how to manage a team that’s been asked to do too much, why you might be doing “team work” all wrong, and more

Over at the Fast Track by QuickBase today, I take a look at several interesting work-related stories in the news right now: how to manage a team that’s been asked to do too much, why you might be doing “team work” all wrong, and more. You can read it here.

{ 14 comments… read them below }

  1. KR

    I’ve found pushing back to be so important. Once I figured out that I had the power as my team lead to push back against things my boss thought we could do but were unrealistic to ask of our employees, not only did my job get easier because I wasn’t expecting my team to do something they weren’t paid to do or had time for, but my boss didn’t expect results that weren’t going to happen with the staffing, experience, or pay we offered.

    1. Ask a Manager Post author

      Yes! And it’s really part of being good at the job of a manager — not just to make sure your staff is treated okay, but to supply your own boss with realistic info about what can and can’t be done. It sucks to manage someone who blows smoke up your ass or agrees to things that they shouldn’t have agreed to.

      1. Jenny

        Oh wow – I wish there was some way I could share that HBR article with my boss. We got a new VP over the summer and he does not push back AT ALL. Our work load has increased so much and a lot of it is stuff that is a waste of our time or could be farmed out to some consultants. People are burning out big time and they don’t see an end in sight.

        1. Sparrow

          This is my office to a T right now. Morale is in the pits. Office leadership has finally started to recognize and acknowledge that it’s happening, but they’re saying that everything is coming from above them in the organization and they don’t have the ability to do anything about it. I would be extremely surprised if we didn’t lose a significant number of people over the next six months or so (including me – my boss should be grateful that no one in our city is currently hiring for our niche area of expertise and that I can’t afford to be without an income.)

      2. Jadelyn

        This is one of my favorite things about my current manager. She will absolutely go toe-to-toe with our VP if she thinks he’s expecting too much too fast for us, or if we tell her that we won’t be able to make something work with what we’ve got, and she makes sure that she alone gets any blowback for that so that we don’t have to deal with it.

        I once commented on that and thanked her for standing up for us after a particularly bad incident (she actually hung up on the VP because he was threatening to throw us under the bus for an utterly unreasonable demand that we told him wasn’t possible in the timeframe he wanted – they’ve worked together for 10 years at multiple companies, so I wouldn’t really recommend that strategy to anyone who’s *not* that sure of being able to get away with it, but it was kind of impressive in a shocking sort of way at the time) and I will never forget her response. She said (roughly) “Shit rolls downhill, but part of my job as your manager is to stand uphill from you and try to divert it as best I can, so you can actually get the work done they’re paying you for, rather than wasting time shoveling.”

        Someday, I hope to have management responsibilities, and I fully intend to model my management style after hers in a lot of ways. This is one of them.

  2. Any Moose

    I had to talk to my boss about trying to assign tasks to one of my direct reports. Boss wants a million things done, many of which have hard deadlines. I had to go to her and tell her that I have many projects lined up for said employee in order to meet these deadlines. And of course, my direct report who is relatively new, is not going to say no to the grand boss. SMH!

  3. Jenbug

    Everyone in management at OldJob needs to read that. Our tiny department of 4 went from being responsible for the production of 150 teapots every 5 weeks to the production of 700 teapots every 5 weeks and got no extra assistance. Our manager refused to push back and stand up for us or even acknowledge that what we were being asked was outrageous. One person ended up quitting and I ended up being terminated because something fell through the cracks (which I told my manager was going to happen six months prior if I didn’t get help). They had to replace the two of us with four people.

    1. Other Duties As Assigned

      Managers need to understand that they are at risk of losing credibility if they meekly acquiesce to unreasonable demands from above for their departments. At OldJob, boss and grandboss convened a meeting. They announced that we were going to move from producing ten 10-ounce teapots a day to producing 20 five-ounce teapots. It sounds reasonable since 10×10=20×5, right? However, both had been peers and knew precisely how to do our jobs. They knew that 90+% of the work to produce a teapot was fixed; very little varied with the size of the teapot. They were effectively requiring almost double the output with no increase in staff. One of the greybeards on the team (who pre-dated both boss and grandboss) pointed out that this was not feasible. The response of grandboss will stay with me forever: “Let’s not get bogged down in talking about what’s feasible—let’s focus on what we want to do.” We lost all respect for her at that point, but the real damage was suffered by the boss, who went along with what she knew was a ridiculous idea from management. That marked the point when we realized she did not have our backs.

  4. Matt

    Whenever I read about team work, I can’t help but think of a German proverb: “TEAM is an abbreviation meaning ‘Toll, Ein Anderer Macht’s'” (translating to: “Great, someone else will do it”) ;-)

  5. nofelix

    What’s a good way to benchmark a reasonable amount of work? Standards differ and asking for less is a really easy way to get accused of being lazy.

  6. Shortie

    We’ve had workload problems at my company too. One thing that happens a lot is the managers and VPs do push back, but they’re told to make it happen anyway and then also told to own it like they agree with the decision. So they’re pushing back, being told no, and not supposed to tell anyone they pushed back.

    1. Wink

      This is happening at my company, too. As a manager I struggle with delivering the message I’ve been told to, when I’ve pushed back hard against it.

    2. sstabeler

      which is particularly obnoxious, because all it actually achieves is make the manager look bad. I know what the original idea probably was- that if management appear to agree, people are more likely to do it- but that relies on the idea that people don’t meet unrealistic targets because they don’t want to.

      That, and too many companies subscribe to the “efficiency above all else” philosophy that was developed by a manager in charge of a freight yard at a train company. ( he observed that a different set of workers could seemingly shift more cargo at a time- so he jacked up targets for how much cargo each person had to shift per hour. Less than a year later, he was fired because while cargo volume did increase, workers were burning out quickly, because he failed to understand that there are two limits your average person has: the amount they can do sustainably- that is, the amount they can do without burning themselves out- and the amount they can do if they risk burnout. (to use an analogy, a fighter plane is normally limited to a certain level of performance. However, in an emergency, it can use “Wartime Emergency Power” (or used to be able to)- which was extra performance, but carried sufficient risk of seriously damaging the engine that more than 5 hours of use total meant the engine had to go through a complete tear-down inspection. ( and after any use, the engine needed inspecting))

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