Managing The Unexpected Doubling Of Your Team’s Size
6 June, 2018
My peer manager decided that he wanted to transition from his role as a manager to return to being an individual contributor. While we discussed distributing his team so there was an equal workload on myself and another manager, I realized that this wouldn't be the best solution for the team. With the team's well-being in mind, I volunteered to take on the former manager's direct reports, while continuing to manage my own. This effectively doubled my team from eight to sixteen direct reports in a day.
People expected me to buckle under that amount of pressure, especially because I'm very deliberate in making sure I have weekly one-on-ones with everyone on my team. But I've been doing this for two and a half months now and everything is going smoothly because of a couple of approaches I have taken. I see one-on-ones as extraordinarily important and I didn't want to compromise on them. So one of the first things I needed to do was to ensure I was structuring my time in a way that allowed me to be as effective as possible. I went to my calendar, wiped the board clean, and designed my week around "themes" of the ways I spend my time. A few days before the team made the switch I went through and scheduled all of my one-on-ones with them, without inviting them, so I could start blocking out the time I would need. I also structured my week so that Tuesdays and Thursdays would just be one-on-one days, Wednesdays would be days where I have no meeting at all, and Monday and Friday would be used for various project, team, status, and leadership meetings. This has allowed me to keep up with my one-on-ones without going crazy due to endless context-switching. When you are managing 16 people, the odds are that at least two people a week will cancel their one-on-ones. This means you're never having that many one-on-ones in a week and you will have more free time than you initially expect. You're better off scheduling the weekly one-on-ones and then having people cancel occasionally than having them every other week and not seeing your reports for four weeks if they cancel. My next step was enabling the ICs in the team to take more of a leadership role. I was upfront and honest and explained I couldn't be as involved tactically as I had been, and then asked them to drive the work and to pull me in when they needed help. This approach has worked really well. It's encouraged people who were thinking about leadership to lead and it has become a sort of virtuous cycle. As people on the team have seen that I have been able to take this work on sustainably, they have wanted to help me more because they see things working out and want it to continue to succeed.
It's very easy to want to do as many things as you can to enable the success of your team. However, you are often best off taking a step back to allow other people to stretch themselves. It can be difficult to do because you will initially be creating a void that will remain until other people step up and fill it. Don't be passive about this - point at the void and explain that someone needs to fill it. Once you have done this you have to be patient enough to allow people to step into it.
The other lesson I have learned is the continued realization that management is all about people and relationships. Having one-on-ones and being able to be open and transparent with people is so important. When a bunch of new people join your team, make sure they feel that you are there for them and that if they have any questions you are happy to answer them. Be really proactive in terms of your communication and ensure you are inclusive to everyone in your team.
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