Get to know my team? But they scare the hell out of me.

The Times had a whole section on Talent Management yesterday (H/T: Stumbling and Mumbling). There’s some interesting stuff in there but this piece on managing teams caught my eye. Its basic message is that to manage your team members effectively, you need to get to know them.

Wow! Sounds bleedin’ obvious doesn’t it? But look around you; a lot of people don’t do it.

Most managers spend too long managing their in-tray, says Ceri Roderick, a partner at the business psychology firm Pearn Kandola. But such a view will dent your own career prospects as well as those of your team. Senior managers are expected to shape strategy and then deliver it through their team, he says.

And why do they spend time managing their in-trays? Is it because they have so much work to do? No, it’s because they are scared of their staff.

Let’s face it, the people who work for you can be scary. They have all sorts of problems and issues. If you venture out of your office to talk to them, anything could happen. Someone’s grandmother might have died. Two people in your team might be vying for position and be competing for your support, while trying to dish the dirt on each other. That annoyingly bright graduate trainee might ask your opinion on a technical issue, thus revealing how rusty your knowledge really is. For a control-freak manager, and most are, to an extent, control freaks, this is frightening. You could end up in all sorts of conversations which you can’t control.

Even people who are talkative and gregarious in social situations find such interactions with their team members more difficult. As a manager, you feel responsible and that you need to be able to provide answers. You might get away with getting it wrong in a pub quiz but admitting you don’t have an instant solution to a work problem is a severe loss of face. It’s safer to stay in your office and out of danger. 

This is bad enough for the extravert manager but for the introvert, who feels uncomfortable with people anyway, it’s even worse. I remember once having to work quite hard to get a senior finance manager just to walk the floor and talk to his team. His excuse for not doing so was that he needed to work on a spreadsheet – one so undemanding that any of his section supervisors could have easily dealt with it.

Many managers don’t delegate, not because they don’t think their staff can do the job but because they want to save some ‘real work’ for themselves. Why? Because it makes them feel important and helps them avoid talking to their staff.

A couple of years ago I was working on the redesign of an organisation. One head of a department looked at his new role specification and said:

If I do all this, I will spend all my time just managing people. I won’t have time to do any work myself.

Hey, go to the top of the class, you’ve finally understood why you’re called a manager.

Dragging managers away from their offices and getting them to talk to their people can be like pulling teeth. Forget sending them on courses to improve their technical skills. Teaching them how to avoid being intimidated by the rough and tumble of normal social interaction might be a better investment.

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4 Responses to Get to know my team? But they scare the hell out of me.

  1. The UK populationis terrible at people management and it is reflected directly in our poor productivity on an international basis.

    Yet i see so few companies willing to train management skills, it is just promote and cope; I don’t balme it iall on the managers when their are wider corporate cultural issues to deal with.

  2. Rick says:

    Fair comment, C.U. – “promote and cope” was done to me when I had my first management role.

    But you only change a culture by changing the way people think and that goes back to how you develop individual managers to deal with this stuff.

    You need to give people the skills and confidence to manage performance, then create the culture where managers support each other to deal with performance issues and, just as important, don’t collude with each other to avoid them.

    I’ve got a post in my head on all this – sounds like I need to sit down and write it.

  3. Pingback: Emotional attachments « Flip Chart Fairy Tales

  4. Pingback: Empowerment and getting rid of managers « Flip Chart Fairy Tales

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