Moving From a Team Member to Manager
24 August, 2021
Transitioning from a team member to a team leader can be both exciting and overwhelming at the same time. The strategy you choose to handle the situation determines your success. So, as I was working with a team for about 15 years, and out of those years, I was a team player for about 6 years. One fine day, as I was promoted to become the manager, it built a tremendous amount of pressure on me. I kept overthinking how others would start perceiving me as their manager. Besides, as team members, we had many untold secrets among us that might have been shattered.
My worst nightmare was that the team might have drifted away from me. The biggest question for me was: how do I keep the group together without making them feel like subordinates? I was unsure if other transitioning managers have the same kind of pressure in them, but this challenge hit me differently. Also, another thing that I was worried about was what if my teammates were bad mouthing about me. Given my 8 years of connection with everyone, we were very open and close with each other. One of the most incredible things about the team was that people would collaborate and suggest a lot of the things or the problems that we faced, which showed transparency.
This being one of the major common problems for any transitioning manager, I did what I had to do. I made sure that I started the culture of 1:1s in the team, which was not there in the team previously. I preferred not talking about work during those meetings to build a really good relationship with the person. I was not hesitant to talk about family matters or their personal affairs.
Typically, in Indian households, it is not unusual for females to get into some minor disputes with their mothers-in-law, and such frictions do affect their professional lives. So, I kept the 1:1s as a venue where people could vent their frustrations, and the reason I did that was to make sure that they were able to concentrate more on their work. Not only did I want to be their manager, but I also wanted to be the go-to person that they could rely on and someone who would listen to them without any judgments.
I made sure that these meetings ran frequently, and I created an environment where people could talk openly about any subjects. In many cases, managers use 1:1s as a resort to track everyone's progress and give a check on their performance, but I kept them separate. I made sure that everyone was dropping their suggestions on improving the team, and more importantly, talking. Most people do not want to speak or express themselves, which was not an option anymore as I became the manager.
Nonetheless, I reached out to others and talked to them about my situation. My manager's manager then became my manager, so I spoke to him as well. Sometimes it was about project related stuff, and other times I asked about some advice or feedback that I could work towards. I would certainly reach out to my manager and ask for suggestions about particular situations instead of stressing myself out. And, in regular intervals, I did get some mentorship from within the organization.
Being new to management, I was open to suggestions, and my teammates were very supportive of me. All my fellow team members would allow some time for me to get adjusted and drop in any advice that would help me help them. In essence, I could make sure that the team had amazing chemistry among them. Of course, engineers do have a bit of ego working in them, and they would not want to interact. It was indeed difficult for me to bring everyone together and make them trust each other.
In that regard, I scheduled weekly meetings with the team and made it mandatory for everyone to participate. While the 1 hour was not appreciated or considered valuable by many team members, over the years, I managed to get the team to a point where they are honest and sincere about their work. Even if I am not there for a week or 2, it would be a self-running machine. They would take the initiative to solve problems and self-coordinate themselves.
- A manager is not someone who is there to track the progress of their team members. It is more about creating an environment where everyone can grow from a cocoon to a butterfly. Some people might not be very interested in certain areas, so you have to identify those and allow them to flourish.
- Trust your team members; as the manager, you sometimes have to back off and empower others and allow them to make mistakes. People learn by their own mistakes. So, instead of spoon-feeding, you can certainly let them mend their ways.
- Individuals need to be handled differently. Always understand how your team members get energized and how they might get motivated to perform better. Some teammates love recognition, while others would appreciate a salary raise. Understand the individual's capabilities and aspirations, and then together, everyone can succeed. Another way of seeing it is: you cannot water all the plants in the same way.
- Communicate. That is the only way you can succeed as a manager. Be as transparent as glass, and in some cases, over-communicate if needed. Most importantly, never assume where the other person might be coming from. Using written communication might be a great option in some situations.
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