How I Used My Instincts To Work With A Team And Not Just ‘Get Work Done’

Posted: December 14, 2018

Great team management is not just about getting work accomplished – these true life leadership stories will really have you thinking afresh.

Team management has been often referred to as one of the most manipulative roles, where the intention is just to ‘get work done’ from your people and showcase the results to the management.

I too was guided with a somewhat similar definition from many seniors, and they focused on the getting work done by hook or crook. I was never convinced but this rested in my mind for long. I was fortunate that at the time I had this definition embossed in my mind, I had no team as such to be managed. But after work experience of almost 8 years, I landed in a role which was purely a role for team creation, team development and team management.

Suddenly thrown into a team management role

I was new to this, as if thrown into a rough sea to swim and reach the shore as soon as possible. The shore was building an extensive team for managing the role of Operations Head for the Northern part of India. I had to start from scratch and while I was struggling with finding the best people for my team which had to be all across North India, I fortunately forgot the learning I had in the early years of my career. I was lucky that I could unlearn and learn with my own instincts and experiences.

In the course of interacting with so many candidates coming from different backgrounds, cultures, beliefs, experiences and so on, I learnt that the one thing which was working for me in getting right candidates on board for my team, was my natural knack for dealing with people. No definition, no rule was working with me and I was purely myself.

Luckily, I have always been myself during last 9 years where my major task revolved around working with people and getting the best results. More than getting work done from people, I found myself and my team developing the most cordial relations with each other. This nurtured the respect and trust amongst us, which not only led me to a healthy working relationship with my team, but one where my team too admitted that they enjoy working even in the most difficult situations.

After this last stint, I realised that a compassionate heart, genuine intentions and respect towards people makes you a good leader who can influence team members to follow the goal which you as a leader have decided upon. Of course, you may encounter difficult people, but the fact remains that difficult people always help you to shape up as a better manager for yourself and your team in the future.

I am sharing here a few very heart warming situations which not only make me proud of myself and my people, but it also feels great to know that many of my team members have further grown to be the best managers for their teams.

The power of a team is greater than the sum of individuals in it

It was the initial year of operations and I was in the course of raising and developing teams. A good start to the company got us a spike in the clientele, and that too during a festival month when a few team members were on leave and many were yet to come on-board.

The load was so huge that it was almost next to impossible to achieve the targets with the given manpower. I, along with my team chalked out a strategy based on which a few people worked in shifts, a few moved to other locations, and a few of them had to even stay back in office to complete the job, which was commendable.

At the end of the month, no stone was left unturned, and we achieved what the organisation had aimed for. I learnt that the power of a team is more than the sum of individuals in it.

Complementing team members

I am a firm believer that a complementing team always shows better results than individually performing in a team.

When I saw that the culture and ethics I have always been working on was internalised by the team, and it started showing results, I was thrilled. I was amazed to hear a touching request from one of my high performing team members during his appraisal.

It was a one-on-one session with him, and he had outperformed this year too like last year. While he was self appraising, I felt proud of him as he was sounding very logical, factual, sensible and mature. He spoke of the same achievements and scope of improvements which I too had recorded for doing his final appraisal.

He then made a subtle request to me for taking care of his other team mate who was trying his 100% to go beyond his limits but was delivering not-so good results. He explained that his colleague was suffering from low confidence and a nice rating for that guy would certainly help him repair his self confidence and to perform better. I was speechless and at the same time felt really proud at his consideration. When generally one speaks to prove only oneself, this guy had the guts to speak for his colleague.

I used this instance as an anecdote for the entire team, as an example on ‘Cohesion’. My work as a manager was also to take care of building the self confidence of the other fellow which I separately handled, but I truly appreciated this special consideration.

I pushed a team member

He was in a smaller location of my zone with fewer opportunities. He was conscientious and intelligent, and got 2 promotions in 5 years. But then, his upward professional trajectory stopped.

I knew about his immense capabilities and didn’t want him to get stuck in a quagmire of stagnation. Pursuing him to stop following the old beaten path, I relentlessly appraised him to look beyond his limits. But unknowingly he used to settle in that comfortable state which actually was suicidal from a career perspective.

Two years passed, and then I decided on something tough which would either break him or build him. I rated him “below average” in spite of his average performance. He was devastated and I might have emerged as his biggest enemy. It worked as a catalyst and a week later I received his mail with an intention to initiate a step to improve our Zonal performance.

I happily welcomed his initiative and shared that with my team so that they cooperated with him. With his regular scrutiny and vigilance, in one year our zone showed amazing results and he got a better appraisal from me. The best part was that in a one-on-one session, he very subtly acknowledged how the fall urged him to help himself and rise. He was back on the track grabbing a promotion, recognition, and maturity. I learnt that having the right intention behind a calculated risk does work.

“My manager doesn’t appreciate sycophancy”

There was a very critical case where we found a lot of different interpretation on a guideline and we had to sort that out by getting deep into the technicality and in coordination with the BDM who was the owner of that case.

Myself, that BDM and my team member were into the discussion to understand the case in depth. I presented my opinion which was almost in sync with the logic which the BDM gave when my subordinate very politely presented his point of view which differed from mine.  To that, the BDM intruded and questioned my subordinate as to how he can have a different opinion from his boss. He advised him to obey what his manager says. I could understand the hidden attempt to impress me to get his case cleared without further discussions.

To this, my subordinate smiled and answered very politely and assertively, “Sorry Sir, my Manager doesn’t appreciate sycophancy, especially when we have a different point of view. We are trained to speak what is logical & right”. I was delighted with his response. He really made me proud by being honest, confident and scrupulous. The BDM feeling a little conquered, left the discussion and while going he turned back, extended his thumbs-up, smiled impressively and complimented me by saying “Strong team”.

I smiled back at him and felt at the top of the world.

Showing my confidence in him

Hardworking, intelligent, but scared was his personality and that constantly bothered me. One day, I called him to have a random chitchat and inquired him about his work, his work life balance etc when he finally confided about his apprehensions that pulled him down. A little time spent with him was constructive and we identified where he was stuck. I assured him to work on it together and we left for the day.

Those days, organizing the Annual Operations meet kept me very busy. A week later the North team was supposed to reach Delhi for that meeting. All arrangement was already made but then I conspired with a small twist. I called him and requested his help to ensure that the entire event goes smoothly without any hiccups. Noticing a little fear on his face, I assured my availability on phone and communicated to the team of him being the SPOC . I decided to distant myself a little to give him his space to manage things with his intelligence and the event was a great success.

At the next annual meet, he openly shared how he gathered his confidence while handling the last year’s event and how he found himself amazingly different after that. He offered me gratitude for investing trust in him and letting him handle that independently in-spite of me knowing that he lacked confidence that time.

My work was done!

My style of performance appraisal

During one of my Operations Review meet, I initiated a small activity to keep my team engaged during a small break. I invited 3 team members in front and their heights were like 6 ft, 5.4 ft & 4.10 ft respectively. They were supposed to make a mark on the wall at the best possible height.

The first guy who was 6 ft tall raised his arm and made a mark on the wall which was above his own height. The second one who was 5.4 ft stretched his feet, stretched his arm and made a mark on the wall but it was much lower to the 1st mark. The third who was 4.10 ft was baffled with their marks. She held the pencil from its end, came running from a small distance, jumped to the maximum with her outstretched arm and made a small mark on the wall which was almost equal to the 2nd but lower than the 1st.

It was a fun activity and I raised a question to the team “Who did the best?” A loud, affirmative and expected answer was for the 1st mark by the 6 ft tall guy. I then raised my next question “Was that really best?” and there was pin drop silence in the room for a while. I could make them learn my style of Performance Management that day and I am glad that people stick to me for long.

Remembering these small but impactful situations makes me believe that getting the work done is not the only job of the Manager. He or she has to nurture the team just the way parent does with their children.

In other words Parenting is a synonym for Team management.

Image source: pixabay

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