Managing Managers: Building a Management Team

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Julie A. Bradbury
Independent Consultant

If you are a manager who is responsible for a department, a number of remote groups, or a combination, you most likely manage managers. You already realize that managing them is more than answering emails, writing performance reviews, and having the final say. You often become a mentor or guide with mostly positive results for the manager and for you. In this article, I’m suggesting that you have another opportunity available to you. I believe that you can build a management team and tap a resource that benefits you, your direct reports, and the company.

I’ve managed several groups of managers at two Fortune 500 companies. In each case, I changed them into a management team that joined me in creating and fulfilling a defining vision. Building a management team offered me the opportunity to mobilize the managers’ energy, skill, intellect, and wisdom and bring it to focus on innovation.

Why would you want to build a management team?

When I made most decisions (even with suggestions from the group), it took all of my energy and then some to drive those decisions into the organization. For the most change-intensive decisions, there was little ownership from the managers and pocket vetoes from some of the writers. The fear that comes with change intensified, I believe, because all the managers did not have an ownership role in developing new approaches, systems, and so on. The flow of ideas was a trickle and few trusted enough to share innovations that could benefit other groups. Vested-interest and manipulative behaviors were possible because they were invisible to other managers who might be affected. A forum to get their ideas heard was not the norm.

It made sense to bring the managers into a team relationship. With the cooperation of a management team,

  • vision drives decisions
  • the decision environment becomes idea rich
  • business awareness increases
  • best practices spread

How do you get started?

In your one-on-one meetings with each manager, reveal your intention to build a management team. As with any change, explain the advantages you see for them and for the company. Be honest about any concerns; enlist their support in moving to the new model. Answer questions.

Set a date for the first team meeting. You will be creating the team agreements (the principles on which the team functions and what it values.) If possible, have everyone there in person. If you have an organizational development specialist in HR, enlist his or her support in leading activities to develop team agreements. If there are no HR specialists available, you can ask a respected peer or upper-level manager to facilitate the discussion so you can participate and interact with the rest of the team. Since you are creating the team and you supervise the managers, you are the team leader.

Ideally, at a follow-on meeting, you’d spend some time on your vision, mission, and goals. As the meetings continue, issues and topics closer to the day-to-day work life will emerge. Decisions around these can be tested against the vision for validity and priority.

Over time, the team gains a business and company perspective that would not be possible in silos. Their skills are affected as they see how other managers handle situations, or they learn from the wisdom and ideas of others. It’s almost like having a management laboratory.

What management behaviors and practices improve with teamwork?

When you are meeting regularly as a group, the communication improves. Other outcomes follow.

  • Decisions are made with an understanding of inter-group and company impacts.
  • Innovations and best practices are public and can be adopted by other managers.
  • Managers build peer relationships that make them less reliant on the opinions and emotional support of their writers. Sharing ideas and getting opinions on issues is often easier with a peer. The team legitimizes this behavior.
  • Personnel decisions such as promotions can be done with more consistency if the team must approve.
    • In a small team, hiring can be a whole team decision, rather than the decision of one manager. If the person has to transfer into another group or does not work out, there are fewer questions about the original hiring decision.
    • Ranking and rating for compensation works well in a group. Each manager must have a strong case for high ratings so that his or her peers agree on the rationale in comparison with their high performers.
  • Divisive rivalries are less likely to occur.
  • Change management can be more effective when the group works with you to define the plan and develop the rollout and communications.
  • Standards and professionalism can be reinforced.
  • Training goals can be agreed on and implemented across the organization with exceptions for individual development needs.

What problems come with creating a team?

I believe the biggest barrier to team growth is trust. Trusting you and trusting each other is hard for many people. Consistent behavior on your part may not always be enough to keep trust high. Your organizational development people should be able to give you some guidance on building and keeping trust healthy. Excellent group exercises exist to help a team build trust.

As a management team learns to work together, it develops its own identity. When a manager leaves and a new one is hired, he or she is at a disadvantage coming on board with the team. Asking one of the senior members to be a partner for the new manager can help bring him or her along more quickly. Most managers will not have had this experience in previous jobs, so some planned support will move them into the team more quickly.

The challenge of managing a team of managers is exciting and creative. I hope you have an opportunity to try it in your organization.

 

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