Why Google is Teaching Its Managers to Wash the Dishes

Posted 03.16.2011

Washing-dishes The New York Times recently ran an article about what Google has done lately to share the practices of its best managers throughout the company.  Being Google, a bunch of statisticians started looking for correlations in the words and phrases that came up again and again in performance reviews, feedback surveys and recognition nominations.  The end result was a simple yet elegant list of eight things that the best Google managers do. 

I’d argue that at least five out of eight involve washing the dishes.  Here’s what I mean by that:

In his book, The Miracle of Mindfulness, the Vietnamese Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh writes about washing the dishes as an act of mindfulness and being fully present.  Here’s an excerpt:

“There are two ways to wash the dishes. The first way is to wash the dishes in order to have clean dishes and the second way is to wash the dishes in order to wash the dishes…

If while we are washing dishes, we think only of the cup of tea that awaits us, thus hurrying to get the dishes out of the way as if they were a nuisance, then we are not ‘washing the dishes to wash to wash the dishes.’ What’s more we are not alive during the time we are washing the dishes….If we can’t wash the dishes, chances are we won’t  be able to drink our tea either.”

So, how in the heck, could washing the dishes have anything to do with effective management? Well, take a look at these management best practices identified by Google and see if you notice what they have in common:

  • Be a good coach
  • Empower your team and don’t micromanage
  • Express interest in team members’ success and personal well being
  • Be a good communicator and listen to your team
  • Help your employees with career development

What do you notice? Here’s something I think these five practices have in common. They require being fully present for the team member. There’s nothing in these practices that suggests “hurrying to get the dishes out of the way as if they were a nuisance.”  If you look at the other three items on Google’s list of best practices and really think about how they could be applied, they could probably get the Thicht Nhat Hanh seal of approval as well.

In a world of too much to do and not enough time to do it, it can be a challenge to slow down enough to be fully present for a team member or another colleague. Think, though, about the last time you were on the receiving end of the full presence and attention of someone at work.  My guess is it was motivating and felt pretty good. 

What are you doing to be fully present for your team members?