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Managing Teams – Not for the Untrained

When we promote people to their first management or leadership position it's very rare that we have actually trained them in advance for that position, it's equally rare that we train them at all for the new position there are in. Almost universally we promote people who were really good at the role they are in, they were a great accountant or engineer or electrician or what ever they did and suddenly they are a struggling manager that may not survive.

I wanted to share a story of my own as an example. I hadn't long gained my first management role and needed to hire someone new to the team and of course, you guessed right, I'd never had any training on management never mind interviewing and recruiting. I'd never even heard about team and cultural fit or stretch!

The Interviews

After what seemed like for ever in the process we got to the stage of interviewing actual people, they were no longer names on a bit of paper that we could easily put in the no thank you pile, I have to look them right in the eye and figure it out. I was told I'd work with HR to do the interviews; they have a very structured approach and I would be fine. The structured approached turned out to be a corporate standard list of questions which had been designed by some very clever consultants to help weed out those who wouldn't 'fit'. What they really meant was we would be able to screen for axe murders I suspect. The questions were very strait laced, tell me about a time when you did this, tell me about this role, why are you applying for this job that sort of thing. There was pretty much nothing personal about the questions, you wouldn't know if they had family, if they had hobbies, were they a neat freak or a messy person.

I went through the interviews, in total we interviewed 4 people after which we tabulated and compared and then I picked the one that HR and I thought would be the best for the team, it's important to realise the final decision was mine, no one else's, this was mine. So, I hired 'Dave' (obviously not his real name). It should have been a sign when friends in the industry asked why on earth I would do that.

Initial Indicators

The day Dave started I had made sure that his PC was set up, his log in worked, he had the required PPE and I had a training plan, I was feeling quite proud that I had ticked off everything on my list, a list I had made based on the things that I had hated not being ready when I started a new job. I introduced Dave around the organisation and got him set up, we talked about the products he would work on and who he would be working closely with. I then passed Dave to the shadow the production leader he would work with on his products and felt fairly satisfied it was all going to be fine.

Day Two.. the first indication that it wasn't all going to be Ok was when I arrived to find Dave manhandling his desk into a new position so that people couldn't see his screen, he didn't like the thought of someone looking over his shoulder. I thought Ok that's fine you do what you think you need to. The 2nd thing that happened that day was the production leader coming to me to say Dave was a bit abrupt, I put it down to him being nervous and finding his feet it'll be fine I reassured Betty (also not her real name), well she said, I hope so but I'm not confident, she smiled and left to do some work and in hindsight the alarm should have gone off there as Betty was really good at picking good people.

Day Four – I got a call from Dave to tell me he wouldn't be coming back! He had fundamental personal issues with the products he would be working with and felt he had to move on. My head almost exploded, how had this not come up in the interview, I knew which products he would be working on after all, but that wasn't on the list, so we didn't discuss them. A few of my team noticed the look on my face and asked what was wrong. So, I explained what I could. They both said very similar things, oh lucky escape there, Betty certainly doesn't like him, and he never talks to the rest of us, and spent all day yesterday at his desk and not with the team on the floor. I put that down to him looking for an exit. I had a chat with my MD and he made it really clear I had to recover this situation, after all we had invested a lot of time and money in the recruitment process.

I called Dave and asked him for a coffee catch up so we could talk. He talked, I listened and in a bid to get him to come back and avoid putting more pressure on my team and most recruitment costs I agree to swap the products Dave would be working on and he was back on board. Now I just had the break the new to Sam about her having to swap products, which wouldn't be so bad since she had been working on these products previously and had done a good job and certainly got on with Betty.

More Issues

We were now 6 months into Dave's tenure, and it had been rocky to say the least. As high maintenance employees go, he was certainly right up there. He didn't really contribute to team meetings, when he did it wasn't really that positive. Any quality issue that came up was always down to the team on the line not understanding or following his instructions. I'd had more than a few complaints about his manner as well both from my own team and the wider factory team.

Dave and I had talked a few times about his manner and the quality coming from the line, I'd given some help and offered to help in anyway I could. I even got one of the technical writing team to buddy up with him to review the instruction sets to make sure they were clear. I would later find out that Helen from the tech writing team had done all the work and Dave had slopped off, but she didn't want to say anything.

I had also noticed that the team were feeling and acting less like themselves than usual, they normally joked a lot (I once came in to find my entire desk covered in Balloons and shaving cream as a birth celebration. I decided to organise a bowling and pizza night for everyone, Dave announced that he wasn't interested and had better things to do, the team seemed relieved.

The Final Straws

Not long after the bowling night another incident occurred that really brought the issues home to me. I entered the works canteen and found one of our build team sitting at a table quite upset. I sat down and asked her what was wrong. At first, she didn't want to tell me but one of her friends mentioned that Dave had been quite nasty to her about a line issue. On investigation it turned out the issue was one of Dave's making and he was blaming others and being quite belittling and mean to people in the process, the worker in particular.

I went to the floor to find Dave and asked him to join me in one of our meeting rooms at the back of the offices to have a discussion about this. He of course denied everything but decided he wasn't going to sit there and take this so promptly got up and left not only the meeting room but the building.

The next day I got an email from Dave saying that he had considered his position and felt it was not possible for him to continue under the current circumstances. After a very brief discussion with out company lawyer we quickly accepted that as his resignation.

The Relief

I told the engineering and production teams about Dave's exit and to my shock they all breathed a sign of relief and I'm sure I even heard a small cheer. I explained that we'd need to find a way of coping with the extra workload until I could find a replacement. My team, to my amazement said it wouldn't be an issue and to hold off on a replacement.

Without Dave there the team rallied, they picked up things that needed and became closer. The production team mucked in as well and took on some new tasks to share the load. We didn't need someone else; we just needed the best team without anyone undermining it.

Summary

If I had had a little more training would have perhaps made a better hire, maybe. Would I have dealt with the problems sooner, I hope so, I certainly never allowed this type of issue to happen in my teams again. Allowing this type of person, this behaviour to go on because I thought we needed the resource was foolish on my part. Dealing with it did only one thing, it improved our team, it let them know they were valued, and that behaviour wouldn't stand, it wasn't us. Allowing it only does one thing, it pulls the team down, it violates trust and runs the risk of losing good people, I was lucky, I didn't lose any. Don't make the mistakes I did, train your people and set the boundaries, value your people enough to give them the tools to succeed in their current role, and their next.


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Saturday, 07 December 2019

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