Wednesday, 14 August 2013

Don’t get too close to the team

Don’t get too close to the team. They are not your friends and you need to maintain a professional distance from them at all time. The issue is, if you get too close and they become your ‘mates’, well then you will have problems getting them to do what you want. Especially if what you want involves say, extra hours working, completing some task by a deadline or doing work they’d rather not be doing.

Now I agree, very few people in work are really your friends, I mean true, long term, trust with your life friends. Actually, in any given company over the length of your career, I bet you establish that kind of relationship 2, maybe 3 times tops. 99.9% are acquaintances, colleagues or just strangers.

However… the advice is wrong.

You absolutely SHOULD get close to your team. You certainly need to know ‘who’ they are, how they think, what they care about, their motivations and dislikes in the workplace, you should create an environment of open dialogue, trust and honesty. You CANNOT do this except by ‘getting close’ to your team.

Let’s be clear, there is a way to get close that sees you maintaining the meta-position, keeping your position and relationship clear and strong. There is a way that is the opposite to this, where you submit to your teams whims, undermine yourself and lose their professional respect because you are a weak leader. People want strong leaders, they don’t want assholes or wimps.

This is the central problem I have with ‘don’t get close to the team’, it assumes you are an intellectual, social and professional moron. It encourages you to slide to the wrong end of the interaction scale and become an asshole, who thinks being tough with the team is the best approach. We all leave bosses like that, we leave bosses that are distant and unconnected to us. We stay with companies where opportunities are limited, pay less than we’d like, etc. because the boss and the team are the best we’ve known. I stayed at AOL about 2 to 3 years longer than perhaps I should have, because my boss was awesome and so were the team. It took me 18 months to leave, because my boss cared about me, professionally.

Get close to your team, but maintain your professional stance. Make it clear you all have roles to fulfill, yours is to lead or manage and you won’t allow yourself to fail at that (or allow anyone else to make you fail). Make it clear you want to encourage, mentor, support, guide, advise, collaborate and work WITH your team – but they need to be professional and fulfill their roles fully too, if they don’t then it will be a performance management issue THEY brought on themselves. Show them you care about them being away from their ill spouse, you note their reticence to take a day sick when they’re obviously ill, etc. and when you need that urgent job doing, snap overtime, etc. they’ll be there. (If they’re not, you hired the wrong person and should manage them out).

Treat people like professionals and you can act like one too. Then you can safely connect with them on a personal level, in context of the workplace – not their personal lives. You can have lunch and after work drinks and still knuckle down when the need arises, you can make it clear the deadline is set and you expect delivery, but once the project is over it’s time for Nandos!

See the difference? You will if you get close to your team, professionally.


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