Today I feel like I have failed my team. I took over this team 18 months ago - new to the company. The teams previous manager was demoted prior to my starting and then fired 6 months in. He was not a good manager and would often pit the team against each other, throw people under the bus...basically when I walked in I found 5 people who truly didn’t trust or communicate. 

First thing I did was DISC for the team and that did help, I instituted a regular team meeting, 1:1s, team building activities, I encouraged them to get to know each other. While I realize I couldn’t heal all old wounds I thought I was making progress. 

Tuesday morning a meltdown occurred.....Monday evening “Susie” finds an issue that impacts her project but also “Karen’s” project. So I look at it with Susie it’s apparent a change should be made. So I put a meeting on the calendar for the next morning so we are all on the same page. Tuesday I come in and my boss, “Cindy” and Karen are talking and inform me the issue from the previous night was a non issue. I am confused cause I saw something else and call over Susie. Karen starts explaining she talked to this person and that person and we don’t need to apply it. Susie asks why she wasn’t included and this is when it melted down. Karen and Cindy missed a key point Susie found and Susie was upset she wasn’t included in the mornings conversations. Karen likes to work on her own and doesn’t see why she should include Susie. It ended in hurt feelings. 

I had separate conversations with both. They both talked to each other privately. One walked away from their convo feeling good the other leftnever wanting to talk to their peer. And I was told during my conversations one would like to be managed separately from the team. That they are better and so my feedback during meetings is demeaning. 

I don’t know how to move on from this. I don’t know how to ask my team to work together when they don’t want to and I don’t ever want to be demeaning. I just feel like despite best efforts I failed. I failed them and I am the cause of the meltdown. How do I move forward with my team?

mrreliable's picture

Much of your description is fairly cryptic. I'll try out my "reading between the lines" skills.

You spoke with Suzie Monday night. Almost immediately, Tuesday morning Karen had gone over your head to your boss to discuss this issue, and disagree with your assessment and progress toward a solution. It appears there's an issue between Suzie and Karen, something was triggered. There's a loop you're not in. IMO, you should first discuss this with your boss. That exchange just undermined your approach to a solution. Make sure your boss is exposed to both sides of the issue. I'll bet there's a good chance your boss was given a skewed viewpoint.

You said Karen and your boss missed a key point. That's left hanging. Since they both missed a key point, does that mean the issue is no longer in "non-issue" status?

You need to find out the back story to effectively deal with this. I'll bet there's much more to this story that what's apparent on the surface.

Assuming these are assumed names, I'll give you a cynical view of the pattern I'm suspicious of.

Suzie did the right thing by taking an issue to you. You did the right thing by scheduling a meeting as soon as feasible to discuss a solution. Karen went over your head to the boss without speaking to you first.

Based on Karen's description, your boss decided that Suzie's solution should be shot down. But Karen's description "missed a key point." It's hard to imagine that would be inadvertent.

I'll take a wild guess the person who walked away from the private conversation not wanting to speak to the other again was Suzie. I'll take a guess that Suzie felt it was a sneaky stunt, and she's never going to trust Karen again. If this is Karen manipulating you and your boss, it succeeded and this would result in Karen "feeling good" about things.

It sounds like you tried to do everything right, through assertive communication. Whoever the instigator is, it's almost certainly rife with political maneuvering. You got blindsided. Don't second guess yourself. You're doing your best to trust everybody. Again, you need to find out what the back story is.

Also be wary of the phenomenon where mistrust and personal conflicts seem to infect a team, then supposedly is healed when a particular team member is blamed and let go (former manager). I've seen situations like this where later on it becomes apparent that it was the innocent-looking gent the whole time who was pulling strings like the puppetmaster.

And I could be so far off base as to be in another ballpark. But if there are some bells ringing true, you could have a toxic manipulator to deal with.

NLewis's picture

I'd like to second mrreliable's observation.  You can't manage other people's feelings.  “Feelings” are significant, but not always tangible.  Nothing in what you've said comes across as demeaning to me.  The fact you posted here tells me leads me to believe you care deeply about how you manage.  Suggestions:

To your direct who feels you're demeaning:  "In our last meeting you mentioned that my feedback comes across as demeaning.  It isn't intended to be.  The feedback is provided to help you perform better.  The alternative would be for me as your manager to assess your performance without telling you my conclusions.   That could negatively impact your career without giving you a fair chance to address any concerns.  My relationships with my directs are the single most-important aspect of my role as a manager.  If you were me, how would you proceed?  In your opinion, is there a better way this feedback could be provided?"  

To your direct who is refusing to work with other team members:  "Can I give you some feedback?  When you refuse to work with (other coworker), you come across as unprofessional and it damages our ability to accomplish our goals as a team.  What can we do to moving forward to improve this situation?"

To your boss (presuming you have a good relationship): "I'd really like the opportunity to address my directs' concerns at my level before they come to you.  We've recently had some issues within my team that stemmed from some of their conversations with you.  It makes things more difficult for me when I'm not in the loop because I can't manage what I don't know about.   In the future, would you please ask them if they've spoken to me first?  If they haven't, would you mind directing them to me to give me a shot at addressing their concerns before they come to you?"

I hope this helps.  Godspeed.'s picture

Thank you for your advice.'s picture

I recently became a team leader in an IT company. I am quite quiet and shy, but I do the work very well and my boss is happy with me. It's hard for me to find a common language with my team right now. Your stories and advice have helped me a little, I will try to continue to develop and I hope I can become a good leader.

Jollymom's picture

This thread is an insightful one. Your experiences is a good learning ground. I myself experienced a few of what you guys are going through. It is easy to say communicate but without trust, communication will just be effective on the surface. Regaining trust is hard to do.