2

I think I have reached a dead end where I am not sure whether the issue is the team I manage or the way I manage.

The first months of my promotion to manager went well, but after the 6th month my team are getting increasingly judgmental, verbal, aggressive and frustrated. I initially thought it was only one person who was jealous that I got promoted, but he seems to have infected the rest (others on the team are starting to "agree with him", which is very concerning because he is often just being wrongly judgmental).

I know of two possible sources of frustration:

  1. Senior Management has changed and my team members have much less authority than they used to in the previous years. Decisions need to be documented, approved, and many plans come from above rather than my team members going out independently. My role in this new structure is seen by my senior team members as that of a bureaucrat implementing rules but with minor influence on our overall strategy. The fact that the plans from new management led to negative consequences on a few occasions makes the technical experts on my team openly and aggressively question/criticize every new management decision and even intermediary steps suggested by me. On multiple occasions, I find that criticism to be incorrect and simply cynical pessimism.

  2. There is an unspoken culture of secrecy between senior management and individual contributors. Even I am unaware of some grand level strategies, but sometimes it is unclear what can be communicated and what can't. I believe the ideal situation is that individual contributors just do their work without questioning anything, then management can see how it goes.

Now here's the thing. Personally, I am very optimistic about the new senior management and their overall direction. The minor issues we come across are just due to the infancy of this new thing e.g. like the use of an entirely new technology comes with many problems at the beginning, but over time it improves. It doesn't just get discarded because of minor failures.

As an example, imagine our recent department history being similar to a sudden change from face-to-face airplane booking to automated online booking operations. Of course there will be some technical issues at the beginning - simply because it's new! But what I see is that the former "face-to-face agents" (who now operate the online booking system) are constantly complaning about every minor speck in the online booking system, where their own service level used to be much better and provided a better experience to customers. Now, there are many features that need to be rolled out over time, but certainly not very soon. This is not my industry, but the example is exactly what happened to my team.

What can I do to regain the respect and trust of my team after such a dramatic shift in management strategies?

  • I don't believe this is ore opinion-based than many questions we answer regularly. – DJClayworth Jan 21 '14 at 22:07
  • I think if the question were reworked to remove the subjective opinions about the environment and just asked about the facts I would vote to reopen. But this question is a train wreck as it stands. – IDrinkandIKnowThings Jan 21 '14 at 22:44
  • Many MBA programs offer semester-long courses on organizational change strategies. – Jim G. Feb 26 '14 at 15:13
8

How to earn the respect of a team that is frustrated by and skeptical about change?

There's no getting around it. While it may be exciting, change is basically scary.

You team's leader has changed. Your company's senior management has changed. The company's direction has changed. Your team's role has changed.

Scary!

During times of change, teams often turn to their leader to set the tone and ease their fears. This is your big chance!

I find that real honesty goes a long way toward gaining the confidence of your team. Talk to them. Help them understand the optimism that you feel, without dismissing their feelings of frustration and skepticism. Make them feel safe. Explain how they have a real (though different) role in the company's future, and that they won't just be discarded.

Tell them what you see that makes you feel optimistic. Explain to them how you are all in this together, and how you are there to help them succeed going forward, just as you have been in the past. Help them understand that you truly care about their individual situations; their well-being.

To get their trust you need to show them that you have the qualities (both technical and managerial) that they can depend on during this uncertain state. Try to find small ways that you can demonstrate that you are "sticking up for them". Sometimes you can talk to upper management, tell them what you are trying to accomplish, and get a small concession that helps cement your leadership. That could be a new tool that makes their work life easier, slightly relaxed rules, a change to their physical work environment or dress code, whatever - you are looking for some small change initiated from your team, that they can feel good about.

And you need to show them that there is hope. Show them your vision for what the company can be down the road, how their role fits into it, and the signs you see that the company can actually accomplish that vision.

You might want to take your entire team offsite for a first discussion that starts the ball rolling. Such a break from routine can often be a powerful signal of positive change. But it will take more than one meeting to gain this respect and confidence, and it will most likely happen just a little bit at a time.

Every time you see someone on your team do anything that demonstrates the actions you want, find a way to acknowledge it - publicly if you can. Even a quick "Nice work on X, John!" during a team meeting can go a long way.

This is your chance to be a real leader. Your team needs you. Think about the few big things you can do, and also about the many little things.

  • Change management is a whole part of management. Many many books focus only on change management. Someone can probably lend some great books to you. – Fabinout Jan 22 '14 at 18:03
3

Ye gods. Why don't you just go and re-read your question to see what the problem is?

Senior Management has changed and my team members have much less authority than they used to in the previous years.

So your team used to be able to provide input to the direction of the company, which is good, since they know what tactical things need to be done in the trenches. And now they have a bunch of suits telling them how to do their jobs. Awesome.

Decisions need to be documented, approved, and many plans come from above rather than my team members going out independently.

Not only that, now there's piles of useless bureaucracy too. Have you explained why these processes need to be done? People won't buy into ideas if they don't know why the ideas are good.

My role in this new structure is seen by my senior team members as that of a bureaucrat implementing rules but with minor influence on our overall strategy.

And by your question, it certainly seems as though they're right! Your job is not to be senior management's lapdog, it's to be the advocate for your team. You protect your team from management, and help push strategies to aid your team. Yes - occasionally you will need to do something to the detriment of your team for the betterment of the company. But if you've spent a good amount of time visibly doing things to help your team, then your team will understand that sometimes there's some give and take.

I believe the ideal situation is that individual contributors just do their work without questioning anything, then management can see how it goes.

What, are you working at McDonalds?

Hell, even McDonalds will welcome the input from its rank and file - and so should you. Not only do the rank and file have valuable insight due to their intimate knowledge of the actual work being done, but (as you've found out) very few people will be happy to be treated like robots. Unhappy team members makes for a miserable time for you the manager.

This blog post may help explain why there needs to be proper balance between senior management and your senior staffers:

...there is no more qualified a demographic than engineers to measure the value of leadership structures and to consequently tear them down if they have no obvious value.

  • Can I change the first line of your answer to something less aggressive, such as "I think your question outlines exactly what your problem is"? I almost didn't bother reading your answer because that first line sounded so aggressive and immediately put me on the defensive :) – Rachel Jan 22 '14 at 19:07

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.