach, and have mature discussions with their employees, as and when required.

Reverse Shadowing propels a close-connect with the members and provides oversight of the business simultaneously. It also eliminates barriers on the way to collaboration and growth. It facilitates smooth completion of tasks, faster delivery, and thereby, excelling in the achievement of an objective.

Reverse Shadowing technique has the following advantages:

1. Win for All

A leader gets a holistic view of working transactions and therefore, is able to give adequate attention to details and gets a granular understanding of the task at hand. Leaders and employees resolve critical issues at a more accelerated pace. During the process, the leader imparts values and experience, while the employees bring newness and energy to work. Thus, everybody involved – leader, employee, customer, and organization wins.

2. Improved Collaboration

In this method, there are increased chances for brainstorming, which allows members to bring different perspectives to the issue at hand resulting in better innovative solutions. It gives everyone an equal opportunity to contribute and work together, thereby motivating people to think, articulate, and receive clarity. It helps to leverage each other’s abilities, work towards a higher goal, and being mutually accountable for each other’s growth leading to improved collaboration.

3. Role Modelling

The leader can exhibit credibility and relevance to the members while shadowing. The leader can role model the right behaviors during RS. This allows the members to learn these behaviors by observing the leader and facilitates the unlearning and learning process. The leader can use on-the-job Coaching to improve skills within the team such as Say-Do ratio, Communication, Problem Solving, Customer Management, etc.

4. Reconnecting to Purpose

Sometimes in the urge of getting things done, one forgets to reflect upon the big picture and the purpose behind the work. The process of Reverse Shadowing and the members involved help each other to realize the original intent of the work and, if lost, rediscover the purpose. It helps in course correction and let not the team and the leader deviate from the objective.

Though this technique is easier to adopt in small-sized organizations, however, it can be scaled to large-sized corporates as well.

They may have to deal with the below challenges before making it a mainstream practice.

1. Scale

Large employee base organizations may find it tougher since the employee spread is wider. Nevertheless, it can be boiled down to small teams where the leads of each team can implement Reverse Shadowing under the guidance of other senior leaders who can get into the process of shadowing at a lesser frequency.

2. Question of Sustenance

Since there is a large base involved at work in traditional corporates with multiple projects in progress, the sustainability of Reverse Shadowing may become a challenge. There are a huge inflow and outflow of employees at every level and each quarter. Implementing a model where the leader has to be in shoes with his subordinates may sound too ambitious to achieve, thereby, losing its actual essence.

3. Multi-Generational Workforce

In large organizations, multi-talents from all walks of generations are pulled in. Even if Reverse Shadowing is implemented, it may not do justice to the effective management of the talents working on multiple domains and projects. For a leader, meeting the demand for the need of different learning methods and motivations to work with could become an issue.

4. Hierarchical Pressure

In traditional corporates, the hierarchical system brings both a sense of respect and fear.  At times even if the employee has a better idea than the leader, he/ she may not put that across since the higher authority holds more power and that freedom is usually not entertained. If in such a set-up, a leader even with the motive to guide comes along and shadows his/her team members, there are higher chances that people would submit to his/her ideas rather than bringing one of their own. This is because the power equations are still hierarchical here.

To minimize and deal with the above challenges, here is a simple ‘ABC’ model to adopt the RS technique at the work front.

1. Attitude and Awareness Change

Reverse Shadowing is having a mindset of being open to new ideas of the younger generation and to add the leaders experience to create an innovative work model. Developing an attitude to work with such a mindset may call for a paradigm shift in working patterns. This, over a period of time, will lead to noticeable change and desired results.

2. Behavioral Improvisations

Leaders will have to identify and improve/add some new behaviors to their routine to implement Reverse Shadowing. It is about moving out of their transactional activities and thinking of behaviors to transform the workplace. Taming the ego, being comfortable with a multi-generational workforce, sidelining bureaucracy, being accepting and approachable, etc. are some of the behaviors to be developed and inculcated.

3. Communication

The leader can increase the quality and frequency of communication with the members, on and off the floor. This will assist the overcoming of inhibitions and anxieties of both sides. In fact, Reverse Shadowing can be leveraged as a platform to allow team members to open up and speak their minds resulting in contribution and collaboration.

It is more than clear that Reverse Shadowing at the workplace is an effective technique for the individual, leader, and the organization. However, to achieve this one needs to really let go of the ego as well as allow oneself to wear the hat of the fellow employees, be in their shoes, speak their language, and be instrumental in the whole process. This shift in the mindset has to be roped into the present day work culture with a view to achieving symbiotic growth.

The leaders can manage many skepticisms by adopting this workstyle where a leader participates to guide and not ride alone.

Disclaimer: “The views expressed in this article are of the author and her employer does not subscribe to the substance or veracity of her views”.

15 Comments

  1. Avatar

    Super stuff!
    Very well articulated.

    Should be considered for enhanced productivity at workplace.

    1. Sabhya Soni

      Thank you Prateek !!!!!!!

  2. Avatar

    It looks newer technique and would work like a charm if it is implemented in desired way in any team,
    For upcoming leaders it will be easy to implement but for existing leaders it could take more time for them to agree and adopt.

  3. Avatar

    Well structured article.

  4. Avatar

    It is the technique which every upcoming leader will wish to have, when normal employee get a chance to become a leader, their wish is to fill all that gaps which he has experienced while working under some other leader,
    This article will surely help those fellows to become successful leader.

  5. Avatar

    Wery well stated. Great article

  6. Avatar

    Reverse Shadowing is indeed very crucial and helpful now-a-days especially for the startups and small organisation. As it will help the organisation to grow at a faster pace when the leader will interact with the employees by “being in their shoes”. In this way, the leader will also be able to know the ground reality and learn new ideas.
    Rather, this technique should even be followed by every political leader so that they can be aware of the issues of the common folk.

  7. Sabhya Soni

    Thank you Everyone 🙂

  8. Avatar

    Very well articulated article Sabhya. This is already being practised as a monitoring process in some of the industries but the inhibiting culture is considering the leader to be patriarch of the family.
    Hope this article receives large number of views and paves way for new form of leadership technique where employer and employee are more open, receptive and communicative towards each other.

  9. Avatar

    Thanks for this excellent article. This is indeed a very important step both for the org and its leaders. Just curious, have you seen any real life examples where leaders sat with their teams without feeling shy? Would like to know how it improved leader’s and company’s performance?

    1. Sabhya

      There are various examples with regard to small startups where this is a very natural practice. I shall connect with you offline Sherly to share the same.

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