Question: I’m the senior manager in a MedTech firm. I promoted another staff member to team leader after he showed exceptional skill during a successful trial period. Eight weeks into his role, two team members have raised issues about his leadership qualities. I promoted him because of his high standard and think he will be a fantastic role model. I want to see him do well, and inspire confidence. How do I bring this up without causing tension between him and his team?
Answer: Leading a team long term requires a specific set of skills. But many who are successful at a senior level struggle to make the transition from the management of operations or projects to people management. Often training, mentoring and on-going support are required to assist them.
Why is this issue arising now?
As the team leader has successfully completed a trial period, consider what is the difference between the environment now and during that period. Is the workload heavier? Are there stresses now that did not exist before? While other team members are citing issues with their direct-line management, perhaps there are other issues. Gather information on the performance of the team, attendance records and project requisitions. Garner informal feedback from other team leaders or managers.
An overall barometer of the composition and performance of the team will allow you to ascertain if the issue is with the direct line management of the team or with the more strategic issues of the allocation of workload, stress management or more complex dynamics within the team itself.
Initiate a coaching-based conversation
Organise a confidential space to discuss any areas of concern with the new team leader. Allow him time to express how he feels the role is going, any supports required, and areas that are proving to be a struggle. Try to approach this as a coaching conversation: ask open questions, provide him with time and space to respond, listen to his feedback and allow him to generate potential solutions. It is important that an appropriate tone is set. It is not a performance review or a disciplinary procedure, simply a discussion of their role to date. Ensure that actions are identified for implementation following the meeting. Encourage him to take responsibility for as many of the actions as possible and appropriate. Set timeframes and deadlines for implementation, including progress updates.
Provide formal training
Formal external training is a good starting point for those who struggle with people management. It provides a basic toolkit to turn to when issues arise and can help them analyse their management style, note any gaps and build confidence. When sourcing training providers, ensure the training is in keeping with the ethos and culture of the company, request a conversation with the training provider and a look at the training materials. Good trainers will also request information on your organisation and the individual beforehand.
Highlight ongoing support
Emphasise that support is available. While it may be tempting to try to “solve” all issues in one conversation or declare him competent after a training day, continuous support and assistance are more likely to facilitate success. An “open door” policy, checking in from time-to-time and periodic emails serve to reinforce your support and accessibility. This should serve to build confidence, allow you both to deal with issues as they arise and build a valuable feedback loop.
Consult human resources for internal processes
Do not allow the fact that you have selected this individual to cloud your judgment or alter your approach in dealing with the situation. Explore the issue with HR on an informal basis initially. Make yourself familiar with company policy on performance issues, feedback and disciplinaries. This will allow you to follow established best practices, afford the individual every chance possible and support you to behave in an ethical manner in keeping with relevant legal frameworks.
This article first appeared in the business section of The Sunday Independent, on the 8th of October 2017, and the original article can be viewed here.
Senior Occupational Psychology Consultant