Are Your Managers Part of Your Team?


I was talking with Don Gray this morning about our work on the AYE Conference. I’m the marketing chair, he’s the program chair. We were discussing the sessions we have so far, and I said we could put one of the management sessions into the team effectiveness track. “No,” Don said, “Managers aren’t part of the team.”

Blow me over with a feather. I agree that managers aren’t part of the technical work that their team performs day-to-day (although some of my clients try to use their managers that way). And the more agile the team is, the less the manager can participate in the same way that the developers and testers do. But I thought managers were part of the team.

So, I started thinking about what a team is. Esther and I used Katzenbach’s and Smith’s Wisdom of Teams: Creating the High-Performance Organization as a source in our definition of a team in Behind Closed Doors:

  • Teams are small, generally 5-10 members
  • Teams are committed to a common purpose or goal
  • Teams have an agreed-upon approach to the work
  • Team members have complementary skills
  • Team members have interrelated or interdependent interim goals
  • Team members make commitments about tasks to each other

Here’s what I’ve seen. Yes, the manager (project manager, functional manager, whatever manager is associated with the team) has additional goals than just one project or team’s work, especially if that manager is managing several projects or teams. The manager has additional commitments than just the ones with a given team. And managers who don’t take their commitments to the team seriously are not part of that team. (I’ve been part of teams where we were united in our goals against the managers.)

There’s always a tension between the managers and their management work–especially managing up–and the team’s work. But I guess I’m still missing why great managers are not a part of their teams. Are your managers part of your team?

7 Replies to “Are Your Managers Part of Your Team?”

  1. Hi Johanna
    The title of your post instantly caught my attention.
    I recently spent sometime thinking about the roles I’d had over the last few years and thought about which I’d really liked and which I hadn’t.
    I realised that the roles I’d enjoyed had one thing in common – I (or rather we, the team) really enjoyed working with our manager. Furthermore the managers were closely integrated with the team the team.
    And guess what? Yup, the jobs I didn’t like had the opposite in common. A team operating in almost total isolation from the manager, save for the bread-and-butter reporting relationship that you’d expect.

  2. My manager is definitely part of the development team. Ditto that the best job I ever had, the project manager was always part of the team. The worst job I ever had, we didn’t have effective teams.

  3. In my experience it’s a big challenge for any manager. Many managers lack self-confidence and thus start using a distance in order to protect their respect. Many team members do not trust managers suspecting that the manager will be more loyal to upper management than to the team. If a manager does really want to be a part of the team (s)he will need to go an extra mile.

  4. A manager is (or should) be part of the team like a coach is part of a team in sports. The coach has much influence on the game, his decisions have much impact on winning or loosing the it.
    Of course, the coach cannot force the success if the players are not good, or if they do not follow him. The same goes if they do not respect or trust him.
    I fail to see a difference here, and I have to see someone claiming a coach NOT to be part of the team. Why should we have a difference here?
    Just my EUR 0.02.

  5. I think that a manager is a member of the project team to the extent that they are either a “working” member of the team or a resource to the team. By working member I mean not only doing task level work that produces project deliverables, but also planning, control and reporting tasks. As a resource, the manager can provide review, feedback, problem solving. In agile environments, the manager plays a key role in removing impediments to getting the work done as planned and scheduled.

  6. I am seeking an experienced and excellent Product Development Manager as well as a superb Customer Program Manager to be located in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. There is a possibility of a like position in Munich, Germany for a bi-lingual candidate. Does anyone have suggestions where I should advertise to attract quality candidates in this field??

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