Dealing With People Is Not Easy

Question to Ask the Workplace Doctors about displeasure of subordinates: Three team leaders went to the manager while I was off and told him we had communications issues. And also said they felt like I could not be approached because I don’t listen to them. What can I do before this gets out of control?

I have recently begun using a roster pattern introduced by my company. It has proved very unsuccessful with both team leaders and work shop crew. I was asked by a team if we could have something tried locally instead of using the roster. I agreed but only if we could get full agreement by everyone. This did not happen because of one individual who would not agree. I talked to the team leaders separately and said something about the individual that I now regret. The team leader then told the employee what I had said. Also all three team leaders went to the manager while I was off and told him we had communications issues. And also said they felt like I could not be approached because I don’t listen to them. What can I do before this gets out of control? Please help.

Signed, Difficult Dealing With Employees

Dear Difficult Dealing With Employees:

Finding a roster plan that best meets the kind of work your company does and that pleases employees isn’t easy. You’ve learned that. The impression I get is that you feel you are not far from an employee mutiny and you want to restore your authority before you get thrown overboard. You have learned the criterion of 100% agreement on scheduling can blow up in your face. You’ve also learned that how you characterize a dissenter flies along the grapevine. Can you fix it?

Probably you’ll not be able to make all those who have complained happy without lingering complaints. But, leaders must make the best decisions they can in light of all the data they collect that bears on the needs of the type of work, and they must have thick enough skin to weather such rumbling complaint about you as have been voiced to your manager. Apparently you were informed by your manager of the not approachable/doesn’t listen complaint or you got wind of it. Whichever way you learned of it, you realize that dissent has escalated.

From a distance with incomplete data, it’s not easy to understand what has happened and what can establish or re-establish a good working relationship between you and your team leaders and crew. But let me make several overlapping suggestions for your consideration: If you have not done so already, meet with your manager to explain what you have said in this email and seek his advice about what you do now. Confer on what he/she proposes in how decisions for scheduling should be done. And clarify with her/him what you will do.

Apparently in the past you made scheduling decisions based on what was advised from above. Now you must see if you still have that support or if you are right to engage team leaders in revising scheduling by majority vote, consensus, or 100% unanimity. You must take responsibility for whatever you determine to do next. Don’t tell your teams if they don’t like what you do with scheduling, they can blame the manager. Apologize if you said anything critical of a team member who wouldn’t go along with the proposed alternative scheduling. Don’t fudge if you demeaned that individual. Acknowledge what you said, forthrightly admitting you were frustrated because he wouldn’t allow what others suggested.

Admit that your 100% rule was a mistake. Say that even if the proposed change did not suit one individual, he/she should be willing to at least give a new way of scheduling a fair try since it was requested by the team. You must decide to reschedule or to hold tight depending on what mode for scheduling decision your manager and you collaboratively decide, or be willing to overturn your 100% rule if you have a skull session of your team leaders and go along with what they want.

Confront the team leaders regarding their complaint that they felt like you could not be approached because you don’t listen to them. Candidly admit that you are disappointed they feel that way and that they took that complaint above. Don’t blame them for complaining or allow them to think they can dice you. Rather say your effort to respond to the suggestion to try something locally and your checking for unanimity was an affort to listen. Admit you shouldn’t have criticized the employee who wouldn’t go along with that and then put the question to them about how you should have made the decision differently.

Also see this flare up as an opportunity to spell out do and don’t rules of communication between them and you that will make the work of your company run effectively. The ball is now in your court. You need not be an iron-fisted superior to have control. One’s control grows and is maintained by establishing and clarifying the process of decision-making and engaging in the on-going process of talking about how we talk. That talk is best when the dos and don’ts are clear and reviewed. That control grows out of one’s expertise and willingness to listen.

That success of the teams in your area hinges on their interdependent mindedness; on organization-wide lean management and commitment to delivering quality. What I capture in my signature: Working together with hands, head, and heart takes and makes big WEGOS. Does this make sense? I welcome an update on what you do and how all this evolves after a couple of weeks.

Follow UP I had met with my manager prior to reading your reply, He explained to me that only two of the team leaders had met to discuss issues they had with me and that the third team leader, who is younger and around my own age (35), the manager decided to call him down himself for another point of view. I explained to him my own point of view that the roster had I believe caused the dissent. He told me he believed there was also a communication error and I should always explain my decisions to the team and team leaders, and yes, of course, he is right.

He gave me some examples of what they had said: Two stories from the same team leader were totally fictitious; another said I am not approachable and I click my biro a lot. I remember the same team leader telling me this and the very next day I told him I changed biros to a non-clickable type for him. I have spoken to the younger team leader team leader and he says it’s very easy for these guys to jump on the bandwagon but he appreciates all I have done for him for the last four years. It has not always been perfect but he has respect for me.

I have also spoken to one other team leader; he believes there is too much damage done. I have not yet figured how to bring him on my side yet, but two months previously, he told me how he was so grateful for all I had done. (I had gotten him back his team leader job after he self-terminated his position after a fall out with another manager.)

The third team leader I have not spoken to yet. This I believe to be the instigator of this “coo de ta”and the guy who informed the team member I had said (I will break that Cu*t) when I actually meant break this team member’s way of thinking.You see he believes he will come and go and do as he wants regardless of the team’s feelings, and this totally frustrates me. This will be a bigger task as I did not know how dangerous and under-handed as well, as willing to lie to over-throw me, as Lead of the area this team leader was.

I did not know people like this really existed, and even if I may have thought about it for a second I did not believe they could be this way because they were so close to me. I accept this incident as for what it is an overheated grumble that went too far. I accept the lies the going behind my back and over my head to cause me a more serious issue and I can even live with it and forget about it. I just do not know how to proceed; I have learned the team member has gone to the trade union to report the incident and would like to make a formal complaint.

My manager wants me also to sort out the wrangling with the team leaders. I just don’t know where to begin.

Response: Your follow up note indicates you have made progress and that your manager has encouraged you to explain things better and apparently he’s given you the go-ahead to resolve the complaints the best way you can. So far you’ve done that.

You have yet to confront the lead you think instigated much of the trouble. Approaching that individual, you imply, might not go well. In a private time-out session you can ask her/his cooperation and pledge to work for the good of the team and company. Admit that you should have explained better and that you didn’t mean to disparage anyone, if the topic is brought up. Tell him/her to proceed with voicing his complaints and pledge to cooperate with an investigation, but for now you expect cooperation and don’t think grumbling is the way to a productive profitable workplace.

Your job as a leader is to provide structure and to demonstrate you care about those you supervise. That is what you are about when you engage the teams in finding a roster that best meets their and the organization’s needs. I assume that the manager didn’t express a preference for a particular roster or your decision not to change to a local kind of scheduling unless you had 100% agreement because you failed to mention anything about scheduling. Therefore, from here, I think your task in this respect is to stick with the current schedule for a bit longer and then after couple of weeks if there is repeated displeasure with the roster and more requests to try a local system, in cooperation with a committee of the leads, decide on how to make a decision on that. Probably a vote on that with something less than a 100% rule to give it a fair trial.

Stopping the,œwrangling€ is not something you do. It can’t be begged, bossed, or sold to a work group. However, it can be minimized by two ways:

1. Engage the work groups (teams) in hammering out do and don’t rules about their communication. Such do/don’t rules as:

-Since words can be interpreted differently and misunderstood, take time to rephrase what you want to say and ask what, when, where, how and why questions for important matters.

-Do greet each other by first names and use please and thank you rather than shouting orders.Do communicate with those between shifts.

-Don’t say something about anyone behind his/her back that you haven’t first talked with them about.

A similar collaborative exercise might focus on teams spelling out the values they want their workplace to have.

A second approach to stop wrangling is a quality improvement effort, one that has taken on different names such as total quality management, gain sharing and lean management. The essence of such is a renewed effort to cut wasted supplies, wasted time, wasted energy and wasted money. Also it can mean developing innovative ways to make their jobs easier by developing systems that are more efficient and cost effective. Such an approach lessens wrangling because of competing for making their workplace survive and profitable. Of course you will want to talk through such ideas with your manager.

They are no-quick fix and such efforts should not be mandated. They can and should spring up as a long-term team building effort focused on the big picture; the survival and success organization-wide. I predict you will weather this storm and be a more engaging and competent leader because of it. You will weather it if you can show you are genuinely concerned about the careers and welfare of those in the teams you supervise. Working together is much more difficult than working solo, but working solo went out ages ago. Working together with hands, head, and heart takes and makes big WEGOS, and that is what you want for your teams and yourself.

William Gorden