Management is a rather challenging task for every person, and my working experience proves this point of view expressed by a number of scholars like Clegg (2005, p. 18) and Lewis (2004, p. 48). As far as the management always means the work with people, this task becomes even more complicated as the notions of personal differences and peculiarities, motivation, and leadership styles are involved. Traditionally, problematic management experiences can help people learn the lessons these experiences provide and improve their professional qualities.
My working experience I would like to discuss in this paper is also directly related to the area of management. About a year and a half ago, I had a chance to work as a Lead Program Manager at the Asia Pacific Operations Center. My role was to lead and manage a team of workers united by the joint company’s goals. Trying to apply my theoretical knowledge in practice during this experience, I, not surprisingly, faced considerable challenges related to team management and employee motivation. This paper is a reflection on that experience and the steps taken to improve my management skills.
Thus, the experience I am discussing in this paper happened about a year and half ago, i. e. approximately in the middle of 2008. This was the time when I took the role of a Lead Program Manager at the Asia Pacific Operations Center for the first time. Naturally, I was trying to apply the knowledge I acquired as a student in relation to team management, leadership, and employee motivation. The team I was appointed to lead was new, and I had to do my best to build it up, develop its joint spirit and goal achieving commitment.
The major players of the discussed experience included myself and the person who was appointed to report directly to me, i. e. the Senior Program Manager whose name was John. The essence of the experience was in the controversy, or probably the lack of understanding, between me and John, the employee that had been working for the Asia Pacific Operations Center for ten years already when I came to take the Lead Program Manager position. Obviously, John was reluctant to fulfill my instructions and act as a team player in the direct meaning of this notion. He displayed no desire to assist other team members in their practices using his rich experience. Although John was widely respected in the company for his rich experience and considerable professionalism, he was seemingly unmotivated to work in the team led by me.
Trying to solve the issue, I selected an appropriate moment, after the team meeting that brought few results because of the disintegration that John’s attitude brought to the team, and invited John to have a talk in my room. I intended to have a heart-to-heart talk with John and planned to find out as many details as possible about his personal background and the possible causes of his dissatisfaction with his current role in my team. As well, I tried to learn the reasons for the lack of motivation to work that John experienced at that time. Finally, as the outcome of this talk I saw providing the constructive and positive feedback to John regarding his work as a team player.
However, the actual results of the talk with John turned out to be opposite to what I expected them to be. John, probably, perceived that personal talk as my dissatisfaction with his work and changed the working team after six months of working in my team. Here, it is necessary to say, that after some time of observing John’s behavior at work, his relations with other team members, and attitudes towards, I could see that even before our talk, he thought not much of my skills as a team leader and a project manager.
Further on, while talking to John on that day I could feel that his attitude was a bit arrogant. For him, I probably was just a newcomer who got the leading position due to some unknown reasons. John’s unmotivated work and reluctance to act as a team player also allowed me to assume that he considered himself to fit this position more than I did. He had a much richer experience and proved his loyalty to the company, but he did not get the position of the Lead Program Manager. So, while the situation escalated, I could feel that the mix of John’s experience and his confidence in my inability to lead a team shaped his unmotivated attitude towards working in my team.
Now that the discussed experience is in the past, it is possible to consider it from all the relevant points of view. Basically, there are two main perspectives from which this experience of mine can be considered, these are the John’s and my perspectives. For John this was probably a mix of professional experience he had and the feeling of underestimation by his company’s highest officials. Looking back at the discussed experience, I now realize how I looked in John’s eyes when I first came to the Asia Pacific Operations Center and started attempting to implement my management practices. I did not know the team as a whole, I did not know its members as personalities; I had no experience of team management; and I was placed in the higher position than many other employees that worked for the Asia Pacific Operations Center much longer.
Thus, the first thing, as I perceive it now, that John thought of me was that I did not have, and could not have due to my young age, considerable experience to manage teams. Accordingly, John did not believe that I could be a good leader. Even if I implemented proper practices, his reaction was always similar as John displayed absence of motivation and reluctance, although hidden, to follow the instructions of a person who is younger and has far less experience in the task he is assigned with.
Further on, using the views on motivation developed by Adair (2007, p. 198) and Gorman (2004, p. 93), I decided to talk with John in person to settle the issues he had, but John obviously perceived this as a negative feedback regarding his work. In other words, instead of expected appreciation of the personal time the team leader took to communicate with him, John started feeling as a “scapegoat”, whom I allegedly singled out from the team and deliberately attracted everyone’s attention to him by calling him for a personal talk to my room. So, seeing no perspective for working in my team, John, seemingly, decided to change the team and join the one where he could gain greater significance and be appreciated according to his experience and professional skills. At the same time, John probably did not want to be singled out from the rest of the team, and this conditioned his decision regarding the team switch.
Naturally, the second perspective from which I can now consider my experience at the Asia Pacific Operations Center is my own. On the whole, the chance to lead a team in this organization for the period of 6 months was a great challenge to me as a professional manager. Accordingly, I was committed to do my best to implement my knowledge of management basics to succeed. From the first day at the Asia Pacific Operations Center, I tried to build up my team, develop the team spirit in every single team member, provide constructive and encouraging feedbacks to employees, and enhance my own experience as a team leader.
However, the situation that involved John proved that my experience, or the experience that I had at that time, was not enough to manage a team or even a single member of it. Accordingly, now I consider the experience discussed in this paper as a failing attempt of mine to motivate an employee. Indeed, my good intentions directed at John turned out to have absolutely opposite results. I can see now that instead of motivating John and enhancing his performance in my team, I actually singled him out of the team, allowed him interpret my positive intention as a personalized expression of criticism, and conditioned his departure from my team to another one.
Thus, I can now reflect on the discussed experience as the one in which I did not manage to achieve any of the goals I set for myself and for the development of my team. Trying to settle the issue involving John in person, I actually managed only to single John out of the team, made him feel uncomfortable in my team, and did not give him any actual impulses for professional development and growth within my team.
So, looking back at that experience I can assess my performance as poor. But, at the same time, I still feel the need to understand and realize what I did wrong at that point of time, what I could do otherwise, and what I can do now to avoid similar failing experiences in future. For this purpose, I address the major theories of motivation, team management, and leadership in relation to my experience in the following section.
Thus, Daft (2003; 2008; 2009) defines management as “attainment of organizational goals in an effective and efficient manner through planning, organizing, leading, and controlling organization resources” (p. 7). Accordingly, a manager should take all necessary steps to provide effective goal achievement of his team through organizing, leading, and planning, and I had little experience in either of these categories at the time when the experience discussed in this paper took place. This means that I could not act a proper manager at that time basically due to the already discussed lack of experience. Also, Daft (2003) notices, that management means “getting things done through other people” (p. 8), which is, in other words, the ability to direct people and make them fulfill your instructions in the way that the company’s, or team’s, goals are successfully achieved.
Obviously, such an approach to management presupposes the possession of great communicational skills by a manager. While facing the controversial experience that involved John, I was strongly convinced that I possessed those required communicational skills. Based on this idea, I designed an idea of talking to John in person and discussing all possible issues he might have had in a heart-to-heart talk. As the outcome of that talk proved, the view by Daft (2003) regarding the role of manager was right, but my qualifications at that time did not match the required ones to be called a professional manager. The discussed experience shows that I did not manage to either plan or lead, or organize the team I headed. The fact that one of the team members did not agree with my practices illustrates them as failing ones.
Further on, there is also an interesting view expressed by Marchington et al. (2002), according to which a manager cannot achieve success in managing a team if he/she underestimates the role of the HR department and makes statements like “I’m the one who knows the individual team” and “I feel I know what’s best for my team” (p. 145). Such a approach to management, according to Marchington et al. (2002), means that the team leader avoids making joint decisions and relies on his/her views and assumptions in managing the team. That is what I did during the experience discussed in this paper. In more detail, I felt that John had some motivational issues probably associated with my appointment as the team leader. I did not discuss the case with other team members or HR specialists, but decided to handle the problem based exclusively on my knowledge and skills. The results of that decision I made prove that the ideas on management by Marchington et al. (2002) can be used to explain my experience and the failure I faced in it.
On the other hand, theories of management formulated and discussed by Northouse (2007) and Thomas (2007) contradict the outcomes of my experience. According to Thomas (2007) for example, there are three basic types of managerial activities, including (1) the ones aimed achieving the team’s tasks, (2) designed to build and develop the team, and (3) the ones targeted at developing individual employees, not team players (p. 23). Thus, Thomas (2007) argues that the following activities are manifestations of the team leader’s inclination to build and develop his/her team:
- Encourage people;
- Respond to questions;
- Solicit and provide feedback;
- Manage conflicts (Thomas, 2007, pp. 22 – 23).
As it can be seen, these were the activities that I took up while dealing with John’s lack of motivation in my experience. My major goal was to build up the team by eliminating any controversy and promoting the joint team spirit. To achieve this, I made a decision to encourage John as a team player by providing a constructive feedback to him after listening and responding to all his possible questions. Respectively, these steps I took were also directed at avoiding, or managing, the conflict that was emerging between me and John. All the steps taken fit in the model of team building presented by Thomas (2007), but the result was still negative as I achieved completely the opposite of what I expected to. Instead of encouraging John, I made him leave the team, and instead of building the team spirit up, I made the team weaker by losing one of its most experience members. Accordingly, the views by Northouse (2007) and Thomas (2007) are hardly applicable to my experience as the theoretically expected and actual effects of similar activities are absolutely opposite.
Further on, my obvious role as a team manager was to motivate my team as a whole and every its member in particular to achieve the highest goals possible. However, my experience shows that at the period of time discussed I lacked essential knowledge of motivation theories and techniques. Thus, Cannon argues, as cited by Margerison (2002), that “motivation is what arouses people into action, determines the goals towards which these actions are channeled, and influences the vigor and persistence with which such goals are pursued” (p. 111).
Drawing from this definition, I can assess my managerial practices aimed at motivating my team members as rather progressive. The experience by John allows saying that pursued the goal of building up the career prospects of my team members. In that experience, I did my best to provide John with the constructive feedback, increase his satisfaction of the work in my team, and provide the means of achieving higher team goals and personal horizons for John. However, although I always made the full use of the mechanism of feedback and employee encouragement as basic motivational techniques, I did not get the expected outcome of such seemingly proper motivational policy.
At the moment, I cannot provide rational explanation to the failure in my experience if I use the views of motivation expressed by Cannon and Margerison (2002). However, I can make assumptions in this respect, and the idea of “discretionary behavior” by Purcell (2008) can be applied to help explain my experience. Thus, Purcell (2008) argues that under any conditions of work, employees always have a degree of freedom in choosing the way to fulfill their team duties (p. 77). So, it can be assumed that I did my best in motivating John for successful team work, but his discretionary behavior played the major role in his decision not to work in my team and to move to another one.
Finally, another assumption I can make is that the emotional peculiarities of John’s character and the stress situation he found himself in after my arrival at the Lead Program Manager position. Alder (2000) argues that emotional environment and stress play a vital role in the success, or failure, or team members’ motivation (p. 20). So, I can assume that the highly stressful, situation in which John had to work, especially after the personal talk with me, might have conditioned both his reaction to my constructive feedback and his final decision.
Accordingly, the above presented analysis of my working experience in teal leading and people management brings me to the following plan of actions. Developing this plan, I hope that its components, if I use them properly, will allow me avoid similar experiences in my future practice. At least, I hope that the below presented action plan will make me ready for the new challenges and will enrich my knowledge on theoretical aspects of management. Thus, the following set of steps is the critical reflection on what I have learnt from my experience regarding people management and provision of feedback as a motivational technique:
- Make improvements into my both verbal and non-verbal communicational skills;
- Develop my authority and learn to build up trust and team spirit within the team I am appointed to lead;
- Learn to provide clear and actionable feedback that can be interpreted only in one meaning, not in different ways;
- Becoming a proactive person in both giving and receiving feedback from my team mates and higher officials.
To make the action plan clearer, I will resort to the following specific activities. Concerning the first point of the plan, i. e. improving verbal and non-verbal communicational skills, I will first of all review the literature of the role of communication in management practices. For example, the works by Boddy (2007, pp. 145 – 146) and Dyck (2008, p. 319) provide considerable insights into the topic of newly emerging management practices and stress the increasing importance of communication for their success. The next step I will take in this respect will be attending specific courses of persuasive speech and rhetoric. This will allow me improve communicational skills and trace my progress in this task. Finally, I will try implementing my newly acquired knowledge and skills in real-life settings to see they work.
Further on, the specific steps I intend to take to put the second point of my action plan in practice include learning the lessons from the discussed failing experience and acquiring new extensive knowledge from the relevant literature. In more detail, I made certain mistakes in my attempts to build up a team driven by the ideas expressed by Northouse (2007) and Thomas (2007). Accordingly, I will reconsider the ideas by those scholars and carry out another analysis of my experience through this perspective. Also, I will research other relevant scholarly sources regarding management practices that help build up team spirit within a group of employees.
Trying to achieve the best results in fulfilling the third point of my action plan, I will combine the elements of the two preceding points but with a special emphasis on motivational theories. In more detail, I already know from works by Alder (2000), Margerison (2002), and Purcell (2008), that the provision of constructive feedbacks plays an important role in motivating employees. However, my experience shows that theories work not in all cases and there are exceptions conditioned by discretionary behavior patterns or some other phenomena. Therefore, my task in this point of the action plan is to gain as much information about exceptions to motivational theories and become able to implement the acquired knowledge in practice. Naturally, communicational skills will be needed for practicing the knowledge, and therefore the courses in persuasive speech and rhetoric will be of great help.
Finally, working on the fourth point of my action plan, I will need to modify my approach to people management and adopt a more communicative team leadership style. In other words, to become a proactive person in both providing and receiving feedbacks, I will have to learn how to take my team members’ advice into account. As this can be achieved through practice only, I will try to learn lessons from my failing experiences and avoid similar mistakes in the future.
Further on, the issue of measurability comes into play when a person sets a number of goals and means of their achievement. In my action plan, I have also developed the measurement tools that will help me see how successful I am at achieving each of the four plan items. Thus, the main criterion according to which the success of my action plan can be measured is the success of my team in developing a joint team spirit and achieving common goals. Respectively, the success of the team will be measured by three major factors:
- Measurement of the team members’ satisfaction in the team leader;
- Measurement of the team’s unity;
- Measurement of the team’s success in achieving its working goals.
Specifically, the measurement of each of the listed criteria will be carried out in two major ways. First, I will suggest the HR department of the Asia Pacific Operations Center to carry out a survey of my work as a team leader for a period of six month. Second, I will attempt to invite a neutral observer from outside the company to carry out the similar survey independently. Both surveys will be carried out simultaneously and will focus on the attitudes and suggestions by my team members.
Following the surveys, I will implement the above presented action plan and ask the HR department and the same neutral observers to repeat their surveys on the similar sample of team members. Finally, the results of the surveys carried out after the plan implementation will be contrasted to the results of the prior surveys, and the increase of at least 30% in all data will be considered as a successful result. Respectively, the result below the 30% line will be considered a failure, and I will have to modify the action plan to achieve the desired improvement.
At the same time, to establish positive relationships with the members of my team and to be able to practice my communicational skills, I will implement regular team meetings, during which every team member will have the chance to express his/her working suggestions and improvements. However, in case if such an initiative will not be supported by the team, I have developed an alternative to it. In more detail, to measure the level of satisfaction of the team members with the leadership practices I will apply, I will create a special e-mail address to which the team members will be able to send their feedbacks and suggestions without fear of being singled out, discriminated, or punished by the team leader. Such an approach, hopefully, will allow me achieve the third and fourth points of my action plan. As my experience shows, team members can misinterpret the leader’s attempts to communicate with them personally.
Accordingly, the two best ways out include joint team meetings and the anonymous mail through which any team members’ problems can be communicated and solved. Thus, my action plan includes the four basic points that I will try to achieve using the lessons learnt from the discussed experience. The goals set in my action plan are obviously clear and measurable.
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