Too Many Cooks in the Kitchen? How to Co-Manage Better
Unless I count working for myself, never in my career have I had just one boss, and I’m willing to bet it’s the same for many of you.
And while dealing with multiple managers can be a challenge, what if you’re the boss, trying to manage employees alongside several others? How do you know who’s really in charge? How can you effectively mentor and train your employees without stepping on the toes of your colleagues?
While the saying “it takes a village” may apply nicely to child rearing, it can be a bit more frustrating (and often counterproductive) in a work setting. If you’re dealing with too many cooks in the kitchen, try these strategies to assure you all work in harmony toward the same goal.
1. Start With a Recipe for Success
A few years back, I was working at a small firm that shared an assistant for the entire group. He was there to assist each of us as needed, and we in turn were expected to manage him, mentor him, and teach him as much as we could about the company and our respective disciplines. We were all thrilled to have the extra help and immediately made our own lists of projects he could help with.
The problem? None of us checked with one another before dumping our to-do lists on the new guy—and the result was project soup. Without proper coordination and communication, we couldn’t create anything palatable, let alone be constructive mentors to our new team member.
Related: Why Being a Mentor Kicks Ass
Fortunately, we learned pretty quickly the most important rule of co-managing: You absolutely must coordinate your efforts. If you haven’t already, set aside a standing meeting or system that allows each manager to see what everyone else has going on and adjust tasks and responsibilities as needed. In my case, we met up on a regular basis to discuss the projects we wanted him to work on and decide who would be working with him and when. While things always came up and priorities changed, it was easy to improvise knowing that we were all united in our efforts to manage him together, and the result was a rewarding experience for everyone involved.
2. Let it Simmer
Of course, one of the hardest things about co-managing is waiting your turn. Even if you can fully appreciate the importance of the project Bob from Accounting has your employee focused on, it’s only natural for you to be anxious for him or her to be freed up to work on yours. In fact, you might even be tempted to entice your employee to wrap up Bob’s project just a little bit early, so yours can get rolling even sooner.
This is a bad idea, and not just because it’s unfair to Bob. Take my first job, for example. I had at least five other people in the office managing me, and each one liked to approach me with the urgency of a four-alarm fire. One day, while I was learning how to draft a press release—which was to go out the next morning—another manager pulled me away to help with a project that was due that afternoon. In her mind, her project was clearly the priority. I helped her for the afternoon, then returned to my press release after most of the office had gone home for the night. Unfortunately, though, because my training was disrupted, I missed a few crucial steps and submitted the release with a major error.
While the manager who pulled me away may have gotten her task taken care of, her not respecting the other tasks on my plate led to a mistake that affected the whole company. In other words, take time to think about the big picture before you ask your employee to prioritize your work. Even projects that don’t seem crucial or time-sensitive might be enriching this person’s knowledge of the firm or ultimately making him or her better at the job. Which means, he or she will do a better job for you, too.
3. Check the Temperature
Last but not least, always remember to check your employee’s temperature—and that of your fellow managers, for that matter. Having multiple managers can be pretty stressful, especially if someone is relatively new to the field or the job market in general. By making a genuine effort to check in occasionally to see your employee is handling the workload, you’ll be able to get a sense for how things are going—and when he or she might be approaching overload.
For example, my firm had a receptionist once who was a complete rock star. He somehow was able to handle everything we threw at him with ease, and he always did a stellar job. Needless to say, we always kept him pretty busy. So, when he informed us he was quitting one day, seemingly out of the blue, we were all stunned.
It turned out, he was drowning in work, but he was too committed to the team and the firm to ever say no to any of us. If even one of us would’ve bothered to ask how he was holding up, we would’ve at least showed we cared about how our projects were impacting his workload, and we may have been able to ease up on him a bit.
We all know a watched pot never boils, but left unattended, it will definitely boil over. This is especially true when you have multiple people managing the same employee. Overdo it, and that employee is likely to feel like you’re all just checking up on him or her. Instead, take turns checking in with your employee to see how things are going. Grab a cup of coffee together, engage in a casual conversation about the weekend, and weave in some shop talk while you’re at it. Most importantly, make sure this person knows you’re ready to listen and help if his or her project load is getting too heavy.
If you find yourself managing employees with other colleagues, try to think of it less as a competition for resources and more of a collaboration. You’ll find you can help cultivate and motivate a team you’ll all be proud to call your own.
Jennifer Winter is a freelance writer, editor and career consultant. She translates her 14-years of corporate combat experience to help others navigate their own careers, and become advocates for their own success. Need help negotiating that raise or writing the perfect email to your boss? Jennifer’s your girl. Find out more about her services on her blog, FearLessJenn or follow her on Twitter @fearlessjenn.More from this Author