When I first became a HR Business Partner, the business leader I worked with, asked me to help a manager struggling with people management. My recommendation was to have the manager go through a manager training program that would equip him with the skills he needed to lead his team. We went ahead with this plan of action.
A few months later, when we did our annual engagement survey, I was shocked to discover that despite the manager training, the engagement scores of this manager were still terrible! The only option left was to move the manager to an individual contributor role. My manager suggested that I have a 1:1 with the manager and do a focus group discussion (FGD) with his team before recommending any next steps.
In my discussion with the manager, it became clear that lack of effort or intent was not the reason for the low team engagement! He was genuinely trying to apply what he had learnt in the program to his work. But it was just not working. The FGD with his team threw up a lot of insights. There was a big gap between what the team expected from their manager and what the manager was doing (based on his manager training!)
This experience opened my eyes to one of my biggest lessons in team leadership- CONTEXT is EVERYTHING!
I had believed that a “manager development program” was the best way to develop people managers. My understanding was that there is a super-set of managerial skills. And that managers trained on these can become better people managers. I also assumed that this set of skills works for all teams and organizational/team cultures!
Unfortunately, this assumption is common! Despite data consistently showing that there is minimal co-relation between the usual manager training programs and team productivity and engagement, organizations and leaders continue to use “manager training” as the go-to solution.
This is the single biggest blind spot of manager development! It completely ignores the “CONTEXT” in which the manager is operating!
CONTEXT IS EVERYTHING!
The combination of manager+ team+ team/org culture makes every manager-team situation unique. Just sending our managers to manager training programs is not effective any more. Since these programs operate on scale, they focus managers on the “what to do”. Instead we need to equip managers with the skills and tools to understand –
What is important to my team?
What can I do to improve their engagement & productivity?
What is my org culture?
How can I make my team successful?
What use is a map, if we don’t know where we want to go? Similarly, training managers on “what to do” works only when they know the outcome they want to achieve while leading their teams.
Personally, every team I have led, and organization culture I have operated in has been different. Whenever I have missed taking this into consideration while leading the team, I have struggled.
Understanding the team- who they are, what works for them, what doesn’t and how all of this works in the context of the organization culture, is a pre-requisite for manager development to be effective!