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Why Managers Need Each Other

February 22, 2018

Everyone knows that executive leaders play a vital role in organizational change. What is less recognized is the critical role of managers, who are responsible for operationalizing the vision of these leaders.

In most organizations, managers take this responsibility seriously but are only partially successful. Executive leaders complain that managers aren’t implementing their priorities as robustly or consistently as they should.  Staff members complain that their managers don’t share information.

Executive leaders and staff members are generally unaware that the blame does not rest with individual managers, but rather with what management consultant Barry Oshry calls the “disintegration of the middle.”

In his book Seeing Systems, Unlocking the Mysteries of Organizational Life, Oshry points out that management roles are often designed quite unintentionally—but nonetheless powerfully—which can undermine collaboration and coordination. For example, managers are responsible for attending to the needs of their own departments or programs, and they have little opportunity to see how they fit into the bigger picture.

Managers also might come from different disciplines and might even experience themselves in competition with each other. Therefore, there is little incentive to see how much they have in common and how much they need each other.

As a result, organizational initiatives often lose momentum or integrity as managers do their best for their part of the organization—without working together to ensure these initiatives succeed for the whole organization.

Oshry believes that the solution is for organizations to create strong systems and practices that bring managers together as a community.

PHI’s Approach to Leadership Development

PHI’s workforce innovations team has implemented approaches that create community. Specific to leadership development, we have:

  • Brought together small groups of managers on a regular basis to learn about each other’s work and identify areas of commonality;
  • Paired managers with “buddies” so they can share day-to-day challenges and support each other in finding solutions; and
  • Taught management teams a “peer coaching” model so they can help each other think creatively about how to address complex situations.

These practices have helped create consistency of practice among managers in our client organizations. Here is how several PHI-trained managers described the value of this work:

“PHI has helped us develop a common vocabulary as managers. Now we really understand how to translate what our leadership wants from us into our daily practice.”

“This work created relationships between managers that just weren’t there before. So, when I was facing a challenge implementing a program, I reached out to a manager who I knew could help me.  I wouldn’t have felt comfortable doing that before.”

“I love that we bounced ideas off each other and brainstormed solutions together.”

“This work has made me feel less isolated.”

It is clearly possible to create a cohesive and collaborative management team. The key is to make sure that managers meet regularly with each other—no matter their other priorities. This commitment to on-going communication as a peer community will make the difference.

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