Management Lessons to Learn // When Things Go Wrong

A good friend of mine recently called me this weekend to talk about how his band was playing a gig and the lead singer, who functions as the band manager, got furiously frustrated that some things disappeared as the rest of the band packed up after the gig.

This reminded me that as a manager, frequently things will go wrong. One of my critical shortcomings is that I am potentially looking for why things went wrong. Rather than constantly searching for the chink in my team’s armor I should be reminded to first look at any processes I have put in place that my team should follow. In the instance of the traveling musical performing act maybe the manager should have created a checklist of equipment, or a second quality assurance check to ensure that the equipment was all where it should be.

As software development managers of small teams, we frequently are having to come up with processes to ensure that all the microphone stands and cymbals make it into the trunk for our next gig. We have to employ tactics like Continuous Integration, Unit Tests, Integration Tests, Peer Reviews, Source Control Management, and so on and on. Everyone with experience knows all this stuff, but there are soft skills involved that make for an effective leader when things start to inevitably fly off the rails in the throws of tight deadlines and aggressive schedules or demanding stakeholders.

I have seen managers completely lose their shit and throw things at their team who is doing everything to accomplish their project’s goals. I have also bore witness to unreasonable demands like “If it’s not fixed on Monday morning, don’t bother coming to work anymore” shouted at the end of a meeting on a Friday afternoon. I think looking back at these situations the skill required would have been, keep your cool, and go to bat for your team. There is no practical reason why either of these two scenarios should have played out, and I hope that my team knows I have frequently felt a need to go to bat to defend their time as a manager. We have at times gone above and beyond to make a client that we want to invest in look good, but it is usually from a place of mutual respect. So the bottom line is that, if you the manager want to maintain a level of mutual respect from your team, you should ensure that you treat your team as exactly that, your peer, not your minion, underling, or employee.

I have always approached my team relationships in this manner, and hopefully it’s always appeared to come off in this fashion. There have inevitably been times when I felt as though I am being taken advantage of or possibly disrespected. Those times have frequently been resolved by confronting the problem and attempting to discuss both of our positions. Tempers at times flare, but ensuring that all involved attempt to listen to both positions will result in a positive working environment for the team to move forward.

Back to my friend though, the lead singer is mistreating his talented band mates, and the band is crumbling. The lead singer would be well served to remind himself that it isn’t a one man show, and you are just a fading solo act if you don’t have your sick lead guitarist and percussionist. Better to always make sure your team feels appreciated.