My first act as the new manager of a nine-member team was to pull together a team meeting. What I saw surprised and unnerved me. Individuals didn’t chat when they came into the room. When I asked for comments, no one spoke.
I saw one woman pass a note to another, and chose not to call her out. I didn’t want to stomp on anyone before I figured out what was going on. At the end of the meeting, one man said with a smirk, “Welcome aboard.”
When I returned to my office, my administrative assistant told me the former manager was on the phone. He asked, “How is it going?”
I said, “I have some work to do.” He chuckled and said, “I’ll give you a heads’ up.” He then badmouthed each employee and suggested I fire the lot and start over. A slight noise led me to look up, and I saw the AA hovering in the doorway. She scuttled off when I looked up.
I’m plowing through the files and reading the former manager’s progress reports and the employee’s job descriptions to get my arms around what’s going on. I’m wondering what I’ve gotten myself into and if I have the skill set to fix this.
Put the files aside, and interview each of your team members, Then have a follow-up interview with the individual(s) who hired you. What you learn may surprise you.
Given the former manager’s call and what you saw in the team meeting, you appear to have walked into a toxic workplace. Here’s what I uncovered when a client asked me to help her with a similar situation.
I interviewed each team member. I learned that the former manager played each team member against the others. The team members, while gossipy, backbiting and sarcastic, seemed to live in fear.
Here’s what I suggested:
- Consider whether you want to stay or leave based on what you sense from those who hired you, how you feel about your organization’s mission and what you discover about your direct reports, and not on the mud slung by the former manager.
- Give each team member a chance. They may have been badly mis-managed. Interview each one and get your own sense of each employee’s competency and motivation.
- Establish ways in which your team members can safely speak up and professionally resolve conflicts.
- Hold a new meeting, establish “rules of engagement” for how your employees interact with you and each other.
Although you’ll be in for a rough ride, you’ll learn a LOT if you stay.
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