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Situation

I work in an SME with approximately fifty employees over three sites. When I joined, my presence increased the size of my department to three. We have always worked well together, but the team has grown to nine over the last year and we expect to grow to twelve by January.

Everyone has distinct roles with a small amount of overlap, however the growth has resulted in an unclear management structure and communication is often a problem.

I am not a manager in my current role but I do have some management experience from previous jobs. The senior staff have a lot of respect for me and I am known for quality of work, clear thinking and confidence.

Question

I'm keen to encourage clarity of roles both above and below me and improve communication and efficiency, without ruining a very easy going and light hearted environment. A number of the team have gone into roles they have no experience in purely because the needs of the business have evolved. There is definitely a skills gap which is being addressed but, in my opinion, too slowly.

My manager has asked the team to have a weekly meeting to discuss our goals for the following week, and we have to take turns chairing the meeting. However most of the team struggle for the confidence to do that. We have had three of these meetings now and they have been almost identical to each other, with just one person talking and not holding their audience.

Most of the team see me as a senior member of the department, respect me and will listen to my instructions. But I need to remember I'm not a manager and I don't want to overstep my bounds.

What can I do to help the department move forward with our communication and training problem without stepping on my manager's toes?

I'd rather not hear "it's not your problem, just do your job". I'm far too proactive to sit back and let a company I love working for waste a fantastic opportunity to grow. Getting the best from everyone is something I'm passionate about, while of course maintaining the quality of my own work.

  • He wants to give everyone all the time they need to learn the roles at their own pace. But I can see it just isn't happening that way, which is why I want to try and be more proactive and do something about it – Darren H Nov 18 '16 at 23:29
  • Not necessarily go around him. I'm sure it would be possible to help people learn more effectively without stomping around like a wild elephant. I'm just unsure how to approach it, or how I could introduce to my manager the idea that I think there is a problem, without him feeling that I'm criticising – Darren H Nov 18 '16 at 23:37
  • You could go to your boss again and point out how's it isn't working and you would like to try and chair the meetings... – HorusKol Nov 19 '16 at 14:50
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You have multiple problems. To review your situation:

  1. Growth has caused people to take on roles they're not good at.
  2. Growth has increased the need for better coordination and communication.
  3. Manager is trying to use a weekly meeting to achieve "communication saturation" (everyone knows what everyone knows) but it's failing, because
  4. Staff have been given yet another new role, to chair meetings, at which they apparently suck, since they have zero training in this new chair-a-meeting role.
  5. Even the staff who aren't chairing, suck at participating, therefore
  6. Information Saturation is not being achieved, and
  7. You're frustrated, the team is frustrated, and you're all STILL experiencing the symptoms of poor coordination and communication.

In your shoes, I would:

  • Verify that the purpose of these meetings is to achieve communication saturation
  • Assess whether my teammates are competent to engage in group problem solving -- if so, tackle it as a group; if not, meet 1:1 with the manager
  • Move as much of the coordination and communication work OUT of the meeting and into other mechanisms like a shared kanban board (nobody has to ask about task status because status is visible to all)
  • Persuade your manager to only give people tasks (like chairing meetings) that they have some competence and training to do well, and prioritize that training.

For more on Communication Saturation, see the class slide here.

For more on learning to chair meetings, well, join Toastmasters.

Shared kanban board example: enter image description here

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Float the idea of becoming a tech/team lead to your manager. This means that you're "first among equals" among your peers and have the (limited) authority that comes with this, but continue to report to your manager and he keeps handling the people management side of things (salaries etc).

A good manager will welcome this, as it will lift some burden off his shoulders and elevate his own position as well (he now leads a team, not just a bunch of people!). But it's also the first step on the road to becoming a manager yourself, and a bad manager will take this as a threat. It sounds like you're growing fast, so it should not be a zero-sum game, you're better positioned than we are to judge how he'll take it.

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  1. Coordinate every thing you do with your manager. Altrnatively, coordinate closely with your manager. There should be nothing that you do at the meetings including taking authority, authoring initiatives and driving discussions that should be a surprise to your manager.

  2. Use your manager as a sounding board. Solicit your manager's input and feedback and pick their brains whenever you get a chance.

  3. Be careful to stay within any authority that your manager delegates to you.

  4. Be careful to speak positively of your manager in front of staff and other management.

  5. Respect your manager's prerogatives and show respect to your manager's prerogatives, especially when you are in disagreement with your manager, and you are expressing that disagreement.

  6. Don't put your manager on the spot if you can avoid it.

  7. Be straightforward with your manager about any disagreements with them. He may know that you don't agree with them 100%, but they have to trust you 100%.

Give your manager the (correct) impression that you seek to work with them to achieve your goals for the firm. Of course, your manager must be on board with your goals for the firm. And if you manager gets the (correct) impression that good things happen when you are around, that's even better :)

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