Admit it. Some days when nothing is going right, we would like to fire everyone and start over again.
Of course, we know that is neither practical nor realistic. Certainly we should be able to come up with a strategy for "fixing" our employees. Ah, but maybe it's not them who are causing the problems. Consider for just a moment what role you play in the dysfunction. Perhaps it is you who needs "fixing".
Our tendency to blame others became obvious to me when I was a coach for a senior executive in a large corporation. He asked me to work with two of his direct reports who were always at loggerheads. While coaching these managers, I became aware that the executive had established a competitive environment. His tendency to act based on one-sided versions of events, his manipulation of key resources to the detriment of one manager over the other and his open acknowledgement that he was grooming a successor led each manager to view the other as a competitor. Each saw anything the other did with a jaundiced eye, and teamwork was nonexistent. I had to identify strategies for the executive and his managers to create a more collaborative environment. But more on that later.
Look in the Mirror
Before you can revise your behaviour, you have to identify it. You can do this by first considering how you might be contributing to any given problem. Through honest self-criticism, you will almost always find something worth improving upon. Second, use a 360-degree feedback system to give you the clues on what to change. You should be able to tie the feedback to the problems in the organization. Third, communicate openly with your staff and peers so that they feel free to let you know what they need from you.
Your boss can be helpful as well. Make a practice of asking her for input. Often, she will have the experience that enables her to see your problem clearly. Once, when I was going through a division reorganization, I could not settle on a workable plan. When I asked my boss for help, he saw immediately why I had a problem. "You have four jobs and three people, and no amount of juggling is going to solve that," he said. "You have to hire another manager." Without this advice, I might still be juggling.
Here are a few common situations where your approach to management can have a negative effect on your staff's performance, and some suggestions for fixes.
Lack of Teamwork If getting your staff to work as a team is a problem, you may be fostering an excessively competitive environment. Divisive behaviour is not always conscious. For instance, you may unwittingly be favouring one or more staff members over others by always giving the same people the choice assignments or the bigger budgets. More deliberate action, such as assigning overlapping activities to multiple individuals, is another way that you could be fostering competition at the expense of teamwork.
My advice to the executive client whose case I already described was to set some ground rules for conflict resolution. First, the affected managers would attempt to resolve their dispute themselves. If they couldn't agree, they would approach the boss together. The boss, meanwhile, agreed not to take action on only one manager's complaint. Once the three reached a resolution, they all agreed to support it. As simple as this sounds, it created a strong team and lessened the stress in the organization.
Inability to Execute Punishing mistakes can freeze an organization into inaction and chill its willingness to take risks. One of my mentors taught me that those who try to do new things and sometimes fail are infinitely better employees than those who always succeed but never try anything different.
Following this principle will help you establish an action-oriented environment. I once created an award that was given to the individual with the most innovative idea each month. How surprised people were when the first award went to an idea that didn't work! The award gave me the opportunity to make my point about the value of taking risks in order to do new things or do old things in new ways.
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