Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Controlling Inappropriate Behavior In Your Group

Alternately, this could be titled "The Day My Team Decided to Play (Very Loud) and Sing Along with 'Sit On My Face and Tell Me That You Love Me,' By Monty Python."

So, I'm sitting at my desk against the wall and working on a backlog. The team has quietly gathered across the area from me at a desk that faces the main room of the building, right next to the break room. Then I hear it; the first strains of Monty Python's "Sit on my face and tell me that you love me." I spin around and see the entire group present that day--around 8 of them--gathered around my lead dev's desk watching the video I linked to above in full sight of the rest of the building, and at blaring levels that HR on the second floor might have trouble missing.

I think I teleported.

Suddenly I was right there, hand on the mouse, closing the browser and being booed by my team. "But, Lori," they said, "It's funny, and it's team building. You always want us to do fun things together as well as work together."

Yes, I respond, but I don't want any of us to get FIRED for doing things. I'm persnickety that way.

Rather than call a meeting later for the entire team on why songs about sexual positions are a bad idea in the office, I gathered those present around me further from the break room and, despite the fact I have all kinds of advice about how not to punish people publicly and to be gently with your people, tore them all new orifices in a quiet, professional tone that brooked no further discussion. I told them they were, other than this one incident indicated, adults, and that as adults they had the opportunity to share these types of things privately and, especially, outside the office, but not on office time and in full view of other folks in the office who might be offended enough to get us all fired. At first, because I rarely blow up at anyone, they thought I wasn't particularly serious. That changed in about thirty seconds. They all agreed not to play songs relating to body parts nor watch videos with naked human butts in the office, and I got some apologies right then and there.

And then I NEVER said anything about it again (well, until now. It is a funny story in retrospect. At the time I was just seeing my professional life pass before my eyes).

Most people see that type of incident as the primary way to control a team, btw; the leader of the team comes down like a ton of bricks and then the team complies and everyone moves on their merry way. I, however, see it as an exception to my general rules, and know that the only reason it was effective at all, was because this is not how I normally do business.

As a manager--well, as a human being if you want to extrapolate--you always have two options: direct and aggressive or indirect and a little passive. Whenever you reach for aggressive first, you immediately remove the other option from the table; you can't shout at someone and demand things of them and then become sweet and suggest they do the thing you just shouted about. Well, you can, but they'll probably think you're nuts and it won't be very effective.

This is why I always try the indirect, almost passive approach first; I build a team that agrees to its own standards and goals. Then, when something goes awry, I point out to the team that something has violated their goals or standards. Then the team, typically, steps forward and does the correcting. They feel empowered. They feel responsible. They are invested in doing things the right way.

Every once in a while, this does not work. Group Think, a topic I will explore further in a later post, is "a psychological phenomenon that occurs within groups of people. Group members try to minimize conflict and reach a consensus decision without critical evaluation of alternative ideas or viewpoints." Sometimes, you can get a team so cohesive that they have trouble looking outside their boundaries for critical thinking, and then you get Monty Python.

In these cases, having reserved the aggressive option, you may now use it. The team is not used to you being aggressive, but they trust you (as you are part of the team as well as its leader), and they do what you ask. They may do it grudgingly and with grumbling, but they will do it. Eventually they'll evaluate it and come back to talk to you or others on the team about the "fairness" and "appropriateness" of the behavior, and that's where my overall management technique of managing by being nice, reasonable, and kind wherever you can causes this natural bubbling of resentment to settle down, become accepted and send the group back to its own norms.

Managing by telling people what to do all the time...that's just exhausting. You won't be everywhere they could do something inappropriate, and if they aren't invested in the group, but just soldiers to your constant barking, they're not going to have the tools to manage inappropriate behavior (or heck, their jobs) when you're not around. Overall resentment, as well, may DRIVE them towards the behavior you dislike. On the whole, reserve strong arming the team for moments when you are seriously worried for them--in my case, if an HR person had come down and see the bare derrieres of John Cleese, Eric Idle, et all and listening to the song, some of them might have had to pack up their stuff and be terminated.

Being a manager is being a friend, a resource, a confidant, and a hard ass. By building a team that self regulates behavior, you as the manager don't have to take those roles--people will come to you when they need them (even hard ass--seriously, some people know when they need a good butt kicking). But never forget that you are their manager; you're here to help them and your team succeed, and sometimes the way to do that is to be the hard ass, but most of the time it's to be a leader that lets the team set boundaries and be productive.

1 comment:

  1. That post is a riot! As someone who walked past a meeting of executives while a friend loudly said something inappropriate, it does happen from time to time.