Shifting Gears
Check List: 
 Team Launch
Check List: 

What's A Manager To Do?

By Marcia Potter, President, SynTactSolutions, Inc.

Are you stuck in the cycle of wanting to empower teams but not knowing when and how to let go?

Managers and their subordinates suffer with the discomfort of not knowing how to interact with one another in the different roles that result from empowered teams. Team members often find that there is little opportunity to sort out their delicate relationships. This awkward cycle often leads to conflict.

The manager-team member relationship can be awesome. When it's good it's great and when it's bad it's numbing. The mounting push toward empowered teams creates dynamics between these two power points that are worth thinking through carefully. Organizational strategies call for seamless or boundaryless environments that make it difficult to tell who is leading whom. Even stickier are the sensitivities about who reports to whom. Many people are finding themselves both leading and following, and they are confused about what they're supposed to do in different circumstances.

We often see tension between teams and managers as old roles evolve to become new roles and organizations deliberately dismantle hierarchies to become more team-based. Managers are being asked to participate as team members and members of teams are taking on responsibilities that were in previous months the sole domain of management. Few of us are practiced at "flip-flopping" our roles, and therefore mistakes and confusion are the result.

Even with well-orchestrated team training, managers and teams can expect to have difficulty staying in sync with one another. In order to avoid becoming immobilized, there are a number of steps teams and their managers can work through to develop an agreement that becomes work-in-progress, open to re-vision as situations warrant.

Establish a policy that makes it OK to discuss roles and responsibilities all the way up the chain of command. Take away the taboo that leaves everyone assuming that the manager is in charge when none of the previously defined or undefined boundaries have ever been discussed.

Determine if, when, and how managers will assume their membership on the team and the scope of their power and authority. Will they play a full and active role in their capacity as a manager? Should they "leave their stripes at the door?" We advocate for management and leadership behaviors that leverage the best thinking and decision making of their teams. However, managers should never abdicate the ultimate and final authority, obligation, and responsibility that is expected from their roles.

Open a dialogue that explores when and how managers should intervene to change a course of direction for a team and how the push-pull of "who's in charge" can be handled without a power struggle or standoff. As you move toward teams that assume increasing responsibility for themselves and their commitments, work to minimize situations that result from surprises brought about by missed expectations.

Neither managers nor teams like to feel dis-empowered or ambushed. It's a rewarding feeling to experience the energy and strength that emanates from a team, including it's manager, that is focused, flexible and free to talk about who needs to do what and when without fear of level or rank.

Through the ups and downs of teamwork we have witnessed teams and their managers becoming more productive.

Strengthening the skills of teams and their managers in how to negotiate peer relationships will prevent a cycle that is disempowering.

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