Category Archives: Teams

The Shift in Becoming a Manager

“What would you have to do differently to accomplish ten projects in the same time that you now run five projects? No overtime,” I challenged.

“One thing is for sure, I can’t keep it all in my head,” Roger mused. “You know, some projects, you can manage with sticky notes. When you gave me my third and fourth project, I had to start making lists. When you gave me my fifth project, I realized my lists had similarities and I created a template with all the possible elements. Given another project, I can start with my template rather than creating a list from scratch.”

“But if I give you ten simultaneous projects, what would you have to do differently?” I repeated.

Roger shook his head. “I can’t manage ten projects at the same time, even with my templates,” he concluded. “Something would always be falling through the cracks. I would need some help.”

I nodded in agreement. “Roger, we didn’t start working with you because you could manage a project, or two projects. To manage ten projects, you will need some help, you will need a team. The reason we want to assign you ten simultaneous projects is not so you can build a better template (though that is helpful), but so that you will build a team. This is a dramatic shift from being a supervisor, to becoming a manager. It’s a higher level of work.”

The Realization of a Manager

“But, what if one of my team members doesn’t show up?” Sheri defended. “How can I be held accountable for that?”

“You are not accountable for the team member not showing up,” I replied. “But you are accountable for the output of the team who is now short one team member. I hold you accountable for having back up, cross trained team members to pick up the slack. I hold you accountable for knowing your team well enough to anticipate who is not going to show up, and having an alternate plan in that event.”

Sheri was quiet. While she was backpedaling, she knew she was still on the hook.

“Being accountable for the output of the team changes everything,” I continued. “Once you realize that accountability, your behavior changes.

  • You have to know your team members
  • You have to provide clear expectations within the team’s capability to deliver
  • You have to prepare your team to handle the inevitable problems that will come up
  • Your team has to practice to become fluent in handling those problems
  • You have to provide context for the work that your team will be a part of
  • You have to inspect the output to make sure it meets quality standards within time limits

This is all about people, this is all about your team. And, as the manager, you are accountable for their output.”
_______________________________
Hiring Talent Summer Camp kicks off next Monday. Follow this link to pre-register.

The Team Will Never Be Much Better Than the Leader

“So, I have the team I deserve,” Sheri nodded.

“Yes,” I agreed. “And understand the team you have, will never be much better than you. If you want the team to get better, who has to get better first?”

Sheri was still nodding in agreement, but while her head was moving, her brain was pushing back. She still wanted to lay the blame on her team. “Okay, the team did not do what they were supposed to do, but you seem to say that it is my fault.”

“Fault, schmaltz,” I chuckled. “I don’t care whose fault it is. But, I do hold you accountable for the output of the team. All crumbs, always, lead to the manager. As the manager, you control all the resources for the team. You control the work instructions, you pick the team, you pick the number of people on the team. You pick the roles for people to play, you design the workflow. I hold the team member accountable for showing up and doing their best, but I hold the manager accountable for the output.”
___________________
Hiring Talent Summer Camp kicks off next Monday. Follow this link to pre-register.

How Many People Can One Person Manage?

From the Ask Tom mailbag –

Question:
How many people can a person effectively manage?

Response:
This is a great question.  As I travel around North America, I talk to hundreds of managers each year, there is always this question, stated in different ways.

  • How many people can one person effectively manage?
  • What is the appropriate span of control?
  • When does a manager get spread too thin?

To answer this question, we need to reframe the assumption.  It is not a matter of management or control, it is a matter of accountability.  Here is my reframed question –

  • How many people can one manager be accountable for?

This shifts our understanding of the role and helps us answer the question.  The magic maximum number is “about” 70.  But it depends.  It depends on the variability of the work.  If the work is very repetitive and work instructions seldom change, one manager can be accountable for a fairly large group.  If however, if the work changes from day to day, hour to hour, where work instructions must be adapted constantly from a set of guidelines, that number may drop to four.

Let’s take a military example.  One drill sergeant, in basic training, where work instructions are repetitive, may be accountable for the work output of a high number of raw recruits.  On the other hand, in a Navy Seal team, with specialized missions requiring high levels of judgment which may change minute to minute, one team leader may only be effectively accountable for five or six team members.

What is the level of work on your team, what is its variability, how much judgment is required related to work instructions, what is the risk of underperformance?  Those are the questions you have to answer first.

Being a Manager, Different From Being a Supervisor

Joel was not shaking, but he was certainly shaken.

“I just don’t know,” he said. “Since I was promoted from being a supervisor to a manager, things are different. It is certainly not as easy as I thought, a bit out of control.”

“Being new to management is tough. No one prepared you for this, they just promoted you and expected you to figure it out,” I replied.

“And what if I don’t figure it out?” Joel asked.

“Oh, you will figure it out. But that is no insurance that you will succeed. There are a number of reasons that managers don’t make the grade. The first reason is commitment. This is harder than you thought it would be. Being a manager requires a passion for being a manager. Being a manager is a lot different than being a supervisor.”

“You are right about that. Being a supervisor was fun, fast paced, things were always changing and I had to respond quickly. Being a manager, things move slower. I have to think about things. And the worst part, most everything I do is accomplished through other people. Other people are hard to control. They don’t always show up the way I want them to.”

“So, you are facing the first challenge of a being a manager. Do you really want to be a manager? Do you have a passion for it? Just saying yes doesn’t make it so. Why do you have a passion for it?”

Power of Peers

Phillip’s team looked at each other, across the table, and for the first time saw something different. No more were they simply co-workers, but now interdependent members of a group whose success depended on those connections.

“No one succeeds by themselves,” I said. “At least for anything of significance. Sure you can think you are the Lone Ranger and prance around like you are someone important, but to achieve anything of real significance, you need a team. Each of you will, at some point, stumble, make a mistake, misjudge a situation. Each of you will, at some point, become discouraged, or become a Prima Dona, full of yourself.

“And when that happens, you will not recognize it in yourself, soon enough. You need each other to tell you those things, to make each of you better. Without each other, you will end up in ditch somewhere and no one will notice.”

Why Do You Need a Team?

Phillip’s team looked at each other, across the table, and for the first time saw something different. No more were they simply co-workers, but now interdependent members of a group whose success depended on those connections.

We were talking about changing habits.

“No one succeeds by themselves,” I said. “At least for anything of significance. Sure you can think you are the Lone Ranger and prance around like you are someone important, but to achieve anything of real significance, you need a team. Each of you will, at some point, stumble, make a mistake, misjudge a situation. Each of you will, at some point, become discouraged, or become a Prima Dona, full of yourself.

“And when that happens, you will not recognize it in yourself soon enough. You need each other to tell you those things, to make each of you better. Without each other, you will end up in ditch somewhere and no one will notice.”

How to Prevent Improvement on a Team

Ernesto was on a roll. Emily was now seated in a chair at the front of the class.

“Emily, you think there is a morale problem on the production line, but that’s not the problem. You know your team is not meeting the daily target, but you haven’t shared the numbers with them.  ‘A little short today, try to do better tomorrow.’  Bottom line, you are not telling the truth because you are afraid to hurt someone’s feelings. By not telling the whole truth, the accurate truth, you have made them incapable of improvement.”

Emily’s body language was retreating. Ernesto continued.

“And you have created co-dependents out of them. They are just fine not knowing what the target is. As long as they don’t know, they don’t have to perform to it.

“When you tell them they are short, they think it’s your problem not theirs. They are perfectly willing to continue this non-accountable relationship. No skin off their nose.”

The color in Emily’s face began to pale. I called a time out. The room was very still and quiet.

I jumped in.  “The problem we name is the problem we solve. That is why it is so important to name the problem correctly,” I said. “How will we name this problem?”

How Does Culture Retain the Team?

Ray was looking at his list. “So, I can count on losing this person. They already gave their notice. And I know they will continue to have contact with the other team members, so I know they will talk with each other.”

“Yes, they will talk. And they will talk about money. And money will appear to be the only reason to work at one company versus another. In what way can you, as a manager, put this in perspective for your team. In what way can you effectively communicate, effectively remind people about the other reasons people work, the other reasons people work here?”

Ray was shaking his head, then nodding his head. “So, it turns out that our team culture is really important after all.”

“Yes, when we sit and talk about job satisfaction, matching people’s talents with job requirements, matching people’s capability with the challenge level in the position, creating a trusting work environment, you think I am talking about being warm and fuzzy. The reason that stuff is important, the reason you have to pay attention, is to win this war against competitors. And you can’t win it with money.

“And if all your competitor has to offer is money, then you will make it very expensive for them. And in the end, their cost structure will be out of whack, and you will still win your customers. Culture eats the competition for breakfast.”
____
Amazon’s promotion on my new book Hiring Talent continues. Special pricing.

No Respect

“Tell me about that picture of the next step for you, as a manager.” I was talking to Jeanine.

“I can’t. I can’t do it until I have the authority to do it.” She was struggling with her new position in the company. She was handed a project to help solve some communication issues between several teams inside the company. “I just don’t have their respect. If I had the title, it would just be easier.”

“Jeanine, I can’t give you the title. You have to earn the title. I cannot make people have respect for you, it has to be earned.”

“But, if I don’t have the authority, how can I get their respect?”

I paused. “Jeanine, it is really very simple. All you have to do is bring value to the problem solving and decision making of those around you. Stimulate their thinking, help them move to the next level, show them how they can solve their own problems.

“People will always seek out others in the organization that bring value to their thinking and their work. If their manager is not bringing value to the party, the team member will always seek out the person that is.

“If you want respect, forget the title. Bring value to the problem solving and decision making of those around you. You will earn it.”