Not all team approaches are good for the team

Dear Joan:
We work in a five-year-old company with about 30 employees. Our firm has always used a hierarchical management system and the owner has spent most of his time away from the office developing a client base. Now, the owner has implemented a "team approach" to management, which he is personally spearheading.

We have several concerns about this new system. First, the owner has begun ambushing individuals during "team" meetings by criticizing prior behavior and job performance. He says this demonstrates none of us are perfect; we feel this is embarrassing to everyone present in the meetings.


In addition, the owner will meet privately with one employee and complain about other employees (usually peers). This leaves the employee in the awkward position of repeating the conversation to his peers or allowing his peers to continue offending the owner.


Finally, the owner has appointed himself the leader of every "team." After 5 years of working on our own, we are unhappy with this domineering approach.


Employees are beginning to look for new jobs. What can we do to hold the firm together while retaining a satisfactory level of independence and responsibility?


Many companies are abusing the word "team" and yours is no exception. People don't work as a "team" until certain conditions are met. Just because they are all in a room at the same time, doesn't mean they are a just means they are a group. In your case, it seems the owner is using a new buzzword to label old-fashioned behavior.


If you distance yourself from what is happening, you will quickly see that the owner is trying to get more control over what is happening. He doesn't seem happy with the performance of some people and is trying to change their behavior through public embarrassment or peer pressure. Obviously, he's better at building client relationships than he is at leadership.


It's always amazing to me that managers resort to intimidation and back-door measures to give employees feedback. Yet when you ask most people if they want corrective feedback and coaching they all agree they want it, need it and would like it delivered adult to adult-without the games and tip-toeing around. Managing by mental telepathy and subtle hints just doesn't work. It's time you were all more straightforward with him. It may cause him to be more direct with you.


If you all agree to "manage the owner" he may change his behavior but there's no guarantee. Some entrepreneurs are great at starting a business but a disaster at growing it. The skills are quite different. Most have a very tough time letting go and sharing responsibility and authority. If he is unable or unwilling to change, perhaps leaving is best. But first try this:


Every time he complains about one of you, respond by saying: "I'm a little uncomfortable talking about Jerry when he isn't in the room. I know he'd like to hear what he needs to improve, why don't you tell him directly?"


Regarding his public criticism, all of you may want to try an "I statement." It might sound something like this: "When you said x in the meeting today, I felt really embarrassed and humiliated. Others in the group also said it made them feel uncomfortable. I want you to tell me if I'm doing something you'd like me to change, but please let me know in private." Others may also want to say, "I think Sally was a little embarrassed today when you said x in the meeting. Maybe you could talk to her about it?"


Finally, try approaching the owner and asking him directly, "Is there anything you would like me to do differently? Are you concerned about the quality of my work? I'd really like to know what your expectations are. You seem to be supervising my work more closely and that suggests that you aren't comfortable or confident in the way I'm doing things."


Although these are direct measures, they may open up communications and get the real issues on the table. They'll also be a model for him to learn from. If all of you work together on this, he may realize that you are responsible, capable adults who want to be his partner in making the business succeed.

Joan Lloyd is a Milwaukee based executive coach and organizational & leadership development strategist. She is known for her ability to help leaders and their teams achieve measurable, lasting improvements. Joan Lloyd & Associates, specializes in leadership development, organizational change and teambuilding, providing: executive coaching, CEO coaching & leader team coaching, 360-degree feedback processes, retreat facilitation and presentation skill coaching and small group labs. Contact Joan Lloyd & Associates at (414) 573-1616,, or 
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