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Last updated on 12/9/20

Locate yourself in the hierarchical structure

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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 that 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 analyse 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; and

  • 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; and

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

And 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 then 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;

  • carrying out a diagnosis;

  • analysing possible solutions;

  • deciding on a solution; and

  • 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. "Review-able 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 carries out 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, that is to say:

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

  • the available time

  • the company’s culture (some companies favour 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 N+1

Know your N+1’s history

It is important to know as much as possible about your N+1. Have you read their CV, noted what training they have, their past record and their accomplishments?

These days it is easy to access such information, through a Google search and professional networks like LinkedIn. Their previous positions and employers you 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 qualities and faults 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 offence

  16. knows how to take difficulties into account

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

  18. helps their teams to develop and progress

  19. maintains 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, one needs prudence, time and practice. However, there are some counter-productive behaviours that can be avoided:

Over-dependence on the hierarchical structure

Avoid:

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

  • thinking that legitimacy comes exclusively from them; and

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

Over-independence, or insufficient respect of the hierarchical structure

For example:

Case no. 1: If your manager gives you with a mission which 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 no. 2: Imagine that your N+2 gives you an urgent task that is in competition with a task that you usually do for your N+1. Inform your N+1 and your N+2 so that they can prioritise the tasks. In principle, your N+2 should go through your N+1 and not give you with a task directly.

Not accounting for your manager’s personality

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

Personality

Characteristics

Do not

Do

Authoritarian

Decides alone and expects you to implement their decisions and directives using their methods

Do not oppose, do not confront head-on, do not 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.

Cool

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

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.

Stressed

Always wants more checks and procedures, has trouble delegating

Do not improvise or do anything in an amateurish way

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

Expert

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

Do not try to compete, do not be too assured

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

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

Manipulative

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 behaviour or that you judge them, as manipulators often suffer from a substantial lack of self-esteem.

Coach

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

Be careful of dependency, which is always a threat to any “helping relationship”

That's great: take advantage of a great opportunity to learn! Develop your independence in complete safety!

Not preparing for your annual assessment interview

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 assessment interview!

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

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

Finally, good preparation is proof that you are motivated!

Summary

In a hierarchical structure, effective teamwork includes:

  • adjusting your relationship with authority;

  • understandinng different management styles;

  • positioning yourself in relation to your N+1 and

  • avoiding common pitfalls.

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

Example of certificate of achievement
Example of certificate of achievement