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The Tale of Two Teams - What's the 2nd Line Manager Doing?

The above image is a very common scenario. Last week I was made aware of a very similar scenario in a company where two regional teams were being led in two completely different ways.

Team A has a manager who likes to see themselves as the ‘boss’ and revels in their ‘elevated’ status and the fact that they have positional authority. They refer to the team as ‘their team’ as if they own it, and they may also see the team, in some respects, as a separate entity to them. The team are there to deliver for the manager and the company. Telling the team what to do and how to do it is a particular aspect of this team manager’s approach as it is ‘quicker and easier’ to tell people what to do than to take time out to listen and understand what is actually going on. This manager does hold regular 1:1s with the team members but everything is based on the team members updating the manager on how they are performing against each of the KPIs (key performance indicators) that the manager has decided are important to measure success. The team members have had no input into these KPIs and a number of them are (in their opinion) totally irrelevant to the goals of the team. In fact, the team members only have individual measurement, and in many ways, if individually they hit their own objectives and measures, it doesn’t matter whether the team hits its goals or not. The manager has decided that there should be no team measurement whatsoever. There’s little fun in this team. Every meeting is business focused from start to finish with the manager deciding what’s on the agenda and running every agenda session except when agenda items are being run by company employees out with the team. Very rarely will individual team members lead agenda items unless it is to update the team on progress against their individual objectives. In this particular performance update session, team members are made to feel as if they are justifying their existence and these sessions are not looked forward to! The team is ‘fractured’ with cliques and there is little trust between the team and the manager and very little trust between the cliques that have appeared. The ‘turnover’ of team members over the last few years has been well above average for the organisation and some well-respected and productive employees have been lost to the competition. As regards team performance, the team are ‘scraping by’ and performance would be described as, at best, average. At best this team could be described as a ‘pseudo-team’ are not anywhere near fully realising their potential, and in many ways the actions and behaviours of the manager are playing a huge part in the average performance.

Team B is a very different ‘animal’. They describe the team as ‘our team’. The team manager is inclusive, treats everybody equally and fairly, and has ensured that all the team members get opportunities to air their views, concerns and hopes, both on regular 1:1 sessions and at more formal team meetings. This manager is very much a ‘people person’ and uses the 1:1 sessions with each member to coach and motivate. The manager can be directional when it is needed and they communicate clearly and concisely, checking for full understanding at all times. Delivery of the overall team plan is the goal and this manager has agreed with the team that if the team delivers against the set goals then each of the team members (who have achieved their own objectives) will share in a percentage of the team bonus that has been agreed with senior management. Interestingly the manager of Team A had voted against any form of team bonus and as yet had not put in place any team agreement as to how the agreed team bonus would be split. It looks like he’ll decide how any bonus is divided up but the team have no idea as to what is planned. Team B had voted to split the bonus accordingly to the relative successes of each individual where an entry factor to the bonus pot split was that an individual team member must have achieved their personal actions and objectives to qualify.

Team B’s manager does hold motivational meetings and fun is a crucial element of each meeting. There is still a real focus on business agenda items and updates on the plan but the crucial differences between Team B’s meetings and Team A’s are that Team 2 plan and run their own meetings sharing responsibilities around the team and rotate the organisation of venue, setting agendas, and actually facilitating the meeting. There’s shared leadership across the team in terms of these meetings. Team B’s manager, though, by their own admission (and from open feedback from the team) is not perfect. They could be better at managing senior stakeholders and getting these senior stakeholders ‘on-side’ as opposed to the team simply ‘doing their own thing’ as opposed to always following company strategy (as Team A is forced to do). Whilst Team B is more successful than Team A (by adapting company strategy being one reason) they may only be creating a ‘rod for their own back’ by letting the company think that they are keeping to the prescribed strategy. As the company sees the high level of performance as a reflection of good implementation of the company strategy then you can understand why the company thinks their strategy is the right one. In reality the team have changed the strategy to reflect local customer’ needs, and this is successful. However, the manager of Team B and the team members do not communicate that they have actually developed their own successful strategy. The manager and the team must be open about how the team are adapting the company strategy so as the company can learn from the team’s success. However, the question begs as to whether the company culture is such that this openness and challenge is encouraged.

The difference is performance between the two teams is quite marked and Team B is outperforming Team A, not because of the individual abilities of each of the team members, but through Team B enjoying their work, feeling supported and valued, and also developing their skills and knowledge as a team. Team A are ‘getting by’ but motivation is low due to being micro-managed and this is resulting in a lack of effort, with many of the team actually looking to change company.

Whilst it is sad is that a decent enough team are suffering due to inadequate and ineffective team leadership and the senior leadership are doing absolutely nothing to address the challenges being faced. Senior management have never challenged the high turnover rate of employees and sought to understand exactly what the specific reasons are as to why people in the team are moving on. But therein lies another Blog piece for later!

Team Managers need to understand and look after their team members. The manager can still be direct, clear, and concise in order to ensure clarity of direction and focus but it needs to be done in such a way that they allow their fellow team members to have a ‘voice’. A good team manager will always be a leader and not a ‘boss’. They will nurture their team, value their contributions, support them through challenges and involve them in decision making and problem solving. They will encourage the team to learn and develop together along with ensuring maximum focused effort and that successful work is rewarded accordingly. The ‘boss’ or micro-manager will always be at best average and in fact could be a financial liability given the cost of having to recruit and replace team members.

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