At Work: Human resources - HR clinic - Building up your inexperienced team

John Burnell, director of Personnel Solutions

My inexperienced senior team is facing a number of bruising disciplinary and grievance issues. How can I give them the confidence to deal with this?

Is it just a coincidence that all these problems are happening at once, or is there an underlying cause?

The fact that your team is inexperienced suggests that your organisation has fairly recently appointed or promoted them, and they may now just be picking up on the failures of their predecessors.

When a new manager comes into a post, new ways of doing things very often reveal previously hidden problems. Staff often feel they can, for the first time, open up and share their burdens.

Less innocently, employees who are already discontented or resentful that they weren't promoted might decide, even if it is unconsciously, to test the mettle of the new managers.

Painful change

With your new team,you might find that you are trying to move too far, too fast. Culture change is always painful, and you should take stock to determine whether you've got the pace right. Sometimes consolidation can be just as useful as radical development.

If you do conclude that you've got it about right, then build up your internal communications so that you get the change message across loudly, clearly and positively - and use your managers as key components in that process.

Your managers need your support. Have they been fully trained as managers?

All too often, we expect to find that experts can become good managers simply by being promoted - but it's not that easy, of course. They need regular mentoring and need to develop their skills, including their knowledge of handling disciplinary and grievance cases.

Pull together

Are your senior staff working together as a team? However good each of them may be in their own right, they will add inestimably more value to your charity if they pull together and support each other - in cases such as this, the whole really is greater than the sum of its parts.

Consider putting your senior colleagues through some team-building exercises, and organise awaydays. These tactics can help them to develop policy and strategy together. Your team will then build their ownership of what they are managing.

As they get to know each other better, they'll be able to share experiences and won't be fazed by dealing with difficult employees. The whole organisation will benefit as a result.

- Send your HR questions to

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