BLUF - A two-person department consisting of a manager and an individual contributor is being assigned to me. Would like some guidance on implementing the MT Trinity in this situation.

I'm a department head with 5 direct reports and 2 interns. As a result of a reoorg, another department will be reporting to me. This department has 2 people; an individual contributor and her manager. The manager is very experienced (20+ years in the industry), but has never managed anyone before her current position, which she's been in for ~3 months. I'm significantly younger than both of them, but have been managing my team successfully for over a year and have 10+ years of experience.

How should I handle this?

Should I include them both in weekly meetings, or just my direct reports (that would mean that the IC wouldn't attend)? Should I not invite them to the weekly meetings because they're a separate department? Should I hold separate meetings with them? (I'm inclined to invite them both.)

Should I hold O3s with just the manager or with both of them?  (I'm inclined to do so with just the manager and coach her.)

Any advice would be greatly appreciated.


gpeden's picture

What I had this situation I:


I did invite both the manager and the direct to the weekly meeting.   I did have a weekly O3 with the manager (my direct), and a regular skip-level O3 with the skip IC. 

Having a seperate department with only 2 people seems like a stretch - if I were  in your shoes I might re-org into one department.  Also is there a good reason to have a manager with just one direct report?  





DiSC 7511

BariTony's picture

Our departments actually do have different functions. The larger team of 7 people is made up of writers. The smaller team of 2 is made up of editors. There are significant differences in responsibility and compensation between the 2 teams. (5 of the writers have client-facing responsibilities, and 3 of them manage other writers on their projects.)


Actually, I agree that it doesn't make sense to have this organization, but it's not entirely my call. In the past, we always had 2 editors reporting to a manager, but one editor, their manager, and now their former manager's manager have all resigned in the past few months. My supervisor was pushing to hire another editor and have both of them report directly to me, but instead upper management decided to hire a manager to manage a single editor and now have that person report directly to me.


This situation also gets exacerbated by the fact that one of the writers used to be an editor, and I've been diligent about pushing back against other managers who wanted her to resume some of her old tasks. She really didn't want to be an editor any more, so having her do those tasks again seems like a good way to have her resign.

mattpalmer's picture

I've been in a similar position to what you're describing -- different functions with different structures (some managers, some individual contributors) all reporting to me.  Like you, I struggled with how to "integrate" everyone somehow, treat everyone "the same".  I weighed the pros and cons of having one staff meeting with everyone in it -- would everyone get enough out of each one to make it worth the time?

What I ended up doing was probably the worst possible outcome.  I focused on one side of things far too much, to the detriment of the rest.  The part I ignored needed more of my time than I gave it, but I didn't realise that at the time -- I thought "the people over there know what they're doing, they're good people, I need to spend more time focused over here".  It didn't help the situation that the part that I focused on was the more "fun and interesting" part (although I still believe that the people I left to their own devices were good people, doing their absolute best in a bad situation).

Reflecting on it now, though, I'm still not sure whether I'd integrate the teams or not.  If I had more experience with participating in and running staff meetings, I might try to bring everyone together, with a somewhat adjusted agenda to ensure everyone got value from the meetings.  It wouldn't be trivial, but it would be of great benefit if the two different groups of people could build better relationships with each other (which is what the staff meeting is, in part, about).  Your writers and editors presumably have to work together somewhat, so a better working relationship would be of value to everyone.

With what I know now, and with the skills and limitations I have, I think I would probably still keep the teams separate.  I know I'm lacking skills in running staff meetings in such a way that they could add value to everyone, and I know there's nothing worse than pointless meetings that add no value.  I would work harder to hold myself accountable for the work of all the teams reporting to me.  One of the chronic problems where I worked was a lack of accountability applied "from above".  I didn't deal with it well, and essentially let myself off the hook.  Doing it again, I'd keep a tighter lid on myself.

Sorry I don't have "the answer" for you -- all I can share, for the most part, is my own disaster story, in the hope that you might be able to glean something useful from it and avoid the same fate.  I can, however, give you a couple of recommendations on how to deal with specific sub-issues.

On the "one direct for a manager" point, consider whether there's any likelihood of the editing team growing again in the future (through hiring or transfer).  If it really isn't going to get any bigger any time soon, flatten it out.  Explain to the person managing there now that there isn't any value to be gained by an extra layer.  If that manager isn't willing to go back to being an individual contributor, and they want to stay a manager, perhaps they could transition to managing the writers?  Alternately, they can leave and you can use their budget somewhere more effectively.  On the other hand, if the editing team is likely to expand again in the next year or two, take this opportunity to hone the skills of that manager to a razor's edge, so that when they do take on more people, they're the most effective manager in the history of editing!

For the person who's being pressured to resume some editing jobs they don't want -- you're right to push back, but be careful about going too far.  You don't want to get a reputation for being stiff-necked and unwilling to accept other points of view.  Also, with only one editor, there may be issues of workload (not necessarily permanent; it could be spikes in work, or if your one editor goes on holiday or gets sick) and it might be that your ex-editor may need to pick up the slack.  Alternately, you could consider cross-training some other writer on the team to edit.

I can say one thing for certain: modifying your behaviour around whether someone might resign is an absolutely terrible thing to do.  I know, because I've been on both sides of that.  I was very accommodating to someone who was considered "valuable".  When they expressed a dislike of the work they were doing, efforts were made to change them into a new role that fit their skills and desires better.  This happened (in varying forms) a couple of times.  Eventually, they were asked to "pay back" their value to the company, by being asked to participate in something extraordinary, and they up and quit.  Turns out that cherishing them for something we thought they wanted to do didn't work out so well.

I've also been on the other side of that: I was also the person "too valuable to lose".  I thought it was cute at the time, when I found out about it, but it turned out it had already had bad effects, and my finding out about it didn't help.  Nobody above me was willing to tell me what I needed to hear to be more effective, because they didn't want me to get annoyed and quit.  (The exception to this was on the second outgoing CEO's last day, when he dumped six months of non-MT-model "feedback" on me in one hit -- ouch).  Once I found out that I was a "koala" (protected species, not to be shot at, not to be exported), I didn't think I changed my behaviour at all at the time, but with the benefit of hindsight, I can see that I became even more of an insufferable pain in everyone's backside.

The short form of all that is this: if your honest analysis is that this former editor is the person best placed to do some editing work, then ask her to get editing.  Explain why she's the best person for the job, assure her she can say "no", and then see what happens.  If she says no, then OK, you've got a problem to solve -- perhaps pick up the red pen yourself?  But if you treat her somehow special because she might resign, you're just setting up everyone for a bad time.  Nobody -- not even me (grin) -- is valuable enough to make that bet pay off in your favour.

BariTony's picture

Thanks for sharing your experience and insights.

I didn't mean to imply that the direct who switched teams was too valuable to lose. In fact, I believe that Drucker says in The Effective Executive that if a manager says someone is indispensable, it's a sure sign of an incompetent manager. (A year ago, one of my top performers came into my office with a huge grin on their face and told me they were resigning. When I thanked them for telling me and wished them luck, then asked them to put their resignation in writing, their eyes popped wide open and their jaw hit the floor. I'm not sure that's the reaction they were looking for.) No, the issue is that they were mediocre as an editor but are good as a writer. Plus, they received a significant pay increase when they switched teams. (This wasn't done with the hope that they'd work out - while an editor, they had taken on numerous writing responsibilities for over a year and had been effective on them.) Pushing their old tasks back onto them means having an overpaid editor that delivers average results doing a job they don't really like. 

I've spoken with editorial's outgoing manager. We agree that there is some friction between them that is beginning to negatively impact results, and that the new manager needs some coaching. The team will also be increasing in size, so the new manager will have more responsibilities. I've decided to have skip level O3s until we can get these personal conflicts resolved, and I'm going to roll out the Trinity, coaching the manager. Once the group has expanded, I've established a good working relationship with the manager, and we've gotten past the personal conflicts (really stupid stuff, honestly. I feel like it's high school), I can drop the skip level O3. I'll also be inviting both of them to our weekly department meeting. These 2 departments need to work together very closely, so I want them to gel as a team. Otherwise, until the group grows in size, the 1 direct report on that team isn't meeting with anybody. After working with them for the past six months, it's clear that person is a very high S, so I have concerns that having them feel as if I'm cutting them off from everyone else will have a negative impact on their effectiveness.

I'll let you know how it works out, but it may be a while before an update.



mattpalmer's picture

Great to hear you've got such a handle on the team dynamics.  Looking forward to hearing how it all turns out.

BariTony's picture

BLUF: I took the wrong approach.

Long story short, it led to organizational confusion and a near disaster. The skip level direct ended up trying to manipulate the situation by complaining with 3 levels of management, eventually getting the CEO involved. I decided to terminate my O3s with them immediately. I separated out the weekly department meetings into 2 separate meetings, and had the manager take the lead for their team, and made the manager an optional invitee to my other team's weekly meetings (I still manage that team directly.) 

The direct came to me and accused me of taking away all of their support, then started complaining about their boss, crying, and ultimately threatening to quit. I told them I wasn't their manager, their direct supervisor was. If there was a problem, I expected them to bring it up with their boss. I also told them that our ideal solution was that they stay and close their skills gap. (the manager has been meeting with this person every single day for at least 30 minutes to go over their work, provide feedback, and give basic instruction.) But, if they decided to leave, that was their decision. We've done everything we can.

The end result has been less complaining. Their attitude is more positive. Their manager says that their skills have improved significantly over the past few weeks and they've received positive feedback from 360 evaluations on their performance. However, we're not out of the woods yet. This person has told us that they're actively looking for a new job and intend to move on as soon as they receive an offer. But from where I'm standing, we've given this person every chance we could and if they leave, it'll be their decision. Not ours.




BariTony's picture

BLUF: I totally mismanaged this situation and everyone quit.
First, I apologized to my boss and the CEO and I told them it was my job to establish relationships with my direct(s) and obviously wasn't successful enough to see this coming. Neither of them hold me responsible for what happen. (My boss wanted me to fire one of these individuals months ago, and the CEO was pretty darn close to doing that himself. Also, neither of them considered the manager to be effective.)

First, we hired a new member of team reporting to the manager who reported to me. (yay!) Then the manager quit, citing, among other reasons, the stress of dealing with her existing direct. I was put into the position of managing both of her directs and less than 2 weeks later, one of them (the one who's been here longer) walks into my office when I'm in a meeting elsewhere, drops her resignation off on my desk (effective immediately) and walks out. I only ever had one O3 with this person - and that was in the past week, so there was no opportunity to establish a good working relationship with her as her direct supervisor.

Now that she quit, the new editor who has been with us for 2 weeks has taken advantage of the situation to come into my office and tell me that she categorically refuses to do one of the key tasks that is required, was discussed, and disclosed during the interview process, as a responsibility for her new position. I'm kind of up a creek - she's the only person in the department and while there's plenty of other work to keep her busy, I don't like being given an ultimatum by a brand new employee because they think they can get away with it.

Does anyone who has been in a similar position have any insight on how to deal with the situation?

FYI, I've been a manager for 18 months now and manage 2 departments. My other team is stable (only ever had 1 person resign, over a year ago), and I hired 3 out of 5 people in that group in the past 18 months. Weekly O3s, no complaining about being asked to do things outside of their job description or comfort zone, manage their projects by themselves, and all will come in early, stay late, or work weekends without me asking or them complaining to meet a deadline.


NLewis's picture

I feel for you.  I've recently been through a situation where I was stripped of both my directs due to circumstances beyond anyone's control.  They're back now but having to carry three sets of duties was brutal.  We're still in recovery mode and likely will be until next year.

They can't refuse to do their duty.  Under no circumstances would I tolerate that sort of insubordination.  I'd start with feedback and indicate it would negatively affect their review and opportunities for advancement.  Point out how they are negatively impacting the company as a whole.  Their job isn't about them.  Work from there.  Once your position is secure you can start talking about their continued employment.

Securing your position is another matter.  Is anyone in the other department capable of assuming editorial duties?  Even if it's only temporarily?  Do you have anyone on your bench that you've identified as good candidates for replacement?

Are your boss and / or CEO approachable for advice?  They might have some people in mind.  Working with them might strengthen your relationship and help guarantee "buy in" on any solutions. 

Please keep us posted.  We can all take a lesson from this.  Godpeed!

BariTony's picture

Still too early for feedback with the new hire. We're just 2 weeks in and I just scheduled our first O3 the other day.

No one from my other department can take over the duties at the moment. A month ago I volunteered to help out a VP who's team was way over extended with aggressive deadlines on two fast-moving projects, and that team has been helping absorb that work, along with their regular duties. Also, none of them are trained on this particular technical task that needs to be done.

Boss (Senior VP) and CEO are still approachable. I put contingency plans in place with one of the other directors, and both of them had input on candidates and recruiters. The VP is happy the one person quit - he wanted her fired months ago. The CEO thinks her manager was overpaid and ineffective.

The bench is still warm since we just did a job search, so I still have candidates on deck and recruiters I can call.