Dave, I want you to come run my RESMARK development team.
I don’t know. . .
I really needed Dave. He knew the product and he was the best coder,I knew.
Rodney, I think you should fire Jason. That problem with the Accounting Department was pretty bad.
I think he’s salvageable.
Jason was a team member who had made a mistake. As his manager, I had the choice to either fire him or use some of my political capital to try to salvage him.
As a team manager, or even a virtual manager, you have to not only build your team, but protect them. A team is more than a collection of individuals, you have to actively work at it.
Being the manager, be it team, project or program, is both a privilege and a responsibility. You get credit when things go well, even if you didn’t do the thing that got done. You get the blame when things go wrong, even if you didn’t cause it. And it’s when things go wrong that you show your worth as a manager.
Does your team fear doing something wrong because they will disappoint you or because you will throw them under the bus? As a manager you have the opportunity to be the face of your team to upper management. But, there’s a paradox in that role. If you claim credit for yourself, you will be seen as taking unwarranted praise. If you give credit to your team, you will be viewed as an effective manager.
The same thing happens when your team, or specifically a member of your team screws up. The same paradox applies. The more you blame members of your team, the weaker you look. The more you defend your team, the stronger you look as a manager.
There are limits of course. But, we are talking about the normal mixups, screw-ups that happen in IT or any field. How do you decide when to defend and when to cut them loose?
My rule is that I’ll defend my team so long as they remain a part of the team. My teams know that I expect them to be proactive. (Rule #1: In the Absence of Orders, ATTACK.) If you are proactive, you are going to occasionally make mistakes. I want team members who aren’t afraid of making mistakes. I also don’t want them making them on purpose. How do I tell the difference?
It’s part of being a manager.
I have occasionally had to fire people. I’ve also had to “let people go.” The difference is that you let people go who don’t fit on the team. You fire people who betray the trust with the team.
Ironically you also have to protect your team from poachers.
Again the paradox applies. Some managers attempt to keep their best people by actively keeping them from applying to other departments or other companies. It makes sense, right? If the employees can’t apply to other departments they can’t leave right?
Wrong. They just won’t tell you until it’s too late for your to attempt to keep them. Enoch came to me about another company.
Rodney, TMA wants to interview me. What do you think I should do?
No, his name wasn’t really Enoch. Yes, he really asked me what I thought of him leaving my team to go to another company.
Well, Enoch you are my senior engineer. But, you should really think about your family first. If you want to talk to them, I won’t stand in your way.
They want a reference. Would you be my reference?
Okay, he was really pressing the issue. But, if I honestly believed what I told my team, I couldn’t stop once the moment of truth arrived.
Sure, Enoch. I’ll talk to them.
And I did. And I was honest with them. I knew it might cost me my best engineer, but if he stayed, I wanted him to know he could trust me.
Make sure your team knows that you have their backs. And the ironic part is that the more you promote them, and protect them, the more people will think of YOU as a manager.
And when done right, it works.
I got Dave to come work for me. I managed to help Jason keep his job. And Enoch decided to stay on my team.
Rodney M Bliss is an author, columnist and IT Consultant. His blog updates every weekday at 7:00 AM Mountain Time. He lives in Pleasant Grove, UT with his lovely wife, thirteen children and one grandchild.