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April 15, 2016

"We're Not Here to Have FUN!"

Charlie Swift

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Your dream comes to an abrupt end with the alarm clock's screech, and your heart sinks. You have a long commute to face, but that's not all. At least eight hours stretch ahead with a manager who cares nothing for you or your co-workers. All she's interested in is results, results, results. As she said yesterday, "We're not here to have fun!"

If this scenario sounds familiar, you'll know all about the "Produce or Perish" style of management. This gruesomely but accurately named approach is rarely appropriate and is often counter productive.

After all, if you're treated callously or with suspicion, you might feel resentful or afraid in response. Then your behavior arouses further concerns for your manager, who "ups the ante" and tightens his grip further. Together, you can get locked in a negative cycle – and you certainly won't be productive.

Surely a more human approach to work would make more sense? That's certainly the way I lean, and I've had many, dare I say it, happy times with team members to show for it. I've even made some lifelong friends this way.

I've been delighted to see people grow in confidence and develop their abilities. They've taken on extra responsibilities and even created whole new areas of work that have brought the team's performance up a level. And when they wake up in the morning, they're looking forward to coming in to work, so it hasn't crossed their minds to leave.

But it's not been all fun and laughter. We've also survived some enormous challenges together, and produced great work under high pressure, thanks to our skill and the trust and respect we've built up between ourselves. The trick has been to know when to snap into action and when to pause to accommodate individual or team needs.

Sometimes, it's not for want of trying by a manager that tasks come before people. In an emergency, everyone needs to jump to it, adopt their official role without question, and focus on delivering what's needed to get through it. And this needn't be an unpleasant experience. In fact, the adrenalin rush as you all up your performance can be thrilling. Afterwards, too, the team can feel stronger, having pulled together and succeeded against the odds. But "fire fighting" should be the exception to the rule – if we're honest, we all need a breather and a "thank you" eventually, to top up our energy levels and prevent burnout.

Team members can also wither away less dramatically. A manager who's been promoted due to her technical abilities alone, perhaps automatically after a certain length of service, may or may not have any people or task management skills. That's something no team should have foisted on it, yet this scenario is horribly familiar too. Think of the dedicated researcher whose university tenure demands he also teach and mentor students, regardless of whether he wants to or has any flair for it. Or the brilliant architect whose consultancy grows until she's employed a substantial team of highly qualified colleagues – none of whom will stay, due to her neglecting the human side of the business.

Now that I've discovered the Blake Mouton Managerial Grid, I can see the pitfalls of the oh-so-tempting "Country Club" style, and the ineffective compromise of the "Middle-of-the-Road" style. And I recognize that my most successful experiences with a team have involved Transformational Leadership, an extension of the high results and high concern for people style of Team management.

What lessons about leadership style have you learned by managing, or being managed as part of, a team? And what's your preference?

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One comment on “"We're Not Here to Have FUN!"”

  1. I prefer a supportive, coaching style to be used with me. I also prefer using that when I manage other people. I like having a lot of freedom and the autonomy to make decisions, but I am responsible. I like giving other people that freedom too, but I've learned that not everybody is equally responsible or happy to get opportunities to prove him/herself.

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