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Last updated on 5/26/23

Locate Yourself in the Hierarchical Structure

To find your place in the team, you have to learn how to navigate within the group, and that will depend on the type of team you are joining.

In the first type, there is often a manager to whom the whole team reports but from whom they are independent for daily tasks and assignments. The facilitating role will be addressed in Part 3 of this course.

Let's analyze the more common second type, because this hierarchical structure requires you to:

  • Adjust your relationship with authority

  • Understand different management styles

  • Position yourself in relation to your N+1

  • Avoid the hierarchical structure traps

Adjusting Your Relationship With Authority

The manager/project leader to whom you report answers for the team’s performance and is responsible for it. They:

  • recruit you for an assignment

  • entrust you with tasks

  • set objectives for each member of the team

  • set up a framework and define the boundaries

  • pass on directives from the N+2

  • regularly assess your performance

  • possibly offer to increase your salary at the end of the year and/or give you a position with more responsibility

So part of their role is to reward your successes and “punish” your shortcomings!

However, you must quickly grasp that the issues are different here, and that the manager/team member relationship is not analogous to the parent/child or teacher/pupil relationship. If it was, it would be dysfunctional.

In this context of restricted freedom, the issue of obedience is revived. How can you dissociate your relationship with the team from memories of school and family?

First, avoid projecting old feelings onto your manager or a teammate, and curb any reflexes that you may have developed with a teacher or parent, even if the attitude and/or the personality of your manager reminds you of them!

It is useful to know how to decipher the codes of hierarchical authority in order to assess the level of independence that you can expect to be granted.

Understanding Different Management Styles

A team's daily life consists of a succession of topics and problems to solve, and this involves:

  • Identifying the subject or the problem

  • Performing a diagnosis

  • Analyzing possible solutions

  • Deciding on a solution

  • Distributing the tasks to implement the solution

From there, the manager can perform these actions alone or involve the members of the team in a variety of ways:

  1. "I have made my decision": Makes decisions and then announces them.

  2. "I have made the best decision": Makes decisions and then tries to get everyone on board.

  3. “What do you think of my decision?”: Presents their ideas and asks each person's opinion.

  4. "Reviewable, subject to conditions": Presents a decision but declares they are ready to change it.

  5. "What are your suggestions?”: Presents the problem, gets suggestions and makes a decision.

  6. "Make your decision within this framework": Defines a framework and leaves the team members to make a decision.

  7. "Identify the problem and determine the solution": The team completes the entire process (This is the case for research teams and project teams) 

In reality, an experienced, pragmatic manager will use all of these styles depending on the situation and:

  • The nature of the issue (directly concerns team members or more strategic)

  • The available time

  • The company’s culture (some companies favor one style over another)

  • The profile of the team members: degree of independence, commitment, motivation, skills and experience

  • The team’s capacity to cooperate

When faced with an urgent or strategic decision and a new or inexperienced team, the management style will likely be more directive and persuasive. Whereas if the team is very independent, committed and capable of cooperating with each other, the manager will more likely participate and delegate.

Positioning Yourself in Relation to Your Direct Manager

Know Your Manager’s History

It is important to know as much as possible about your manager. Have you read their CV, noted what training they have, their past record and their accomplishments?

These days it is easy to access this information through a Google search and professional networks like LinkedIn. Their previous positions and employers will help you to understand what motivates them, the skills they have developed and areas that interest them. Their original training will tell you about their network within the company and externally.

Assess Their Strengths and Weaknesses With Regard to the Team

First, a good manager will set SMART objectives for team members.

The SMART acronym was created by P.F. Drucker:

  • Specific

  • Measurable

  • Attainable

  • Relevant

  • Time-based 

to which we can add:

  • Environmentally-friendly 😁🌳

Then, a good manager:
  1. knows how to listen

  2. remains objective

  3. accepts differences in personality and working methods

  4. provides clear guidance

  5. knows how to run effective meetings (i.e., fast and solution-oriented)

  6. uses all of the various management styles appropriately

  7. knows how to delegate fulfilling tasks

  8. encourages the team to participate in decisions

  9. allocates resources

  10. knows how to motivate and give praise

  11. does not show preferences, does not give undeserved privileges

  12. does what they say they will do

  13. circulates information

  14. sees and reveals the positive side

  15. knows how to tell the truth without causing offense

  16. knows how to take difficulties into account

  17. is not influenced by slackers, sycophants, informers, rumor spreaders

  18. helps their teams to develop and progress

  19. kaintains a personal and professional code of ethics (respects privacy, knows to part with someone correctly)

  20. knows how to prevent and manage conflict

So, how did your manager score? 😏

Avoiding Hierarchical Structure Pitfalls

The hierarchical structure is inescapable. It is not always easy to find one’s way in this apparently contradictory landscape: "Report to your superior, follow the manager’s vision, be autonomous." To find the right balance takes prudence, time and practice. However, there are some counterproductive behaviors that can be avoided.

Over-Dependence on the Hierarchical Structure


  • paying too much attention to your manager’s comments.

  • thinking that legitimacy comes exclusively from them.

  • being excessively submissive which can alienate you from your teammates and irritate your manager. Be proactive!

Over-Independence or Insufficient Respect For the Hierarchical Structure

For example:

Case 1: If your manager gives you a mission you are doubtful about, and the facts confirm that the task is a waste of time compared to other much more important tasks, do not change or stop the work without talking to them first.

Case  2: Imagine that your department head gives you an urgent task that is in competition with a task that you usually do for your manager. Let both your department head and your manager know so they can prioritize the tasks. In principle, your department head should go through your manager and not give you a task directly.

Not Accounting For Your Manager’s Personality

Here are a few tips for attitudes that correspond to your manager's personality:



Do not



Makes decisions alone and expects you to implement their decisions and directives using their methods.

Do not oppose, confront head-on, try to persuade them.

You cannot convince authoritarians, you have to find a status quo: Be patient, while remaining firm on positions that are minimal but essential for you.


Pleasant to communicate with, may not be consistent when making decisions. Avoids disagreements and lets conflicts peter out.

Do not be too confident.

Be precise and more formal when agreement is given. Seek their attention, catch their eye (sometimes they can be evasive) and confirm commitments in writing, while remaining laid back.


Always wants more checks and procedures, has trouble delegating.

Do not improvise or do anything in an amateur way.

Avoid emergencies, always allow plenty of margin for maneuver, commit yourself and keep your promises, always do what is planned, simplify things, be punctual, reassure by being rigorous.


Is familiar with technical aspects, had your job when they started and knows all its ins and outs.

Do not try to compete or be too assured.

Take advantage of their feedback, make sure that your work is impeccable, and show that you are up to the task.

In case of doubt, support with other assessments if necessary.


Is never clear or direct. Equivocal. Compliments you in order to obtain something, haggles, or makes out they are a victim, divides to conquer, threatens.

Do not react spontaneously to their provocations, or if you uncover an act of blatant manipulation.

Do not open up about yourself. They will attack anyone who appears weak.

Identify the manipulations, remain measured and firm, competent and regular, without being caught in the net. Be respectful and do not let them guess that you recognize their behavior or that you judge them, as manipulators often suffer from a substantial lack of self-esteem.


Passes on their expertise and gladly delegates fulfilling tasks whenever you are capable of doing them.

Do not fall into dependency, which is always a threat to any “helping relationship.”

Take advantage of a great opportunity to learn! Develop your independence in complete safety!

Not Preparing For Your Annual Performance Review

I hope you enjoyed appraising your manager’s qualities and faults in the previous paragraph because, as a rule, it is more typical for your manager to assess you at your annual performance review!

Review your achievements, successes and difficulties prior to your performance review. Preparation is important if you hope to have a genuine dialogue and come away with reasonable objectives.

Preparing for your review should also enable you to formulate your requirements in terms of training, which should be considered as a valuable lever for your progression.

Finally, good preparation is proof that you are motivated!

Let's Recap!

In a hierarchical structure, effective teamwork includes:

  • adjusting your relationship with authority

  • understanding different management styles

  • positioning yourself in relation to your N+1

  • avoiding common pitfalls

It is now time to address the issue of your role in the team! 😊

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