New Managers – Learn This One Early

Looking back at my experiences as a new manager and some of the difficulties that no one can prepare you for I remember one in particular. It center on getting your people (team) to work as a team. My very first gig was on graveyard shift working in manufacturing with 20 direct reports. I was the new manager and had been doing “their” job on day shift. I pretty much was an expert or “ace doer” within that particular area. I could run anything well, I exceeded my goals and had superb quality to boot! I didn’t lack in confidence either. Well, I was promoted to manager… Yeah! I was looking forward to the challenge of making graveyard shift #1. Well, that task was definitely met with some resistance. I took over a shift of people that I did not hire, did not know and was challenged by them everyday. One of the very first things I noticed were the shift was not functioning or acting as a team. In fact, they had more conflicts or personality clashes than I had ever seen before. I wanted to get out and help train and coach each employee in being the best at what “I” did as one of them, but could not get that started until I get them to work as a team first.

The amount of time that I spent on working on personality conflicts or conflicts in general was high. These discussions take time and sometimes the benefits of that time are very low. As a new manager, you want to demonstrate to those that promoted you, that you can deliver. Getting through the conflict hurdle was going to be tough. What do you do? Here is what I did…

  • Timing – as a new manager it is tough to know when you should step in. Some conflict is okay. Knowing when to step in is critical. If you step in for every little thing – your people will just use this as an opportunity to have you run in circles. Don’t step in and your risk having the situations go too far and never be repairable. Over time, as a new manager, you will get better at it. Just keep notes on how you handled each situation and how you could do better next time.
  • Start Up Meetings – time away from running your equipment in manufacturing is limited, but you need that time. I used to have daily start up meeting to communicate what was hot, what the focus was and to have one employee share something about themselves. I called it, what do you like to do away from work? What is important to you? 2 minutes of sharing went a long way for people to get to know each other. After the first month, we would just do a quick round robin on what the weekend brought to each other or anything important! It worked…
  • Find the “few” that are the real issue – I think we all know that there are a few folks that are the majority of the problem. After watching, learning and coaching the team – I was able to find those folks that were the real problem. Now you can spend quality time on the “real” issues. Through coaching, discipline  or flat out removal – whatever it takes to show the team you mean business. Do it! Sometimes a good termination will have a very long lasting effect. At the very least the team will see that you are willing to do what it takes to keep the team a team.
  • Hiring – One thing a manager can do (when the opportunity is available) is bring in the best people for their team. Part of my interview process was to insure that I had a person that would fit into the make-up of my current team (with a few things that will move the team forward). If you bring in a loner or a disruptive force to your team, get ready to be back in the conflict resolution business.

Let’s face it, people will always have some sort of conflict. Tight schedules, working closely together for long periods of time, bad days or whatever can easily help add to conflict. You as the manager just need to act, when necessary and effectively to keep the team working together. Your success as a manager is tied to your team. Don’t ever forget that!