In my first job as a supervisor, I inherited a very dysfunctional group of administrative staff. They did not work together, they had low skills, and the internal customers they were supporting didn’t have confidence in their work. Hiring a new team wasn’t an option, as our pay scale wouldn’t supporting hiring a more skilled group. But even with all that, the people on this team were fully committed to the mission of the non-profit organization for which we all worked, and that gave us something with which to work.
I started first by observing and learning. Where each team member had been there for 10+ years, I was new, and needed to first get the lay of the land. After getting a clear vision of their role, and the needs of the company, I defined the expectations for this team, and then assessed each person’s skills. Some had more skills than we knew, but hadn’t been challenged to meet their potential. Others had gaps that we addressed via feedback and training.
At first, the team wasn’t sure what to make of all this – they had been under-managed till now, and had gotten used to doing their own thing. In addition, their internal customers had come to believe that nothing would ever change, so I had to enlist their support as well. I made my case that this team could change, and begged for patience – over and over again!
We also began meeting together as a team – and this was the turning point, because a few things happened: they realized they weren’t alone; they were getting practical help from their peers; and they were able to share their expertise with their peers.
There was some turnover – one of the staff decided this was not the environment for them. But the others thrived. They started coming up with new ideas to become more efficient. Our organization’s staff grew (meaning the number of customers they needed to support increased), and we were able to manage that increase in work without hiring additional staff. Their internal customers learned that they could trust them with more and more complex work.
But most important to me was seeing the change in how the members of this team carried themselves around the office. They were no longer defeated, but instead saw themselves as key, skilled members that were contributing to the mission and vision of this organization.