Fog Creek Software
Discussion Board




teamate becomming team manager... how to handle ?

At present time I'm a web developper (part of a team) but non officialy in charge of the team coordination. I would probably be promoted in few days to completely handle the team.
Even if I have good ideas to make the work done, I really don't know how to place myself in relation to the existing team.
I was part of it, how can I become in charge of it ?
Many people say that a team manager cannot be a part of the team... but at the same time I fear that breaking the actual team will cause it unjell, people think "ok now he's a manager, he's no more shit as we are...he's forgetting us" blah blah blah...

So what's your experience about such a problem ?

Olivier B
Wednesday, November 05, 2003

See if you can get your hands on a copy of season two of "The Office" to see how it can be handled well and some reactions you might expect from former peers.

Philo

Philo
Wednesday, November 05, 2003

Fire them all and hand-pick a new team of people who won't question you or challenge your authority.

PHB
Wednesday, November 05, 2003

Instead of being a "manager", I've found it's best to just take on the role of "the guy who has to go to all the meetings. " This way your job is to insulate the rest of the team from office politics, deadlines and schedule pressures so they can do their work... and be willing and glad to take all the blame for the screwups, whether or not it's your fault, and everyone will appreciate you for it.

Rick
Wednesday, November 05, 2003

Well, that *is* a manager's job. But don't be their buddy. At some point you're going to have to make them work Saturday, stay late and miss their kid's softball game, and other popular mean things.

Philo

Philo
Wednesday, November 05, 2003

cream rises to the top. but your questions seem to suggest you are not cut out for the new position.

Tom Vu
Wednesday, November 05, 2003

My manager used to be a teamate, now he's my manager.

The thing is, he was already senior to the rest of us and well respected.  The first level of management above a team of folks is often just the guy who has to take responsibility for things and go to all of the meetings.

I disagree with Philo about not being their buddy.  In a properly gelled "buddy buddy" team, you don't want to let your teammates down, thus your manager shouldn't *need* to ask you to work Saturday, miss their kid's softball game, etc. because you should realize this on your own accord.  You just can't let being somebody's buddy get in the way of overruling, reviewing, or firing somebody.

Things *can* go the other way.  Instead of turning into "one of them", it can be the case that they have "one of us" managing things.  If the way things are works and is gelled, make sure that it's clear that things will stay that way and you are there to help them work.  Crack jokes about growing pointy hair and having your development tools confisgated.

Flamebait Sr.
Wednesday, November 05, 2003

Philo, I disagree. Continue to be their buddy. Adversity builds bonds - if you're on their side 'against upper management' then they'll be on your side. When you ask them to work on Saturday you won't want to, and you let them know that, but management is really pressing to have this project done by Tuesday.

Also, to keep their "respect" you have to work as hard as they do. Most employees think that managers sit around and do nothing all day and just tell them what to do. If you work hard and get everything you need to get done, done, you'll keep their respect. Then you're not asking them to work harder than you, when you ask them to work harder, it's obviously because it's needed.

So in general, work hard, and when you ask them to do something, be sure to give them a reason so they don't think you sit there twiddling your thumbs thinking of bizarre things for them to do that are out of touch with what they're doing.

www.MarkTAW.com
Wednesday, November 05, 2003

Definately grow pointy hair. Too bad halloween already passed.

www.MarkTAW.com
Wednesday, November 05, 2003

You can be cordial, treat them with respect, and work side-by-side with them. But if you are in a management position then you can *never* be their "buddy".

The problem is that how you handle this depends on the person. Some people can be practically friends but maintain that professional distance. Others will grasp at the first sign of friendship and assume you'll let them get away with anything. It's a delicate, dangerous game.

Be prepared for the dynamics to change when you become their boss. If you were already somewhat senior and acting as a mentor (as noted above) then this may just be formal recognition of what was happening anyway. But if you were "one of the gang" then there are potential problems.

One possibility - you get a guy who figures since you're his buddy, he can fudge his time sheets, get some extra pocket change. You find out and counsel him on it. He nods, then smiles and says "okay, you've done the 'official warning' thing - I'll try not to get caught in the future."
How do you handle that? You now have to let him know that no, it's not okay. He'll refuse to take you seriously until some point where you smack him down, and now you have a resentful jerk who's going to start undermining your authority...

Mind you, none of this may surface. Everything may be smooth sailing, in which case it's simply good practice. But if things *aren't* hunky-dory, then when you see the problems resulting from in appropriate relationships, then it's too late to fix them gracefully.

But you can't be their buddy. That's asking for failure. I've seen it too many times.

Philo

Philo
Wednesday, November 05, 2003

Philo, good points.

Now the question is - who do you go to lunch with?

www.MarkTAW.com
Wednesday, November 05, 2003

Ideally, a parallel manager. However, going out to lunch with the team is doable, depending on the dynamics. Of course, if you regularly go out to lunch with just one or two members of the team you get to watch out for feelings of favoritism among the others.

Once again, not necessarily - but it's something you have to be mindful of.

Philo

Philo
Wednesday, November 05, 2003

Some suggestions:

1. Earn your teammates' trust and respect of your technical competence.
2. Be approachable.  Buy your team donuts.  Do a little Management By Wandering Around.
3. Ask, don't command.
4. Focus on the end goal, not the path to get there.  Get your team excited about the finished product.

Alyosha`
Thursday, November 06, 2003

5. If morale does not improve schedule regular beatings.

Guy Incognito
Thursday, November 06, 2003

>cream rises to the top. but your questions seem to
>suggest you are not cut out for the new position.

Where do you work?? Everywhere I've been the dickheads rise to the top, not the cream.

Clutch Cargo
Thursday, November 06, 2003

It's scum that rises to the top of any pond, and fool knows that.

Oh, and Philo, they've shown The Office in the US? How did it go down? Did they remake it with American actors or did you get the originals?


Thursday, November 06, 2003

I've only ever seen one episode of "The Office" ... but part of it was a manager "pretending" to a fire a junior for stealing stationary, thus reducing her to tears. This really happened at somewhere my other half used to work and was in incredibly poor taste. It's the worst piece of junk I've had the misfortune to watch in ages.

Anyway, moving back on topic ... unfortunately from what I've found there always seems to be someone who won't accept your authority when you get promoted.

This happened to me a while ago when my team mate got promoted to manager. I wasn't sold on the idea but we eventually reached a compromise where I'd be responsible for the technical and architectural sides of projects, and she'd look after people and resources. It was manageable (if you'll excuse the pun).

Better Than Being Unemployed...
Thursday, November 06, 2003

Read Leadership Effectiveness Training by Dr Thomas Gordon. It contains the best advice I've seen on how to become the leader/supervisor of a team of your erstwhile peers. It covers both how to avoid unnecesary conflict from the start and how to deal with conflict if it does arise.

Peter WA Wood
Thursday, November 06, 2003


One of the worst mistakes I have seen with new manager types is to deny your own authority, responsibility and accountability for providing direction to YOUR team - by claiming every "order" or action the team takes comes from some other higher-up individual and you are only the messenger pass-through.

The second somewhat related mistake is to do as some of the postings here have suggested - be a buffer between your team and other management.  As a manager you are a member of two different teams, and you will never be effective if you act in a manner that suggests both of your teams are adversaries and need to be isolated from each other.

Joe AA
Thursday, November 06, 2003


1) Read PeopleWare

2) I would suggest "The Practice of Management" by Peter Drucker.  IT's a bit ... dry ... but Management By Objectives (MBO) is definately the way to go.

3) I would suggest you shoot for the player/coach role.  You are a team lead, not a a manager.  You are a member of the team, but you have different responsibilities and a slightly different role.  Try to continue to find ways to write a little code.

4) You should not go out to lunch with the guys every day, or even every other day.  Get over it.

5) Try to be a good boss.  Think about all of the ideas for boosting morale on the cheap that you had that were rejected.  Try them.


good luck!  Simply put, most people would be happy to trade for your "problems " ...


 

Matt H.
Thursday, November 06, 2003

Joe AA -- I've found in a large organization sometimes the only real way to get things done is to break off into a tiger team, so sometimes you DO in fact want to insulate the rest from the large but necessary bureaucracy. You go to all the status meetings and fill out the weekly TPS reports so they don't have to.

Rick
Thursday, November 06, 2003

The first season of The Office did pretty well on BBC America - the original. We're working through the second season now.

I'll admit, David Brent is a lot like watching a car wreck - horrifying but you can't look away.

Philo

Philo
Thursday, November 06, 2003

"Fire them all and hand-pick a new team of people who won't question you or challenge your authority"

PHB might have written this in jest, but it is a pattern I have observed quite a number of times over the years.

Just me (Sir to you)
Thursday, November 06, 2003

> but it is a pattern I have observed quite a number of times over the years.

Yep... Like Dilbert, it's funny because it's so true to life.

Portabella
Thursday, November 06, 2003

thanks for all the replies...

"You are a team lead, not a a manager" yes it's exactly what I wanna be. I think i don't have (for the moment) the required qualities to be a complete manager. I will only be the one that coordinate the projects, assist all the meetings, ... but not my actuall boss replacement, not the person the rest of the team will ask for a pay raise...

"You should not go out to lunch with the guys every day, or even every other day.  Get over it."
That's the hard part. At present time the team is the only people with I'm close enough to lunch with everyday... don't you think the fact to stop "lunching" with them will build the idea I hate of the superior man, promoted, so he cannot continue to lunch with working-class.

"your questions seem to suggest you are not cut out for the new position."
It's not completely false. I would have prefered a not so radical transformation, but the situation offers me an opportunity. The person that this role would have suited the best leaves the company... and the "subsitute" will probably be a junior person... so I will naturally be promoted to handle the success of the projects...

I'm reading peopleware... 20 or 30 pages left :-)

Olivier B
Thursday, November 06, 2003


It's awesome that you are reading peopleware.

If memory serves, I think "Debugging the development process"

http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/tg/detail/-/1556156502/qid=1068142492/sr=1-9/ref=sr_1_9/002-0515097-5868803?v=glance&s=books

Has an entire chapter on leadership and the role of the player/coach.  It was pretty good.

I think you're right about the lunch thing.  It might be best to phase it out.  ALSO, I would get someone at a higher level to clarify your "promotion", specifically with an email, but also an annoucement at a meeting with a different purpose.

That way, people won't say "He's my peer, how dare he!" and you won't have to declare yourself to be boss.  (A great way to destroy your respectability)

JMHO ...

Matt H.
Thursday, November 06, 2003

Philo, not to endlessley flame on this one, but I don't see how your "fudging timesheets" example holds true, either way.

Fudging timesheets is stealing from the company and quite unprofessional.  If I caught a friend doing that, I'd be questioning their ethical standards for quite some time to come.

I think the whole thing is that if you work with a buddy *in general* you had better be prepared to have your relationship go south over work-related things.  It's a risk of being friends with a co-worker.  I've heard of more than one case where a pair of friend-entrepeneurs have become worst enemies.  Both times in recent memory that folks have been fired, the friend has been inadvertantly ejected from co-workers' circle of friends because it's just too awkward on both sides.

Flamebait Sr.
Thursday, November 06, 2003

You make a good point, but "don't be buddies with your coworkers" would probably be a good way to lose all credibility - it's almost impossible (esp. if you have a gregarious nature).

My point is that there are people who will think that "friendship" equals "leverage" and won't mind taking advantage of it. That's what you need to avoid.

Philo

Philo
Thursday, November 06, 2003

"I've only ever seen one episode of "The Office" ... but part of it was a manager "pretending" to a fire a junior for stealing stationary, thus reducing her to tears. This really happened at somewhere my other half used to work and was in incredibly poor taste. It's the worst piece of junk I've had the misfortune to watch in ages."

This is a typical case of american's not getting british humor.  I'm sorry but far too many american's have abolutely no sense of irony, dry wit or sarcasm.  You keep friends,  we'll keep The Office

The Humor police
Thursday, November 06, 2003

Philo's correct in his observations and advice.

I've got somewhere between 10 and 15 years in leadership/management positions, in and out of the military (US Army), so I've got a pretty fair bit of experience with this area. The Army, at least, handles such promotions "properly" (or at least the easy way), by usually transferring a person to a different unit when they get promoted to a position of leadership (e.g. guy makes squad leader, it's > 50% bet he's going to transfer to a different platoon, maybe even company). At least that's the general practice, some variations/exceptions do occur, and peacetime/wartime practices often vary as well. It also helps that there's normally a 30% or better annual personnel turnover; more, of course, if people are dying or are on short rotations, so after a while, the people in the unit are not the same ones who were your 'buddies'. Also, since assuming leadership positions is often accompanied by actual promotion, the individual wears a new insignia of rank, and military folks instinctively learn to 'read' somebody's uniform, so it's obvious (to us at least) where the other person stands. Unfortunately, the corporate world doesn't really have any of these luxuries of personnel management available to them--they're just not practical to apply. Unfortunate, because the Army does these things specifically to avoid some of the issues other posters here have raised, and it's normally successful.

But, this is the corporate world. As a result, the observations Philo makes are very real possibilities and you need to watch out for them. It is very important for your new position to be announced and acknowledged "publically", which "legitimizes" your authority as the new guy in charge (an email is fine for this).
It's correct that the old saw about 'familiarity breeds contempt' is true, but you need to understand colloquially what that means: 'contempt' doesn't really mean what it sounds like -- but that's the principle behind what philo was talking about in his example of somebody trying to take advantage of the situation.

Your people must respect your authority, hopefully they respect your abilities already. In a technical area such as software development, right or wrong, developers won't respect anybody without 'cred' technically. Just the nature of the beast. What will likely happen early-on, is some situation will arise that will give you an opportunity to establish the 'new' working relationship with your former peers as their 'boss'; I can't tell you what it will be, but you need to watch for that little moment of truth and act fairly but decisively to establish your authority. It might be something as simple as being a bit short with somebody you might normally have just chatted with because you're working on something, or being a bit pointed with somebody over some issue, but it could be something far bigger. You'll have to watch for it.

In general, you probably shouldn't be too heavy-handed about it (though there's times for that as well), but while you want people to feel free to disagree and discuss issues with you from a technical perspective, you want to make sure they do not question your authority.

No, it's not a good idea to foster an attitude that all management above you and the team are stupid idiots, and you're just passing orders through. After the discussion and debate are all over, your people have made their positions known to you and you've made a decision, they need to follow the direction you set because YOU set it, not because you're some transparent interface and they're just following what others have told you to tell them--that completely undermines your authority. In fact, they often don't need to know that some issue has 'come down from above'; you don't necessarily have to give that much information. Depends on the situation, but keep it in mind. Besides, if it wasn't your idea (whatever it was) to impose it on the team, they'll probably find out later that it wasn't your idea, but you don't always have to tell them that you're just reacting to what you were told. You want to reinforce your image to them of one who **sets** direction for the team, not one who's simply reacting--either to their whims or those above you, even if you might sometimes be. Perception is critical.

Your people are your most precious resource for getting anything done--always. We used to say 'mission first, people always', and it's true. By far your biggest responsibility is to take care of your team--not just because they're great folks who are really nice and you really really like them, but because they're a vital resource for the company to accomplish its missions. You're responsible for part of that mission accomplishment now, and your team are your primary tools for doing so--that's why you have to take care of them. Not to dehumanize it, but like a valuable piece of equipment--use it, maintain it, fuel it, and repair it. 

OK, so yes, you must take care of your people, and that may often mean doing battle to insulate them from some things you know to be bullshit, but don't undercut the higher-ups to them in doing so. Related to the point above, it should not be obvious to them when you're in the act of insulating them from bullshit, it should just be apparent to them at some point that there's crappy stuff they're not having to deal with. If they're reasonably sharp, especially if there are other teams around they can compare themselves to, they'll put 2 and 2 together and realize that it's you who's creating the "BS-free zone" for them. You need to be careful when protecting them from the higher-ups, though, so you don't shoot yourself in the foot with the power structure. Despite what anyone here may want to say about them, your promotion was granted by the authority of that power structure, and can be revoked by them as well (they'd probably just get rid of you if you alienate yourself from them too much), then you become irrelevant to the situation, at least with the current company/team. Don't be a sop to your higher-ups, either, though, or THEY won't respect you, and that's about as bad as not having your people respect you.

Taking care of your people does not mean they always like you or what you do, or have them do. Be prepared that sometimes people will think of you as an asshole, and that you'll find people talking about 'the boss'. Well, now that 'boss' will be you. Generally, you shouldn't do anything about this--it's natural. Just be prepared for it because it can be a bit disconcerting until you get used to it. You are definitely in a spotlight when you're in charge.

It's difficult for civilians because there isn't any formal training in how to manage or lead. That's another advantage the military has (well, the Army and Marines, at least, since they're more people-focused than the AirForce and Navy who are more technology-focused, I don't know about them); there's considerable formal training and practice in leadership along the way. Civilians tend to just get thrust into a situation after a time (like you) and they're often left with no more help or mentoring than they can get from some popular books on their own. However, that's the corporate reality.

If you're beginning to get the idea that effectively leading people is like walking a tightrope, then you've got the right idea -- it's a careful balancing act. Some are naturals at it, but many folks who do it well learned it.

Since you're talking about a first-line "leadership" position, this next suggestion may not resonate very well with you, especially if you don't like or in any way relate to anything military, but the movie "12 O'Clock High", with Gregory Peck, is a classic depiction of leadership in action. Leadership roles therein occur at a much higher and more serious level than most folks will ever reach, and it's all in a WWII context, so it's not a great teaching vehicle for some folks because it's too hard for them to extract the "leadership design patterns" (to coin a phrase) used in the movie and see how they might apply to their corporate environment. But you might want to give it a try. It's not just me saying this, either, I've come across other references to the movie being used in this context, and I used to work with a guy who had his own executive leadership/teambuilding consulting company and he used the movie in his leadership classes for just the reasons I mention.

Last couple of things:

"know yourself, know your people, know your job."
"The troops aren't happy unless they're bitching about something. It's when they stop bitching that you have to start worrying."

Best of luck to you

anon
Thursday, November 06, 2003

Even the Navy uses "Twelve O'Clock High" as a leadership training movie. That should tell you something. :-)

For leadership reading, I can recommend
http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/tg/detail/-/1557505969/

"Naval Leadership: Voices of Experience"

It's slanted towards combat, but the only real difference in the cube world is that you know who's shooting at you. Of course I may be biased - my Naval Leadership class was taught by the author...

Philo

Philo
Friday, November 07, 2003

Whether you should stop eating with them may depend on your country. If you happen to work in France, this might be a _bad_ idea.

GP
Saturday, November 08, 2003

*  Recent Topics

*  Fog Creek Home