Managing Managers

Our great small team success got us promoted, and now we need new skills to manage managers. Especially since managers, by their very job definition, are very different than individual contributors.

What got you here won’t get you there. – Marshall Goldsmith

Large team management requires different competencies than small team management. With small teams we can be more hands-on, building trust and relationships personally to facilitate better communications and understanding in order to achieve goals. In large team management, we have to shift from personal to virtual.

Our communications need to change to be more effective from a distance. In small teams we got really good at solving our people problems, and now in large team management there is a much greater requirement to solve our bosses’ problems.

Our definition of team changes. In small team management, “our team” are those reporting directly to us. In large team management, “our team” becomes our peers instead of our direct reports.

We are closer to shaping the larger organizational goals, and we share our success and compensation in a real way with our peers.

Decision-making is less about what’s good for our team, and involves more “give-and-take” debating with peers for better organizational benefits. Also, our team may now include shifts in geography or various functions.

Our knowledge is challenged, as we may be leading responsibilities that require new training for us to understand broader employee, data, legal, and financial challenges.

Small team coaching involves asking “How’s your project/customer issue going?” Large team coaching of managers requires asking “How is your team doing?” and “What style of coaching are you providing your people?”

Our presentation skills become more important to team morale, expectations, understanding, and even gossip when it comes to large group management. Leading from the front of the room becomes a very important skill and may require specific training to achieve proper audience reaction. We need to engage our managers to participate in our presentations and share in their delivery. For real success, we need to involve them in our responsibilities.

Managing managers requires great investigative skills. We know, as managers, we don’t always know if what our people are saying to others is aligned with what they say to us. However misaligned those conversations may be, they are exponentially misaligned when we are another level removed from the smaller team. We need to observe situations with a new lens to view conversations with greater curiosity, and less judgement.

Those company meetings with groups of employees requires new focus on people and interactions. And those Interactions with peers and other departments need to be more curious, so we are capable of pulling information for business development. People development becomes less judgmental, and more inquisitive.  

For employees it’s a party; for us as leader, it’s not. ~ Steven Brown

When we get anxious as to what’s really happening, we could always sit down one-on-one or with our small team to learn. We’re now learning from our managers, who may not be as close to their people or issues as we would prefer.

The 30-60-90 day plan we used to manage tasks shifts in managing managers to a 3-6-9 month plan.

3 Month Plan – Observe
As we take on managing managers, we should first learn what is working and what is not – with their people and not their tasks. We ask, we listen, and we observe as our primary objective.

6 Month Plan – Analyze
Take what we observe and assess trends, pain points, and possible actions with our team. Curious questions of colleagues and others are critical to analyze the real people issues and what the possibilities are for change.

9 Month Plan – Action
Build the business plan of strategy and execution, and prepare to align resources and people for achievable, trackable, and motivating actions.


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