Kathleen: A Dysfunctional Team

Kathleen’s dilemma had grown out of success. As the manager of a small HR department, she and her team of four were like family – they often socialized together, and her team had access to her whenever they needed. However, the department tripled in size over the next twelve months as the company expanded, and Kathleen had to limit her accessibility to prevent her getting overwhelmed. Her role grew from administrative to strategic, and the original team felt abandoned and confused, coming to her and complaining and creating petty dramas which ate up much of her valuable time.

It took its toll. Kathleen found herself up at 3am, eating cookies and milk, or worse, answering work emails. She put on weight, felt sluggish, and agonized for months over what to do, resenting the emotional manipulation of her team but having little idea how to stop it.


Action plan: We crafted a detailed action plan for Kathleen. First area of focus was for her to create a new reporting structure for her team, and lay it out on paper as an organizational chart, with detailed criteria for promotion. Each employee should know their new responsibilities and management skills should be developed for new managers. 

Secondly, she should meet one on one with everyone, and then convene a group meeting to explain her new role and the difference between managing and leading. It wasn’t that she didn’t care about her team anymore – she just had to widen her focus as she helped build the organization’s global HR strategy. 

Thirdly, in terms of inter-personal relationships, she continued to socialize after work with her team, but limit the number of events. She discussed this with her team and they instituted a quarterly night-out for the entire group, and agreed that team members would attend at least two per year. She also had to take better care of herself, which meant getting more sleep, and setting better boundaries so she could spend more time with her two young children. 

Result: It was a challenge for Kathleen to take the time and commitment to do this, but it eventually worked. As things became more transparent, and her team knew what was expected of them, they stopped complaining. They also began to understand how her role had fundamentally changed. There was less whining, and less dropping into her office. Kathleen was also able to step back and understand that there was only so much she could do for her team; her priority in the end was to get a better balance in her life.