Managers have a crucial role as a bridge between strategic leadership and functional teams. When managers don’t fulfil this important role as they should, there’s far-reaching consequences. Here’s how managers and organisations can identify and address any capability gaps.
- Managers are developed. When people are promoted from technical roles they need to be supported in the transition.
- Without effective management to bridge between strategic senior leadership and functional teams, there are a range of negative consequences for an organisation.
- It’s valuable to do an assessment of managerial skills, including a 360, and create a plan to support their development.
There’s a very important role that is often the unsung hero of an organisation: the manager.
However, their function is often misunderstood. A manager is not responsible for strategic decisions, but rather is the person that acts as a bridge between the leaders who do make strategic decisions and the technical teams responsible for delivery.
Whether you’re a manager yourself, or someone responsible for organisational development, it’s important to fully understand the requirements of the role and how to recognise any capability gaps.
The manager as a bridge
A natural career progression from being a technical or relationship specialist is being promoted to managing a team. Often, it’s a necessary career step towards aspiring to a strategic leadership role. Team management usually starts quite small, with just 1-2 people, then grows to teams of 5-8, 12-15, 30 +, and even hundreds, depending on the nature and size of the organisation.
The consequence of this common career path is that technically skilled people step into manager positions having never managed others before, and without specific training and guidance can fall into some common traps.
While people with strong interpersonal skills may find the transition to a management role more smoothly than others, there are many skills to be learnt. Without development support, inexperienced managers often default to the management behaviour that has been modelled to them in the past. This means that at one extreme, the new manager can get too caught up in being the boss and setting rules and check points.
At the other end, new managers can default to behaving as they always have – being part of the team – instead of recognising the uncomfortable decisions and social separation the role sometimes entails.
Feeling productive at work can sometimes be driven by the dopamine hit of getting stuff done. Moving into a manager role makes this less measurable and immediate as the role calls for guiding the team to deliver instead. As a result, new managers can slide back into thinking in terms of what they need to do, instead of building trust and listening to their team to understand what they need to work at their best.
Consequences of this include the manager focusing on delivering outcomes instead of empowering the team to deliver, and micromanaging. Failing to adjust to their new position and seeing themselves as still ‘one of the crew’ can also mean not modelling inclusive social behaviours, as well as struggling to make unpopular decisions when needed.
Research from Gallup found that 70% of variance in team engagement is determined solely by the manager – and it’s not hard to see why. As a result of ineffective management, team members can begin to feel frustrated and disempowered. Without their manager to act as a bridge, people start to work in isolation rather than collaborating effectively with the rest of the company. A culture of ‘us and them’ can build among the team, the manager and leadership. Without an effective manager acting as a bridge between senior leadership and teams, communication can start to break down.
In short, development to support the transition to manager is always a valuable investment.
Skills a manager needs
The first step in any journey to better management is to be aware of the skills a manager needs and assess any gaps.
The managers role relies on their ability to quickly build trusting relationships with their team. When moving into a manager role, the first priority should be how to get to know the team, their strengths and what’s important to them. Without their trust, the ability to deliver the results will be severely impacted.
As a bridge between parts of the organisation, a manager needs to appreciate people’s differences and adapt accordingly. Managers are facilitators of information up, down and across the organisation, so this intermediary role needs an ability to communicate at all levels – this includes not only communication effectively but listening too, and being able to ask the right questions so core issues don’t get missed. Another important aspect of their role is being able to advocate up on behalf of their team members.
How managers show up every day tells the team ‘who they’re going to get that day’. Acting with consistency and modelling emotional regulation and objectivity helps to build trust. This means the ability to self-regulate and treat people equally with fairness.
Coaching vs directing
The fastest way to get information across is to ‘tell’. But to get team members to problem solve and take ownership of their work, managers need to be able to identify whether a team member needs teaching, guidance, encouragement or stretch. Without a coaching approach it can be easy to miss which approach different team members might benefit most.
When it comes to their effectiveness in managing and empowering a team, managers have to be able to set expectations and hold others account. In holding their team to account, the manager needs to ensure expectations are clear, confirm the team has the resources and skill capability to fulfil the role, and clear ownership for outcomes. Sometimes this might mean having difficult conversations – and receiving these difficult conversations in return. At times, their job might require them to carefully disrupt, address and prevent poor behaviour from team members which calls on their courage to speak, with the support of the organisation to take action.
And while managers might not be responsible for strategy themselves, their position is nevertheless one that requires an eye on the bigger picture and the value of their team’s results. This necessitates understanding the commercial context in which they operate, and at times, the limitations of what their team can deliver. Managers have to uphold ethical standards, discretion and integrity. They must be able to make decisions – and learn to sit with any discomfort they feel when those decisions prove to be unpopular.
Addressing the gaps
Improving management can be a matter of learning the processes and frameworks to ensure compliance and set the team up for success or developing interpersonal skills. When it comes to people management, while learning theory is helpful, the only way to truly learn is often through experience of people and situations.
For an organisation, ensuring effective management means having specific managerial skills built into a performance assessment processes and clear development plans to address any gaps.
The outputs of a manager can sometimes be hard to quantify, but it’s easy to see the need for good managers when the bridge between teams and strategic leadership is broken.