Recently I've been promoted to Project Manager at my company and am responsible for managing team members to work on different projects.

The problem I'm facing is that most of the team members are my personal friends from old times and now that I'm their superior I'm having trouble effectively managing them without conveying the feeling that I'm giving them orders.

Another instance of such a problem is when a member is late on his/her tasks. How should I force him/her to catch up with the timeline without hurting our friendship?

  • 5
    This question is closely related: "I will soon become the manager of a close friend. How do I be an effective manager and friend?". The reason I'm not suggesting it as a duplicate is that the linked question deals with a friend being hired into the department while the OP is asking about how to handle the transition from friend and coworker to manager.
    – Lilienthal
    Sep 15, 2015 at 10:34
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    When he said "I think I am doing fine", what did you say? Jun 7, 2016 at 18:49
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    When he tries to guilt you that you guys are friends, do you point out that his poor performance is hurting you as well? If he was a good friend to you, he would be trying to make you look good. The fact that he is not shows he thinks the friendship is a one way street. Jun 10, 2016 at 16:58

12 Answers 12


A couple of years ago, I led a team with some of my closest friends and a family member. Lucky me, this was a quite excellent team in terms of seniority, and that makes a whole lot of difference.

Here's what helped me:

  • Make it crystal clear that your job is to get the project done
  • Your relationship in the office is NOT the same as your personal one. You may need to remind them and, more importantly, you, about this from time to time.
  • If someone's behaviour is not acceptable, let them know immediately. Remember that if the project isn't delivered, ultimately it's your responsibility
  • Remember that project (or people) management should be a lot more about giving context and involving people than giving orders
  • Have some beers, have dinner, go out with them. Investing in the personal relationship outside work made wonders

if someone's late on their tasks, understand what can be done. If this is a recurring issue, consider if that person is on the correct role, if it needs mentoring or if it is an attitude problem.

I've been working for 3 years in a company owned by a big friend of mine. Two weeks ago we had a conflict on something he did and I hated. We basically had an unpleasant talk during the afternoon. When it was over, friends as usual, I invited him for a music gig. Once again, leave the professional relation on the side a bit and focus on the personal one for the rest of the day.

Things are not always so easy. I had to fire a friend of mine once. He didn't take it well and we haven't spoke for a long time. But if I hadn't done it, the team would eventually disintegrate.


Generally speaking boss and good friend don't mix and you likely can't have both. Situations like you describe are often the result when the job follows the friendship. In my experience it is very hard for people to separate friendship from organization structure.

I would recommend that you try to break the connection at work. Is there another team or department that would be a fit for your friend? Or a different team for you to lead? You may find that he will perform very well when you aren't his supervisor. You should probably talk to your boss or HR to see if there is a way to make some kind of transfer happen.

  • This was posted as an answer on another question and merged hither. Aug 31, 2016 at 0:47

I don't want to make a show of force.

Unfortunately, this may be necessary, but note that a "show of force" doesn't have to be done in a vicious way or one that might jeopardize your friendship. In fact, invoking that friendship can help drive the point home that he is under-performing. Try something along the lines of:

"Hey man, I really need you to step up your work efforts. I know we're friends, but your productivity since you've been here reflects on me as a manager, and is putting me in an awkward position. When you're here, I need your focus to be on the job, ok?"

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    I like the idea of speaking as a friend. However, "do better" is bad advice. Give him specific, measurable goals, and then work (as friends) to make sure those criteria get met. (I'm currently favoring Phil's answer.)
    – TOOGAM
    Jun 8, 2016 at 17:52
  • This was posted as an answer on another question and merged hither. Aug 31, 2016 at 0:47

The tension you're feeling is not because friendship and supervision can't coexist. It's because you both have skills you need to develop.

The ability to be firm without being aggressive is a fundamental leadership trait. You need to develop that quality. You should deal with this coworker in the same way that you would deal with any other coworker who isn't taking you seriously, but is also a nice guy or gal (jerks are another kettle of fish).

The ability to take criticism/critique and use it to improve is a fundamental employee skill. Your friend needs to develop that skill. He should be able to incorporate any critique from any source (even a friend), evaluate its merit, and incorporate it into his daily practice.

It's important to remember these two things because dealing with another person's character flaws is different from dealing with generally awkward social situations.

You need to be firm.

The friend needs to be receptive.

Neither of those precludes friendship.

  • This was posted as an answer on another question and merged hither. Aug 31, 2016 at 0:47

You need to have a structured private conversation with him. Schedule a meeting in your office and make performance the topic of discussion. Open with, "I am speaking to you as your boss, and you have some performance issues that need to be corrected." List specific issues and identify goals. If this level of formality does not work, you need to put him on a formal PIP (performance improvement plan).

I have had friends work under me, and I have also coached teams that my friends played in. Somehow, they seem to get the difference when I am talking as the boss or coach.

Never act like the boss or coach outside of work. For instance, even when it's lunchtime, my boss status goes away.

  • This was posted as an answer on another question and merged hither. Aug 31, 2016 at 0:47

What you should realise is that generally speaking managers cannot be friends with the people they manage. They can and arguably should be friendly, but the manager-employee dynamic is potentially lethal to friendships and frankly speaking they cannot be combined.

This is because no matter how you look at it, you are in a position of power over them and you are now responsible for judging their work and ultimately making decisions that will impact their livelihood. Even if you think that you won't let that affect your friendship (which is extremely unlikely), there will still be a perception problem. A manager is supposed to (appear to) be impartial and both upper management and any new additions to your team will expect you to not play favorites with former or current friends. Even if you know that you can be truly impartial while still preserving the relationship, your reports can't know for sure and you can bet they'll doubt you and will resent the situation. Upper management will similarly wonder if you don't recognise the need for maintaining boundaries when you're in a management position.

Anita Bruzzese over at the Fast Track blog by Intuit QuickBase gives 5 important points to keep in mind when you suddenly find yourself managing former coworkers whom you consider friends. I've reproduced them here with my take on them:

  1. Be fair: don't walk into your management position with preconceived notions about what your former coworkers do every day. As a colleague you won't have had the perspective that a manager can and should have so make it your job to find out.
  2. Button your lip: let it be known that anything your reports share with you in confidence will be kept in confidence (to the extent possible)
  3. Break habits: you need to put distance between yourself and your former coworkers. This won't be easy, but it is necessary if you want to manage successfully.
  4. Stay friendly: acknowledge the awkwardness of the situation and remain cordial
  5. Find a mentor: as a new manager the best thing to do is to find someone to go to for help in navigating the your new role

I'll end with an excellent summary by Alison Green on professional boundaries in management which matches my opinion on the subject. The full article should be required reading for a new manager and I've repeated a few of the major points of it in my first paragraph.

Part of being a manager is understanding where and how to draw professional boundaries, and how to be friendly without crossing those lines – and not taking it personally if you’re not invited to group happy hours and so forth. To be clear, you can and should care about your employees as people, want the best for them, and develop warm and supportive relationships, but you also need to preserve the boundaries that make it possible for you to be effective at your job and doesn’t lead you or them into seeing the relationship as something it can’t be as long as you’re in a position of such authority over them.

  • managers cannot be friends with the people they manage. I completely disagree with this statement. I have been and still am friends with several of my former managers and was friends with them when I was their report. I would remove that sentence from your answer. Otherwise I think this is pretty spot on. Sep 15, 2015 at 14:55
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    @Chad Would you still be friends if you had to fire one of them? I think I added enough qualifiers to that statement and it's possible that you're one of the lucky few who can mix real friendship with management but for the vast majority of managers this dynamic will end up going wrong, sometimes spectacularly so.
    – Lilienthal
    Sep 15, 2015 at 15:03
  • I had one lay me off, at 2 different positions. I know its not exactly the same as being fired but maybe what you could say is it is impossible to stay friends with your manager if you are not competent or diligent at your job. Sep 15, 2015 at 15:07
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    @Chad I think that 95/100 times, Lilienthal's statement that "managers cannot be friends with the people they manage" is correct. It's similar to when a parent tries to be best friends with their child (who isn't an adult). Typically, the child ,and the parent, are too immature to handle a complex relationship and to decipher in every interaction if the parent is "currently the parent" or "currently the friend". You may have anecdotal evidence that suggests otherwise- and I think that's probably because you and your employees are very mature. For most others, I find that this doesn't work.
    – 8protons
    Jul 27, 2016 at 17:37
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    @8protons Well-put. I'll add what I've already hinted at in the post: this isn't just about whether the department will run well. Even if we assume that we can predict whether someone can remain friends while managing, the overly friendly relationship will still make peers, management or new hires think that the manager's friends receive beneficial treatment.
    – Lilienthal
    Jul 27, 2016 at 18:30

Set agreed upon, written goals and objectives up front. These should include what must be accomplished to rate excellent, very good, good, fair and failing. Then review his performance based on the goals that were set. When you sit down to review results, neither of you will be surprised. These kinds of written goals should be set whether dealing with a friend or anyone else.

  • This was posted as an answer on another question and merged hither. Aug 31, 2016 at 0:47

The goal here is that he does his work well - I would not rush to "discipline" him.

Here is what I've seen work:

  • Create a list of measurable metrics which you measure his performance by. This means you need a clear and objective way to show how he performs rather than feel this way. I realize this is hard, but it's easy to estimate.
  • Talk to him (as his manager), introduce him to the metrics and schedule weekly meetings about how he performs based on the metrics. Let him know that you will communicate these metrics for employees to your manager too.

I have personally opted out several times from managing my own friends, transferring them to other teams instead even when I needed the manpower. This dynamic is very hard to "get right".

  • This was posted as an answer on another question and merged hither. Aug 31, 2016 at 0:48

This is always a difficult situation, basically your friendships will suffer. Your relationship to them has changed, and your responsibilities now centre on project management rather than being part of an equal team. You can still remain friends but you'll have to watch both the team and yourself, that this does not interfere with work.

In saying that you also have a big advantage over a new team leader, I assume you know these people's capabilities, weaknesses and strongpoints very well. This puts you ten steps ahead of a new person in terms of organising them to complete projects successfully.

Use that knowledge to your advantage, and in doing so you will also make your team shine because you won't be allocating them the wrong jobs etc... this is an opportunity that can boost you all, and your friends will soon recognise this. Be on the look out for jealousy and be ready to take proactive action to defuse any drop in moral.

In my experience friends will step up to the plate for a manager from the ranks who they like. I've been on both ends. If they don't you need to be firm and tell them to step up.

Most importantly, don't let this worry you too much, things have a way of working themselves out pretty quickly in these situations. Just keep your eyes open and your back covered.


Time for hats.

I worked with a good friend of mine for a long time. At one point he was my manager, and at another I was his. Some people suggest that they can't co-exist but the fact is that they can. It's easy, as long as both parties can be grown up about it. Thus it's time for hats.

Start the conversation, "Hey Bill, I have to put my manager hat on here for a moment. I need ... manager stuff ..." As long as your in manager mode, then do manager stuff, talk about business, and stay focused.

Then, "... so next week at the latest. Back in friend mode, how Jill doing, are the kids still having a hard time in math class? ... Friend stuff..."

The important thing to understand and make understood, is that "this conversation" is Friend mode, or work mode. Then never ever cross those lines. If you know as a friend that Bill is having a hard time at home, you don't use that with your manager hat until he brings it up. You can use friend mode to suggest that he speak to you in manager mode, but keep friend stuff isolated from work stuff. If you need to, always have your manager conversations "in your office" and let everywhere else be friend mode. Even if it means stopping a conversation. "Hey manager, I was thinking about taking next Tuesday off..." -- "Stop right there, that a manager hat conversation, lets go to the office." -- "Now you were saying something about time off?"

As a friend he needs to be able to say, "Man I am having a really hard time focusing at work, what do you do to stay focused?" and get a friend answer without it showing up on a performance review.

In work mode you need to be able to say "Your doing a crap job, fix it (well the real version anyway)" without it effecting your plans later that evening.

  • This was posted as an answer on another question and merged hither. Aug 31, 2016 at 0:48

be honest. unless you're the top of the food chain, tell the friend that the performance reviews from higher up are starting to decline, and that as a friend, you need his help the most. this is true because you told upper management that you have a dead weight team member. a true friend will step up to help you. i was a manager with friends to both upper management and people under supervision; they are still my friends, every last one of them. i would tell my team that upper management were unable to meet quotas and that i needed help. their performance put both our jobs on the line, as well, so i let them know that if they failed, i would likely get fired too.

  • This was posted as an answer on another question and merged hither. Aug 31, 2016 at 0:48

The question isn't how OP can get his friend/subordinate to do the job without impacting their friendship. I suggest the friend/subordinate has already shown the friendship is not what OP thinks it is.

The friend took the job and understood the responsibilities. The friend also screws-around at work instead of doing the job. When politely confronted, the friend brushes OP off. The friend is taking advantage of OP and the friendship.

Because the friend understands what the job entails and is simply not doing it, the friend has shown they do not value the friendship. As such, OP should feel free to disregard the friendship when it comes to discipline and treat the friend just like any other subordinate.

OP should have a meeting with the friend and discuss the performance issue. In the discussion, be specific about what performance criteria of the position is, and articulate a plan to help the subordinate improve the performance. Create this plan with the help of the subordinate. Document the discussion to HR in an e-mail.

If the subordinate does not follow the plan and continues to brush-off the OP, OP should get rid of the subordinate.

Lastly, consider that there may be a good reason why the friend isn't doing the work. Perhaps they lack the knowledge and/or the skill to do that work. If that's the case, be a friend and help them.

Hope that helps!

  • This was posted as an answer on another question and merged hither. Aug 31, 2016 at 0:48

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