Leadership

Don't discipline entire staff for mistakes of one person


One of the first management mistakes I ever made occurred when I had just been assigned my first team to manage. I was young and inexperienced, but eager and confident that I knew how to guide my team to corporate greatness. In other words, I was delusional.

The problem arose when one woman on my team starting slacking off on work, causing other team members to pick up the pace for her. I don't even think she realized that she was doing this; she just subconsciously depended on the good will of her teammates to even things out. The me that I am today would readily approach the woman herself to talk about the issues she was having. However, the me I was back then was unable to take the direct approach out of fear that I would hurt her feelings or become--God forbid--an UNPOPULAR MANAGER. Instead I called a team meeting and announced a new policy. "Due to some projects whose deadlines haven't been met," I said (and thank goodness for passive voice), "Each team member will keep a log of all work he or she completes, and turn the log into me weekly." My goal was that the slacker would see from the logs that her name showed up less frequently beside completed work than those of her peers.

Now, in my little manager fantasyland, this woman would have had an epiphany of self-awareness at this announcement and realized that I was talking about her, begged my forgiveness, and re-devoted her entire life to the company cause. Of course, that didn't happen. I was wrong to think someone could read my mind. If you want clarification or changes, you simply have to be direct and explicit. Here's what happened:

Over the course of the next week, each of the "stars" on my team approached me separately at some point, asking if he or she had done something wrong to cause the new policy. The overachievers and perfectionists all blamed themselves. I had to tell each person it was not him or her without mentioning the name of the person the policy was intended for. And of course, my problem employee blithely went about life without a care in the world, never once asking if the problem had been with her.

It goes without saying that my remedy didn't work. I had to eventually speak to her about the particulars of her performance directly--what I should have done in the first place. Unfortunately, she never improved.

I once heard an expression that the world is made for people who are not cursed with self-awareness. The over-achievers on my team were hyper-sensitive to the perceptions of others so my actions caused them unnecessary worry. My friend the shirker, however, probably never suffered a moment of honest self-evaluation in her life.

About

Toni Bowers is Managing Editor of TechRepublic and is the award-winning blogger of the Career Management blog. She has edited newsletters, books, and web sites pertaining to software, IT career, and IT management issues.

33 comments
Wayne M.
Wayne M.

I have two basic rules, never make the team responsible for an individual's mistake and never blame an individual for a team mistake. Also, a third rule. As a leader, you are responsible for everyone's mistakes (don't pass the buck).

Tony Hopkinson
Tony Hopkinson

Do something like that in the UK, and everyone would be on recruiting sites two minutes after the meeting finished, stars would be first.

hlhowell
hlhowell

There are a quite a few bits in play here. What is the team? It is not the manager, nor the work, but the group of people doing the work. The person in question may indeed have been falling off, or their personal form of action may have not been needed by the team at that point in time. Also not everyone contributes 100% all the time to the direct goal. Often there are sub goals that are not even apparent, so the managerial perception may not be adequate to the situation. Since the others were questinging the reason for the action, there may indeed have been no need for the action. A team of people has pointers, directors, goal seekers, doers, planners, and overachievers. All functions are necessary for success. You cannot just staff a team with the "110%" folks and expect success, it will never happen. You need balance in rolls, balance in action, and only external guidance to measure TEAM performance. Some guidance is good, too much or too little is disaster waiting to strike. Teams should be considered successful if the goal is met, not if all the memebers were dribbling the ball. The team should stand or fail on the TEAM perfomance, if you want them to perceive of themselves as a TEAM. If the manager sees individuals, the team will behave as individuals, and the results will be individual results, not team results. I have built successful teams, which were taken over by "better people" who immediately saw the "weakness" of the team, sorted out individuals, and the team disintegrated. Yes, you are damned if you do and damned if you don't, but in the end it is performance that determines the success or failure of the team. Nothing else. But of course you don't get any glory if the team is successful without your direct intervention, will you? Regards, Les H

hlhowell
hlhowell

Regardless of how it occurs, the team will either succeed or fail. The team members ALL own that success or failure. Should the team fail, all members should experience some learning from the failure. If the team succeeds all team members should share in the rewards of that success. While it is true that individual performance will need to be addressed should it be truely lacking, but that should occur off-line (praise in public, chastise in private is the phrase I was taught). People are not all 100% all the time, and no one is 110% regardless the statements of some managers and sales folks, those using that number are generally in the 90th percentile of low end performance themselves and abuse everyone else for their mistakes. But this is digressing. Don't be a martyr. It is not pretty and won't get you anywhere. Don't pass the buck either, just let the BS roll off your back and go on to the next project. Failure is the certainty of effort, success is the elusive prey. Absorb the failures, minimize their impact on the organization when possible, don't spread blame, but get on with the next issue as quickly as possible. Even the greatest of us like Alexander Graham Bell had lots of failutes, but it only takes one success to wipe out a whole lot of bad press. Just don't let the bastards get you down. How is that for a cliche ridden response. But cliches exist because they are expressions that are repeated and bear repeating again and again. I always tell my folks to read the Dale Carnegie books, and the Demming books, not because they are an entertaining read, but because they have good useful information inside them. Success requires work, not just technology, not just people, and not just euphemisms, but real sweat and tears in learning management, understanding your people and effort that can have big payoff's. The team is not responsible for the individuals mistake, but the team is responsible if that mistake prevents the team from succeeding, or worse succeeds in dividing the team and removing them from a successful path. Regards, Les H

Tony Hopkinson
Tony Hopkinson

Never make an individual responsible for the teams success. If you do you put an I in team. Management have a real hard time with that one usually.

Ou Jipi je
Ou Jipi je

I recall a phrase that is not very bellowed by corporate culture psychologists and other (for most part) useless theoreticians. Never the less, in reality, provided that there is a truly competent leader and clearly defined goals, it is what it basically boils down to - "A team is when everyone does what I tell them to do". Now some of you guys (especially those who chose to react first/ think later) may get offended by such approach/ statement, those who carefully read above and noted the word competent will read in between the lines and agree.

BlueKnight
BlueKnight

There are some really good posts on this topic -- great question. In thinking back on many of the teams I've worked with, I'd have to say a truly good team is like a fine watch which is built from many different parts, each doing its specific job in contributing to the overall objective -- keeping accurate time. Every great team I've been on (and they've been few until the past 5 years) had a good manager. The project manager is like the watch maker... he/she selects the parts (team members) carefully considering the specific talents required to make the project a success. An excellent project manager will select team members whose skills complement each other and whose personalities fit well with the other members. Not every team needs a heavy technical person and not every team requires mostly analysts, but every team does require a proper blending of specific talents that work together to accomlish the objective. In a fine watch, all the parts function smoothly, working together so the mechanism provides the correct time. Introducing parts of lesser precision into this watch will affect its performance and the end result will not be accurate. In the worst case they cause friction and the watch will fail. The project I'm working on currently has an excellent team of four including our manager. Our manager is very astute at determining what the team composition should be and selects members that possess just the right skill set, and who also have the interpersonal chemistry to get along with the others. We have a very strong analyst, another who is analytical but a better programmer and I serve as the technical lead. Our skills all serve specific functions in this project and they all work together extremely well. Our personalities are very compatible, but if during the course of discussion, someone disagrees, they bring it out and we discuss it and come to a team decision on the point. I can appreciate comments made by WaCoLaCo, but I would modify the statement "A team is when everyone does what I tell them to do" by changing the word "tell" to "ask." Our manager very rarely tells us what to do, he ASKS us to do certain things and we carry out the request. Asking garners more respect than telling does. Tony Hopkinson's post "Horses for courses" hit on a key point: "The key thing is awareness, both of your own and other members strengths and weaknesses." You don't put a Quarterhorse in a steelechase or a Clydesdale in a sprint. Sure they may complete the course, but they aren't specifically suited for the task at hand. Good metaphor Tony! I am fortunate to work with members who have this awareness and are not afraid to ask another member for help or feedback when they are unsure about something. The end result is that my team is the only one in our organization that consistently completes projects on time and within budget and we find ourselves in demand in other divisions as a result... we just do our job, finish projects and go on to the next one. Word just gets around somehow, and I'm flattered when I hear it; but it wasn't anything I did myself, it was the result of my teammates working together - each doing their part. "There is no I in team" as the well worn phrase goes. Too bad there are so many who still don't understand.

delsur777
delsur777

I couldn't agree more. Your statement "...of course you don't get any glory if the team is successful without your direct intervention, will you?" is the root of so many problems. I believe that one of the hardest things to accomplish is setting a goal that can be measured and understood by the powers that be. My ex-boss (who was a very fine boss) wanted very much to be as proactive as possible. He wanted preventive maintenance plans and heavy system monitoring. His ultimate goal was to locate problems before they actually became problems. He and I worked tirelessly toward this goal, but we both agreed that if we actually achieved it...they would lay one of us off because we would be perceived as un-needed. A lot of managers have promoted the "I don't need to have indepth experience of the process to be able to manage it" philosophy, but I'm not so sure that this philosophy cann survive the light of day. Knowing the dynamics of a team, as you have portrayed it, requires a lot of management skill and ability that, while often unseen, or more often misunderstood, should be rewarded if not outright treasured. Sincerely, TJ

kazar97
kazar97

Although i've worked in various fields for a great many years.Here is my sumations.First off if any thing is going to happen in any industries,it will come from the top and work its way to the bottom.Process of elimination would be get rid of the bad apples and smooth the way.Get people who can show responsabilities in whatever work they do.Have the people trained from Management down.Give them the tools they need to work their trades.If you are to chastise anyone ,take them aside,explain to them what is going on,let them solve the solution as to how they can better themselves.Its also important to note that within the Industry fields there could be a margin of Jealousy,envy towards another worker.And in turn they will use whatever means to have them disposed off for their own gains. Respectfully, kazar97@hotmail.com

wenortonjr
wenortonjr

If only managers knew how to coach! They must be an expert at all aspects of the game: Corp politics, understanding technology, and people. They must know what motivates each of thier team members.

Tony Hopkinson
Tony Hopkinson

A team is the sum of it's strengths, a group the sum of it's weaknesses.

Wayne M.
Wayne M.

Expecting that there are clearly defined goals is what disrupts the entire assumption. This is where scientific management and Frederick Taylor got off track. In most modern work and especially in software development, there is no central leader to do all the thinking; someone to clearly define the goal(s). We live in an environment of fuzzy, ambiguous, and conflicting goals. As a manager, I want to hand-off as much of the decision making as the individual can reasonably accept within the amount of risk I am willing to accept. If a certain task is highly risking (again a subjective evaluation), then I may very well tell a person exactly how to do it, but this is only slightly less time consuming than doing it myself. I much prefer giving an overview describing some of the better known constraints and contradictions and let the individual work out the details. To lead a team, it is better to give guidance on how problems are to be approached than to dictate the steps and expect that "A team is when everyone does what I tell them to do". I do not want the team single-threaded through my brain.

Tony Hopkinson
Tony Hopkinson

There's no doubt at all you are crap at it, so you opinion is less than valuable. You do understand lead don't you. That's where you are at the front Herr Ludendorf.

Phil.Helms
Phil.Helms

If that's your philosophy, you had better be perfect.

kcmplex
kcmplex

that your teams have to read between your lines too. If you hold all the information, then only you can make the "well informed" decisions. That does not make a team.

BradTD
BradTD

"Team" to me does not mean that everyone conforms to what the boss says. It means that people know what the overall goal of the organization or department is and contribute toward that goal instead of simply performing to make themselves look good, including sometimes at the expense of the overall team/department/organization. The concept of a "team" is not passe where I work. To me, it still has definite merits if properly led.

hlhowell
hlhowell

While it is true that some companies operate via the "climb over their backs" methodology, those managers who do so are seldom truely successful over the long haul. The manager who chooses this paradigm must NEVER be wrong. And occasionally there will be one with that capability. Perhaps Donald Trump would be an example. But Howard Hughes, Bill Gates, and most others utilize the full skills of their fellow employees to arrive at overriding successful decisiions for the market place. Recruiting, hiring, training and preserving solid performing staff is the key to company longevity. Abusing those with successful processes, ideas or management and team building skills will eventually ensure demise of the organization or the management wing that practices such barbaric behavior. It is simply self defeating. Also the best work for a company occurs at the interface to production, and the interface to customers. The best ideas come from the people who make things and make them work, not from management. Management's entire purpose is to enable the best ideas to come to fruition, and to ensure that the funding, staffing, materials and processes are available to implement those ideas. They must be the arbitors of good and bad for the company. This applies across the spectrum of products and services. Regards, Les H

Tony Hopkinson
Tony Hopkinson

If they had all those skills they aren't going to be earning peanuts managing us are they? Generally I settle for one who thinks before he open's his gob.

Ou Jipi je
Ou Jipi je

I like this one better - "A performance of any group/ "team" (whatever you want to label it) matches the one of the most productive member. Divided by the number of people of which the group/ "team" is consisting of." And in addition: Corporate environment is NOT a democracy, unlike many people like to think. The usage of the term "team" falsely implies some level of a democracy being involved. The social aspects of working in a group of people plays a big part in day to day operations (we are all human after all), but the ultimate purpose for anyone working in a corporate environment is to meet the afore set goals and expectations and be rewarded for it. From experience - in environments where employees are not appropriately led, where employees have little idea what it is that they are actually doing or are suppose to be doing, the social aspect of group of employees working together reflect on the organization in a form of "politics" (I don't mean a true politics exercised on sr. management levels, but office politics where team/ group members are discussing other member's hair or sexual preference instead of working). This is today hurting a huge number of organizations. On the other hand, in environments with proper guidance, where employees are kept busy and potential conflicts are being dealt with respect that teaches them respect, where employees are being appropriately rewarded, the socials aspects and individualism reflects positively by pulling together when needed. One thing that may guarantee some level of a success (or that I have ever seen to succeed in practice), as mentioned in my other post - a truly competent leader with a natural "b*u*l*l*s*h*i*t meter", with natural talent for human psychology and of course knowledgeable in all the areas required. I have been in situations where people contradicted this. Mostly those however who would, in presence of a competent leadership, be quickly exposed as under-achievers they are. That would of course prevent them from climbing of the ladder while not having the necessary skills, other than smooth talking (it is easier to accomplish that if your bosses are incompetent). Having said that, here is no such thing as a magic formula for an ideal "team" - there are just too many aspects that you can not generalize into a "success formula" that applies to all "teams" equally. And thus the term "team", that has become very popular among line managers through nineties is imho a totally empty and meaningless term. It has been miss-abused just too many times and has one too many meanings in corporate terms. But mostly, it turns people (individuals) into a "thing" that appears to be easier to deal with. Using the term "team" today, seem to strip the "team members" of their own individual identity and because of that, it causes many problems. Also, it permits employees/ managers to hide behind the term. "Hej you need to play a ball!" "You are not a "team" player!" "Why are you trying to be different?" These lines may have been effective through the nineteens, but the times have changed and especially with wide-spread Internet and improved communications people got more educated. Today, these lines coming down to employees (especially coming from line managers to specialists) are demoralizing, often misused for elbow-grease exercises and quite frankly 9 out of 10 times plain stupid. Do you wish to improve productivity in your environment? Than scrape the word "team" off your dictionary. That was my few cents.

F4A6Pilot
F4A6Pilot

There will always be strong and weak members of a team. One day I am the Superman, the next day I am Don Knotts, especially after a 14-20 hour day... It may depend on the on-call schedule... I have basically been on-call my whole career. Only in the last couple of years have I been not on-call 24/7 7/wk. Now I am in a situation where the On-call rotates... I am also on a stronger team where we have 5 Batman level and No Don Knotts as an average... I have been the manager and was a performance based idiot measuring the metrics and the workloads with a micrometer. The person I thought was weakest did virtually no work for my company. I decided to let her go. She was always the one who kept the crap from reaching me... When she was gone I had to deal with peoples personal problems... I was glad to bag out when a tech only slot came open... I thought she was the weak link, but she was actually the oil in the gears.... Anne, I salute you...

Tony Hopkinson
Tony Hopkinson

no one can make a decision in isolation. Complete your task, ruin someone else's chances of doing so, for instance. Even if your goal is get X out of the door because sales have sold it last week, on any non-trivial project, no one team member is likely to be the key to achieving that. That's like going back to the waterfall method, it only works if all the steps are known and they are not going to change. That you can use some management science on, the fuzzy, nebulous, chaotic environment we work in, forget it. A software project can succeed because of a queue at the 'water cooler', if consensual decision making isn't part of the process.

Ou Jipi je
Ou Jipi je

Maybe because I am not a native English speaker I was obviously not clear to express what I meant. If you let your team member to make a decision, ultimately, you are still telling them what to do...right? Meaning, if you expect someone to make a decision you let the person know that you expect him/ her to do that. If asked how come the person has made a decision he will say "Wayne has given me the authority to make such decisions" or "Wayne has told me that I have been given the authority", "Wayne told me to decide", whatever. Thus bottom line than is that the team is when all do what you say/ ask/ agree/ expect (depends on the situation). If you expect a decision being made by a person and such has not been taken, or a person provides for a poor results your whole team may suffer as a result of that. This has nothing to to with control of each and every activity of each and every employee or a single-brain-threaded environment (funny phrase). Of course it is a combination of many other aspects as well. Can we agree on that and drop it please?

Ou Jipi je
Ou Jipi je

The "philosophy of do what I say" may also include "I am not perfect - I don't know everything and thus I expect (here comes the "do what I say") you (experts) to provide for the neccessary input". Again, please note the word competent. PS: Please also note that my input is merely throwing a few ideas into the discussion and not more than that. You could call it indeed an attempt for a philosophical thought concerning the subject. Or a spree of possibly-disturbed opinions... :)

kcmplex
kcmplex

Sorry about that! I'm a little slow this morning, please explain what we were to read between the lines?

Ou Jipi je
Ou Jipi je

The "if" is the magic word in your reply. You seem to suspect a person you've never met and you don't know anything about to be withholding information from you so only "he" can make "well informed" decisions. Forgive me if I find it rather paranoid.

Lost Cause?
Lost Cause?

I have places where TEAM meant that people has certain responsiblity to contribute to the success of the company. TEAM = Together Everyone Achieves More. I believe in contributing to the point that there have been times that I told to shut up; or to write a memo. But more minds working on problems means more channels to explore. Possibilities are the American way, folks!!! Just think of it another way. If you invent something today. Tomorrow you can put more third-world people to work...HaHa!

Lost Cause?
Lost Cause?

I have places where TEAM meant that people has certain responsiblity to contribute to the success of the company. TEAM = Together Everyone Achieves More. I believe in contributing to the point that there have been times that I told to shut up; or to write a memo. But more minds working on problems means more channels to explore. Possibilities are the American way, folks!!! Just think of it another way. If you invent something today. Tomorrow you can put more third-world people to work...HaHa!

Ou Jipi je
Ou Jipi je

There is nothing wrong with the term and the true meaning behind it. Taken from a dictionary "Team - A group organized to work together". Rather specific right? Now let's take Teamwork: "cooperative or coordinated effort on the part of a group of persons acting together as a team or in the interests of a common cause" Ok, this is starting to get slightly less specific. If one is thinking in terms of "organization of a team", I understand one is referring to the management and thus to a specific rules/ procedures w.r.t. work and communication, defined to make the team work well together, to make it manageable and most of all productive. Now, I have merely pointed out miss-usage and/ or misunderstanding of the term in a corporate environment can create unhealthy environment. What I mean is: a.) For example, within an organization, procedures normally exist for conducting of projects. Thus, a "project management" defines something specific, something you can grab onto. The word team/ teamwork on the other hand does not. As a thought, I would welcome to see a defined set of rules describing the team/ team work within an organization that applies to all. In this case, the team/ teamwork would be just as defined as project management procedures and the usage of the term would be specific across the board. Right? b.) Because it is often not specifically defined, various people on various levels of organization use the term to their own liking and the term is thus often miss-abused to meet own agendas c.) different people within all levels of organization stand behind their "own" meaning behind it (hence you say: ..."team" to me does not mean...; ...To me, it still...) As another thought, if all the people knew specifically what the overall goal of the organization was, knew their own abilities and place within an organization, provided for best efforts to contribute towards that goal (while procedures and responsibilities are clearly defined), would it not be extremely difficult for those few "bad apples" to make themselves look good? Instead today, they can make themselves "look good" often at the expenses you have mentioned, because it is permitted to use unspecific terms such as team/ team work and somehow measure ones performance upon it. Often it consists of hearsay situations that only make people feel miserable.

Tony Hopkinson
Tony Hopkinson

and then come out with this as a way of working? I don't get it, if you wanted a rise you got one I guess. There are a lot of problems with teams in corporate environments, one of the biggest is they are called that but aren't. This is usually for one of two reasons, construct a team to enable manning reductions or the people in charge confusing leadership with management. To be able to lead you have to make people want to follow. That's a very hard thing to do, next to impossible in fact unless you are prepared to give something up to make you followable. I've only ever worked once on what could truly meet the definition of a team, it was the most enjoyable and productive (in all senses not just personal) time of my career, currently in it's 22 year I might add.. Needless to say management saw the chance to make a fast buck and sold most of the 'best' players, including me. Best of course being highest cost and or best price. Fair enough on the rewording, but if you post and inflamatory message on TR, you will get burnt up. :D As for sitting next to me, only if you are the guy who never talks, I don't imagine you are any bigger on keeping your opinions to yourself than I am.

Ou Jipi je
Ou Jipi je

You seem to developed some seriously strong opinions yourself :). I guess comment from BlueNight describes what I meant and thus I admit that I could made a better choice of words not to cause some sensitive souls getting upset. Thus "ask" instead of "tell". Having said that, I noted that you seem to feel especially touched though by the idea of someone _telling you to do something_ (you compare people who possibly may tell you to do something to nazi's, which seem a bit harsh). I apologize therefore for upsetting you by my wrong choice of words. And, I _ask_ you to please to look for both, positive and negative aspects of people posts and don't post insults unless you are absolutely sure that they are well placed (although that is hardly ever the case). Meaning - you could try to see what the person has meant by what he/ she said. If you don't understand what they mean than ask, if you disagree provide for an argument and if you think that it is pointless, feel free to ignore it. For your information, I am not a manager (I have never said I was one). As for "team playing" I work in a team of senior IT guys for over seven years now and there have been hardly any complaints w.r.t. the team or team playing. I may be too direct by telling people straight-up what I think, but many have learned to appreciate that. I believe that being honest, fair and responsible is something that should be natural to all. Therefore my dislike of corporate terminology that attempts to glorify somethings that others perceive as a basic standard and because those who are dishonest, unfair and irresponsible will never learn otherwise (regardless of the fancy terms used). As for you and me in the team...who knows...maybe I am sitting in the office next to yours! :)

Tony Hopkinson
Tony Hopkinson

My BS filters were on over time then, had to pause to brish the shut off my shoulders. Did you just they people who don't agree with your leadership style would be exposed as under-achievers? If you want the benefits of teamwork, buy in, ownership, cross training, communal goal seeking etc. Then you have to take the nazi dictator head off and join in. I nearly agree with you on the last bit, if you want team in your environment scrape WaCoLaCo out of your business. I bet we are both real glad we don't have to work with each other, it would be bad, very bad and short too.

KimEliKev
KimEliKev

You should let her know that she contributed so much oil t the gears.

Tony Hopkinson
Tony Hopkinson

You get the the 'genius' who comes up with really good ideas but implements them in an initially slipshod fashion and the detail oriented plodder, who dots every i and crosses every t. Both are valuable, you need ideas and you need good implementation. It's a rare individual who can do both, rarer still in a multi disciplinary team. They don't call them teams for nothing, you don't expect your best pitcher to hit a home run every ball. The skill range in an IT team is too broad for everybody to be good at everything. The key thing is awareness, both of your own and other members strengths and weaknesses. You can improve, even I did, but everybody is natural at something and has to discipline themselves to put extra effort in, in other areas.

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