The first team I managed was tricky - but I survived

Columnist Martin Edwards recounts being given his first management role

Martin Edwards
Martin Edwards

When I was given my first management role, I landed in more trouble than I had bargained for. With hindsight I can see that my bosses parachuted me in to shake things up in a team they thought needed it badly. To make matters worse, the team were all about twice my age and none of them welcomed my arrival. I realised this from the way one of them introduced me at a gathering early on. "This," he announced namelessly, pointing at me, "is my new manager." His withering glare told me it would be an eventful time.

If I had been them, I wouldn't have wanted to be managed by me either. Whatever potential I had, I lacked managerial experience, and it often felt as if I was just acting the part while trying to figure out what on earth I was doing.

In my first team meeting, I made the mistake of starting by explaining some of my principles of teamwork and management. Naturally, this felt patronising to them, so they hijacked my agenda and plunged into a long list of their woes. I almost lost control of them and by the end of the day I had achieved only one thing: acceptance that I was in charge. But it was worth it just for that.

They were a tricky bunch. One of the team told me I should stop acting so seriously because she just wanted to mother me, which somewhat undermined my air of authority.

Another would never break eye contact: even if I dropped my pen on the floor, she would bend down and back up with me as I picked it up. A third would always set her phone to answerphone and only return my calls if I said I had a query about her expenses. And one of the men was condescending towards me to a truly staggering extent (which I decided to ignore).

I soon realised that if I worked harder than them, I would be better briefed and able to stand my ground. Even then, I had to choose what to take a stand on. If I had held the line on everything, we would have been at constant loggerheads. So I let some things go, but I refused to budge on the major things.

As I began to manage them more closely, my unpopularity plumbed new depths. I responded by splitting them up, meeting them more on a one-to-one basis than as a group. I never sought compliments from them and never complained to them about my lot (which is a good rule of thumb for any manager and surprisingly hard to adhere to all the time). I also made sure I met key clients directly, rather than relying on my team describing me to them.

It was a toxic time, probably for all of us. I made mistakes, as all young managers do, but I hope I got the important things right.

In time, as I found, most people move on when a team is no longer run to their liking. Then you can bring in your own choice of people - and that's when your bosses really expect you to show results.

Martin Edwards, chief executive of the children's hospice Julia's House

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