Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Size matters

I felt very successful as a young manager. I had a small team of one, then three, then five. I had a great deal of time to spend with my team giving them the tools they needed to be successful to move forward in their careers. For the most part, we were a happy, high performing team. I switched jobs and my next team was made up of eighty five people. It was a big jump, but I was a strong leader. I knew I could handle it. What was the difference between five and eighty five? It turns out there is a big difference.

It was impossible to give everyone the personal attention I gave to my previous teams and be involved in all of the daily tasks that went along with my previous roles. I quickly realized that one style of management does not work for everyone in your team. What could I do to still be a good leader with this large group? After a short period of floundering like a fish out of water, I decided to start listening. What did each person need from me to feel fulfilled, get their job done and build their skills? Some needed personal attention while others enjoyed autonomy.  Most needed me to help clear obstacles so they could move forward with their functional roles. Some needed encouragement and affirmation that they were on the right path with their leadership and job function. Others were concerned with career development.

The balance of my job had shifted. In prior roles I had spent about 35% of my time on leading and developing my team, 5% on clerical/ budget work and 60% of my time in my functional role. With this large team, 50% of my time was spent leading and developing my team, 20% on clerical and 30% on functional tasks and cross-departmental relationships. The shift in time from functional tasks to leadership was not easy until I realized my team was handling most of the functional tasks. They, and the company, didn't need me for that.  The team needed leadership. Most of all, they needed what they specifically asked for.

In the end I was able to become a successful leader for this large team, but it wasn't overnight. What can you do to prepare for a change in team size? How can you better understand expectations? How can you see when some people respond to your leadership while others shun it? How do you find the balance between team development and functional tasks?

Learn more about the fashion industry from Career Coach Kate Kibler at

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