Forcing impossible deadlines, ordering people to be at work during certain hours, denying leave, bringing in consultants and hinting at using them as a yardstick for productivity… I often wonder what makes people resort to these tactics and if they know the net effect of them? Decreased morale, lowered productivity, lack of any desire to do anything, “stick it to the manager” mentality, tiredness, increased stress, fear of job loss…I can go on but you get the point.
What brings this on? Not entirely sure but I can speculate…people react differently to varying degrees of stress and who can say what goes through someones mind when faced with pressure from above from someone who does not fully understand the given situation and lacks (or has incorrect) facts. I would say though, having worked with various managers under varying degrees of stress, that this is indeed the role of middle management, to absorb, explain, clarify and defend the team in which they trust, assuming the trust relationship is there.
Trust, that’s perhaps the key factor here and I think the core of where these decisions come from. Trust is the difference between saying “all leave has been denied until project X is done” and “as a team you guys decide whether you can absorb the impact of this leave but whatever you decide, I will back you”. Trust is not telling your team “you will be at work between the following hours…” but rather saying “there’s an incorrect perception linking the current level of productivity to peoples hours of work, how would you guys think we should approach correcting this perception?”.
Patrick Lencioni, in his book “Overcoming the Five Dysfunctions of a Team”, lists Trust as the foundation of any good team:
“…members of great teams trust one another on a fundamental, emotional level, and they are comfortable being vulnerable with each other about their weaknesses, mistakes, fears and behaviors…”
“Team”, in this case, includes everyone trying to achieve a given goal…everyone. Often I see management reeling under the pressure from above and, instead of approaching their team, bringing them into their “world of pain” and trying to collaboratively find a solution, they will resort to giving orders and clamping down. Inevitably though, the harder they squeeze, the more they lose control, forcing them to squeeze harder…a vicious circle from where the only thing that results is broken trust, something that’s almost impossible to fix.