3 Weird similarities between People Management and Fish-keeping

Being good at people management and fish-keeping aren’t very dissimilar!
Is it because they both only need food, shelter and oxygen to function ? NOPE.

Good people management and fish-keeping would both require that for things to thrive and be productive, the environment must ensure more than just the ‘bare minimum’ when it comes to nurture. Here are some things I’ve learned about team and organisation management and fish-keeping through 10 years in management and 20 years in fish-keeping.

🌏 You must create an ecosystem that nurtures positive growth

For fish, this is to ensure that the water parameters are appropriate to the kind of fish you want to house (Ph levels, temperature, salinity, harness, added chemicals), that there is adequate filtration to clear solid waste and foster beneficial bacteria (to handle the bio-load and break down ammonia).

With employees, it’s to ensure that they have the right kind of work flexibility and working conditions. For example: ensuring highly creative people aren’t chocked with rigid bureaucratic structures and people who need structure aren’t made to feel insecure by keeping things too laissez faire. In essence, create systems, policies and rules that are designed keeping in mind the nature of the members who will constitute it. One size does not fit all: you can’t put a goldfish in a 5 litre bowl (NO YOU CANNOT!).

➕ Add more ONLY when the system is stable

If you add too many fish too soon, your aquarium will crash (too much ammonia too quickly; your fish will start dying off). You should instead establish the chemistry of your tank, add a few fish, observe them, and then add more slowly to the suggested maximum. Good rule of thumb – fewer is always better than more.

The same applies to hiring new team members; hire when it pains, is usually a good rule of thumb, I’ve come to realise. The problem with hiring too many too quickly : your team might crash, in morale, work ethic, culture, productivity. Hire slowly and very deliberately.

⛔️ Don’t introduce incomparable team/tank mates

I’ve made the mistake of being enamoured by an interesting fish, wanting it real bad, picking it up and introducing it to my established tank of critters. The problem is that many a times, these new tank mates are super aggressive and these bully the more docile inhabitants until either they die of physical injury or are stressed to death. Alternatively, I have also picked up docile fish that get mauled in an aquarium where the residents are more aggressive. Lesson: always research new fish, you want to introduce, extensively for compatibility with your tank-mates before getting them.

When it comes to teams, bringing in a hyper disagreeable Type-A personality member to a team of more quiet, agreeable folk might stress the team out and cause a lot of internal friction. The opposite would be disastrous as well! Lesson: know your team, hire keeping in mind the temperament and personality that fits the team.

🔧 Do periodic checkups and maintenance; Don’t Micromanage.

I’ve sometimes notices algae mildly growing in the aquarium walls, or mild cloudiness, or fish showing slight torpor, or plants seeming a bit dull. Whenever I’ve rushed in and tried to “solve” the problem immediately (for instance emptying the tank, cleaning it fully and then restocking the tank – after which everything foes to hell), things have only gotten worse. In fish-keeping, you want to trust the system you’ve built: the beneficial bacteria that have established in the tanks, the plants that are sucking up excess nutrients and filtering chemicals, and the other components like the mechanical filter that are doing their job. Unless you see a significant deterioration or that one of the systems is failing, there is no need to intervene; usually the system will regulate itself.

Similarly with employees, you want to trust the systems you’ve built: the qualities for which you’ve hired the team members, the training you’ve had them go through, the history of great work they’ve produced and the learnings they’ve gathered over the years. Jumping in with a purported solution at the first / every sign of trouble is going to stress the team out and will create an environment of distrust and lack of transparency that will eventually only lead to the team’s productivity and morale deteriorating.

Have any fish related or team management related insights you’d like to share? Leave a comment.

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