23 January, 2010

What type of team are you? - Part I

In one my previous organizations’, I worked for 2 different teams during my ~3 years tenure. Let’s call them Team A and Team B. Team A was a vibrant team with highly energetic and motivated people with diversified experience and skill-sets. The team members included fresh college grads, people with couple of years of experience and a handful with good knowledge of customers’ usage of the product we tested.

Team A was led by a manager we’ll call Larry. What struck most about Larry was that he had faith in his team members (note that I don’t use the word ‘team’ here). He would talk to every team member at a regular basis about each one’s work, if there were any obstacles, if there was anything he could help with and so on. He organized team lunches/picnics/movies once in 2 months. He did all this while we worked a 70 hr work week. He came up with ideas to work differently to test the product better, but did not mandate to use his ideas alone. He was fine with people coming up with their own ideas as well. He encouraged people to have Disposable Time during office hours. He led by example.

Good Things don’t last forever. Isn’t it? I was moved to Team B for which I was originally hired. Team B was opposite of Team A. Team B consisted of testers who had been with the organization for 4+ years. People kept to themselves, some of them were short tempered and inaccessible. Some would even yell in public if you went with a question which they found to be silly. Some would never answer though they knew how to deal with it, but always pointed to a person who hardly knew anything about it.

Team B was headed by a manager named Rob who always carried a fake smile. I often wondered if his jaws didn’t hurt at all. I had a tough time getting information about the product in this team. Other than my reporting team lead, no one was willing to help. About 90% of the team members were unhappy with their raises just 1 month before I joined. They were obviously unhappy. What a bad timing it was for me?

To add to these woes, Rob walked around people’s cubicles without saying a ‘Hi’. His eyes were always on peoples’ monitors. Who is browsing what, who is not at their desk, how much time do they take during the allotted 1 hr lunch break, do they answer calls at their desk phone by their colleagues or not and many more.

It was appraisal time again. Cafetaria and the Table Tennis area are the best places to hangout post the performance evaluation phase. One gets to hear so many important things about the organization and its processes. I overheard an employee grumbling ‘My manager says on 11th Jan 2005, he came to my desk three times between 2pm and 3pm, but he didn’t find me at desk. He also says that I have been going for long lunches beyond the stipulated 30 minutes (btw lunch time lasts 1 hour in the employee handbook). He concluded that I am not being productive enough’.

The other employee replied reassuringly, ‘You know what? Your manager is still better. My manager says ‘I called you 21 times between 11am and 11.30am to your desk phone and you did not pick up the phone. Where on earth were you? He has my mobile number. I am surprised why he didn’t call to find out? I was at the hospital tending to my wife who suffered a miscarriage that day’. This is just 2 of the many conversations I have overheard or heard directly from the employees. 1 year later, the rate at which people joined team B was way too less compared to the rate at which people quit that team(and the organization) thanks to Rob.

If you are a team member, which team would you love to be in? A or B? If you are a manager, how do you manage your team? As Larry or as Rob?


Happy Working,
Parimala Shankaraiah

15 comments:

Simon Morley said...

Interesting post Parimala.

Learning is key attribute here.

I suspect team leader Rob had problems with his team leading skills.

If a team leader can't trust and delegate then he is not going to have time/room to learn and develop. If he can't learn/develop then he'll stagnate in that role - not good for the team leader and not good for the team.

A team leader can start out like Rob and grow into a Larry. So observing how he behaves is just a snapshot of his behaviour - there may be extra pressure on him under a certain time. But if there's no improvement over 6 months (or even signs of improvement - people learn at different rates) then it's probably time to move team...

The best leaders are usually the humblest (in my experience), especially if they're not domain experts, and then put their trust in the team to be the experts. They grow in domain expertise - but that learning is facilitated by the team.

Anonymous said...

Dear Pari,
I was a mute spectator to your blog since last Sep.But couldn't resist my tempatation to appreciate you when I read your interview "WoW moment".I also read Pradeep's blogs quiet often.Good Insight.

Keep up the good work going on.

Cheers
Priya

PARIMALA SHANKARAIAH said...

@Simon
A team leader can start out like Rob and grow into a Larry

Wonderful statement. This is intended for every person who wants to grow in the organization. We all learn from day to day challenges and experiences.


So observing how he behaves is just a snapshot of his behaviour - there may be extra pressure on him under a certain time. But if there's no improvement over 6 months (or even signs of improvement - people learn at different rates) then it's probably time to move team

Sadly, few organizations encourage people like Rob because they think that the only way to control people is by putting a tough guy at the top who treats them like factory workers and gets job done. A manager like Rob may continue to do it as long as he is neither warned nor reprimanded for it.

If Larry had to be in Rob's shoes, he would quit right away because his management style is different.

In my current organization, everyone from the CEO till the junior level employee has freedom to talk about things that they don't agree with. Reasonable demands may be addressed while unreasonable ones might be ignored. However, people are encouraged to speak out and people who speak out are not punished or reprimanded.

It's just my observation that to a certain extent, the managers of any company will reflect the overall culture of the company. Organizations need to be careful in hiring the right managers because they might be putting a true face or a fake face of the company to its employees and to its customers.

Regards,
Parimala Shankaraiah

PARIMALA SHANKARAIAH said...

@Priya
I was a mute spectator to your blog since last Sep.But couldn't resist my tempatation to appreciate you when I read your interview "WoW moment"


Thank you very much Priya. You should come out of the mute behavior more often to kick in your thoughts about testing.

Regards,
Parimala Shankaraiah

mollym said...

Very interesting post Pari. I am a passionate leader and this proves what I truly believe. People who are encouraged, empowered and appreciated will be happier (and I think more successful). People who are treated with disrespect, are unhappy (and potentially not as successful).

In either case, the leader reaps what he sows, so you have to ask yourself what would you like to grow?
Molly

BugMagnate said...

Good post Parimala,

I am sure none of your readers wants to be like Rob and people who are already "Rob" don't read anything like that. Isn't it true?

Was there some problem with Rob? Didn't he has a manager to report to? I am he would have had his objectives for the year to meet. Like everybody else he would have gone through the same Performance Appraisal cycle. Can we have a post named "What Type of Team You Are? Part 2". Just curious to know what happened next?
Why didn't someone talked to Rob's manager about the whole thing? Did you or anyone else try to reason out with Rob or his manager?

If nothing of the above worked, than I would say its a small problem having people like Rob, the main problem is having a company that supports/encourage people like Rob.

PARIMALA SHANKARAIAH said...

@Rahul (a.k.a BugMagnate)
I am sure none of your readers wants to be like Rob and people who are already "Rob" don't read anything like that. Isn't it true?


Yes. People don't want to be like Rob. People like Rob either don't know about what they are doing or they think that what they do is the only choice they have unless they are maniacs and want to harm people psychologically.

Was there some problem with Rob? Didn't he has a manager to report to? I am he would have had his objectives for the year to meet. Like everybody else he would have gone through the same Performance Appraisal cycle. Can we have a post named "What Type of Team You Are? Part 2". Just curious to know what happened next?


I wrote this post when I was feeling very low with bad health and lack of time to do things that I like to do (like testing, writing about testing and others). The response to this post is pepping me up. I will do a Part 2 of this shortly. Trust me, I did not think about this. Thank you very much for the idea.

Regards,
Parimala Shankaraiah

BugMagnate said...

Parimala,

Thanks for sharing this story. Get well soon and start doing what you like.

Regards,
Rahul

Anonymous said...

Great insight. sad to hear some individuals weren't trained well as people managers, or atleast trained not interms of management skills, but in terms of their attitude and how they see things. It is neither from business / professional aspect nor from personal grounds. I have also heard some people receving feedback as "you bring family into business" if they had to leave early in the evening or if they ever talked about their children or school at work.

I have also heard that most 1st time managers tend to do this and especially if they had gone through similar situation as an individual contributor. - i don't know if thats true however.

-Ram

Mavik10 said...

Hi Parimala,

I can't even comment on the above, u know y? bcoz i am in TEAM B now.

its always good to read article which you want to register and almost you registered all my angry ....

Hope for a change ASAP..

Cheers.........continue the goodwork.

Parimala Shankaraiah said...

@Ram
I have also heard that most 1st time managers tend to do this and especially if they had gone through similar situation as an individual contributor. - i don't know if thats true however


I think it's got more to do with what culture the organization is encouraging from the top level way down. What I think is this - As long as the management ignores or overlooks the bad treatment meted out to employees, it is not possible to change anything for the good.

@Mavik10
Hope for a change ASAP..


It is indeed sad that Quitting a difficult job seems to be the easiest way out for many of us. After all, we would have tried hard to stay put for some time before taking that tough decision.

However, you may want to weigh down the pros and cons of not working in the organization. What most employees fail to realise is the fact that they quit the organization just because they are not happy with one(some) manager.

If the organization is a great place to work and learn and yet you want to quit due to bad bosses, it would be good to look for alternatives in the same company - like moving to a different team or raising concerns about current manager and asking for a different reporting manager and so on. I know it's easier said than done. But then, nothing comes easy in life. Isn't it?

Regards,
Parimala Shankaraiah

Anonymous said...

@Parimala,
"I think it's got more to do with what culture the organization is encouraging from the top level way down"

-- i don't think so. in such a case it is unlikely to have two kinds of managers within the same group in the same company. it is perhaps the way those managers were nurtured in their personal experience and thats the role model (either good or not) that they follow until they get trained or seasoned with additional management experience.

"As long as the management ignores or overlooks the bad treatment meted out to employees, it is not possible to change anything for the good" --> this depends on the manager feedback mechanism organizations adopts. additionally, as you have pointed out - it is also the culture of employees about providing the feedback. How many would provide the honest feedback (constructive/ positive/ negative) about their managers? even if they do, how well the executive management take action on those feedback provided. If there was no corrective feedback provided, executive management would obviously not know anything about it.

-Ram (@esaarem)

Quality Guy said...

Very nice post Parimala. I am working as Senior Person in my comp n hoping TL may be within year or so. I would never like to choose my role model under whom i really dont want to work and thats Rob. This is really eye opener. Let the team trust you, and you get what you want from them-performance and excellence in execution.

Great one!

Regards
Vipul

CG said...

Hi Parimala,

Each post gives me new learning. Thanks once again sharing your experiences.

Thanks
CG

Parimala Shankaraiah said...

@CG
Each post gives me new learning. Thanks once again sharing your experiences.


Thank you for your kind words Chandru.

Regards,
Parimala Shankaraiah