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Team Building - Middle Management

In discussing the middle management role, a simple analogy serves to illustrate the position's importance. Middle management is akin to the ignition key which harnesses the power of the car for the driver. They serve as the link between the controlling part of the system and that part of the system that provides the force for action. To convert this analogy into business terms, we see the middle manager as a team leader as well as one who reports as an integral part of a larger team. The middle manager fills the gap between upper-level management and the working class.

One of the most important functions of the middle manager is to create a workplace atmosphere conducive to a higher production rate. Many experts believe that this can only be done and maintained through team building. Tony Daloisio, Ph.D., second vice-president of Connecticut Mutual Life, has stated, "Only teamwork will get you and your organization where you want it to go." Teamwork, in a somewhat formal definition, is that condition in which each individual's efforts unites to create a cumulative optimum. In simpler terms, it's all for one and one for all. Yevgeny Zamyatin, author of the novel WE, presents a more dramatic description of teamwork. "[Y]ou feel yourself a part of a great, powerful, single entity. And the precise beauty of it - not a single superfluous gesture, curve or turn."1

As a team leader, middle managers must perform two main functions which place them at a focal point within the company. First, they must organize and develop a working team of employees so that they function as a harmonious unit. Workers must be trained and placed so that their various skills and functions supplement the efforts of others. Team-leading middle managers must consider themselves responsible for making their workers feel as satisfied with their jobs as possible. This usually includes valuing their ideas and opinions in an outward manner, listening to complaints and commending a good performance while even-handedly reprimanding a poor one. In addition, a leaders, middle managers must recognize the very different natures of people in order to balance group personalities. Skills and work ability are only half of what comprises a good worker. Emotions play a large role in every facet of an employee's life.

Does teamwork really work?

Just as with any group concept, it takes the right type of atmosphere, members, and management. Within the same corporation, the implementation of teamwork strategy may work in one plant, while a similar strategy wrecks a total disaster in another. For example, General Motors adopted the Japanese idea of team building for two of its Californian plants, one in Freemont and the other in Van Nuys. After two years, the Freemont plant showed a low level of absenteeism and a much higher production rate. But after only a few months in Van Nuys, employee unrest was prevalent, and talk of revamping the system had begun.

Understandably, teamwork is a difficult goal to which to attain. Each and every one of us has had to work as a member of a team called the family. From this experience, we know that a team can pull together and act as a strong, beneficial force for all its members, or at other times falter each member an isolated, angry individual. The task is that much more difficult when applied to a larger, number of "strangers". Teamwork among fellow employees is a hard yet obtainable goal. When there exists mutual caring and respect among members, a hardworking and responsible leader, and a genuine sense of need for accomplishment, the team can be a success.

What is more, after recognition of the need for each of these team aspects, action is key. The middle manager, as a team leader, must recognize the need to satisfy the employees by taking action when action is necessary. At the same time, the team members must put forth equal energy in order to get the job done. Acting purposefully with every movement and acting for the benefit of one another makes for a good team.

After the middle manager has successfully created communication within the team, the next step is to communicate with other teams within the corporation. This necessity points up another main function of the middle manager -- that of team representative. To the worker, the middle manager is seen as the link who can personally report to his other peers, as well as to upper management. By voicing the grievances or concerns, team members, a middle manager can often prevent one or many of the team members from going sour and hindering overall performance. It takes only one broken gear to prevent a watch from ticking. This middle management function includes discovering the opinions of employees, peers, and supervisors. After finding them out, these opinions must be weighed, different viewpoints compared for discrepancies and similarities, synthesized and presented as a cool, objective viewpoint to all parties, without alienating any of them.

Many times the work team fails to service the company's needs because of a lack of communication between the levels of management. The top managers, who do not see the team's daily output and contributions, can misjudge its worth leading to an unnecessary dismantling of a good team. The case of General Electric during the past twenty years demonstrates the need for a strong middle management as a link. Although many team members wanted to maintain their team cohesiveness, many of them believed that those higher up the corporate ladder wanted to disband and displace them. What actually seemed to be the case was that the higher management was never fully informed of the productivity and value of the work teams. The result has been a decrease in work groups within the company, and.....

The role of the middle manager changes when relating as a peer, or employee. Decisions must be replaced by suggestions which may not be endorsed or accepted. The team leader is now a team member. The job of the middle manager is more complex than one who has never done it might expect. Changing from boss to employee while moving from a work team meeting to a full departmental one is one of the most difficult parts of being a middle manager. The middle manager must cope simultaneously with the demands of two important, and sometimes agnostic groups within the company.

Therefore, it follows that middle managers must possess a multitude of skills. They must be able to lead while at the same time be willing to follow, demonstrate forcefulness as well as restraint, and be alternate the voice of command with a willing ear. As team builders and leaders they practice one set of responsibilities, and as a peers and employees to upper management they fulfill another. Altogether, middle managers have a tough daily job. All of their abilities must be harnessed in the task of directing those who get the product out with the task of linking this vital part of the company with the controlling part of the system. Without the middle management key, the engines of the corporate "car" will not run.