Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Getting Along

Team confrontation is healthy...except for when it isn't. It is important for the leadership team to establish a comfort zone that allows employees from all levels to speak up when they disagree. This creates an environment that nourishes creativity and solid decision-making. If every organization created an environment that fostered creativity by embracing arguments among employees from all levels, the current economic situation could be very different. This is evident from recent news reports indicating lower level employees claiming that they warned their bosses of impending doom, but were ignored.

Unfortunately, not every upper level employee is able to allow others to disagree. For whatever reason, psychological or social, they have just not learned that they don't have to be the expert and are unwilling to concede intellectual superiority for a moment. In short, they are unwilling to take one for the team and as a result, a dumb decision is made.

A mistake I frequently see managers make is the inward beleif that because he or she is a manager, he or she is an expert. This is dangerous on a variety of levels, but mostly because it is untrue. As a social worker, I have supervised psychologists, nurses, case managers and other supervisors. At no time did I place the expectation upon myself that because I supervised a nurse, I had the medical know-how of a doctor. That is rediculous. But some managers feel that because of their position a magic wand of knowledge was waved over their head and they became instantly smarter. All because of a promotion.

What the manager needs to be an expert in is gathering the best, most creative ideas possible and getting out of the way. Good ideas are in every organization. It is the manager's job to find them.

So how does an effective manager deal with the upper level employee who doesn't get it. Two words: Brutal Truth! The upper level employee's manager has to do what nobody likes to do and have a "chat", pointing out objectively and unemotionally how the employee is making things worse, however unintentional the act may be. The outcome of the meeting will not result in hugs and song, but it will provide the employee with the foundation to be more open to others' ideas. It clearly states the managers expectation. Sometimes, this is all it takes. Other times, it takes more. It is the manager's responsibility to continue to address the issue regardless of how uncomfortable the "chats" are until there is resolution.

One suggestion when doing these chats: Do not document the first "chat". Make it informal. Once documentation is used, the nature of the relationship changes. But I'll talk more about that in another post.