It’s not uncommon in the clinical engineering world to have a department member promoted to a managerial position. That can present a whole set of unique problems when your buddy is now your boss. Alternatively, someone can be brought in from the outside and then we may experience the feeling of, “Who does this guy think he is. He doesn’t know anything about our department or how we do things here.” No matter how the new boss got there, the important thing to remember is that the team has now changed.
I’m working with a team who is adjusting to a new manager. There was one person in the department who was acting as the lead, however, the job was becoming too difficult for her and she was not handling the different personalities in the 3 person department very well. The company decided to restructure the department by adding a new, working manager to the group. They informed the group that the new manager was not there to make changes, but rather handle the managerial duties and assist in the tasks of the department as well.
The woman who was the former “lead” in the department is having a very difficult time dealing with the new manager. She claims she doesn’t want the stress of the management position, but she also doesn’t really believe they needed a manager. She feels that everyone knows what they are supposed to do, and 2 of them have been with the company for 20 years, so in her opinion, there really is no need for a manager. She is very skeptical and, perhaps unconsciously, setting him up to fail.
I had the opportunity to speak with the new manager before he started. His approach was going to be to start slow, get to know the staff and the procedures and not look to make any changes. He was from the same industry, but not the same company so he knew there would be a learning curve. He understood that he needed to gain the trust of the department and let them know he was there to help, while defining his role as manager at the same time. He was looking forward to getting started.
As would be expected, Mary (not her real name) was in charge of training the new boss. Mary took it upon herself to decide what he should know and when. The boss didn’t want to push too hard because he didn’t want to come on too strong and seem like a jerk. But that only created more problems. Mary felt he wasn’t engaged and really not doing anything, as she expected. Finally he decided to have a meeting with her to set the ground rules and come up with a real training plan that he was involved in. Mary refused to meet with him one on one; she wanted the upper manager present. She felt that he had a secret agenda to get her fired and that he was going to judge the way they do things, which had been working fine until he got there. She discussed this with her coworkers and they began to follow suit. Every time the boss tried to speak to them, he felt they told him only the bare minimum of what he needed.
Mary didn’t want him going too fast and messing things up. She didn’t like his attitude when she told him something. She felt he was smug and pretended he knew it all. Both sides were very frustrated and conflict ensued. Not uncommon when a new team is forming.
Teams go through 4 basic natural stages, forming, storming, norming, and performing. Clearly this one is in the storming stage. Although this is a difficult phase, it’s important to know that it is perfectly normal and often necessary to move to the next stage. While forming, people are very skeptical and a little formal. They are sizing each other up and usually polite and cautious. Once they become a little more comfortable they start flexing their muscles. They are more open to stating their opinions and they begin marking their territories. When there is a brand new person involved, the group may start to isolate them and band together. The new person fights for his position and the Storming phase is in full swing.
It’s important to move out of the storming phase as quickly as possible and it’s usually up to the manager and upper manager to make sure this happens. Most times the problem is that people really don’t get to know each other in the forming stage. A good thing to do is plan a time to meet in an informal atmosphere. Communication is essential. In the example above, when Mary refused to meet with the manager, he should have delved into why she was uncomfortable meeting with him. He could have met with her right at her desk if that was where she was comfortable.
On the employee side, Mary should have assumed good intent. There really was no reason for her suspecting the new manager of foul play. If she would have been honest with herself, she would have seen that her feelings were stemming from her own insecurity. She had been reprimanded for her volatile behavior in the past, prior to the new manager coming on board, and assumed the company was out to replace her. This was not the case. The company valued her abilities and experience; they just needed the noise to stop. They were losing people because of her behavior and the upper manager had to be more involved than he had time for. That’s why they hired the new manager, so Mary could just do her job, which she did well, and not have to deal with the managerial functions which seemed to stress her out and cause her to overreact.
Communication; without it, teams cannot move through the stages to norm and finally perform.
Thoughts…….. Contact me at abbe@TECResourceCenter.com
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