The Fun (?!) of Managing a Team
In a recent coaching session, a client and I revisited their goal to have fun at work. I love that they listed "have fun at work" as one of their most important priorities as they stepped into a management role for the first time. It is a simple idea, and it has gotten me thinking. What if more new managers made it an explicit goal to have fun while leading their teams? What difference could that mental shift make in manager burnout rates and team outcomes?
Management Is Serious Business
I started by reflecting on why management always feels like such serious business, especially for new managers. I see two main reasons for this, and they are related to each other.
First, in management roles, there is an increased sense of responsibility, especially for new managers. Generally, managers are high achievers and they want to succeed. Becoming a manager exponentially expands the scope of their responsibility overnight - it is a big transition!
In addition to responsibility, new managers experience a lack of control. Becoming a manager means a shift from accomplishing the work yourself to working through others to reach your goals. This interpersonal work can make new managers feel like they have little control over their own success and outcomes, particularly when they are just starting out with a new team and do not yet have a clear sense of the team's capacity.
And these two feelings tend to build on each other. The increased sense of responsibility they are feeling can make the lack of control feel even scarier. And vice versa. All this can make management feel like very serious and overwhelming work. It can make things extremely stressful for new managers.
Believe me, I know - I struggled a lot in my first few years as a manager for these two reasons! It took me several years to let go of feeling like I had to have all the answers, and even longer to figure out how to navigate feelings of responsibility for my direct reports' performance. This approach to managing was super stressful and it had a major impact on my life. I ended up losing sleep, developing health issues, and contemplated quitting every few months.
Now, as a leadership coach, I have met many other new managers who are struggling with similar challenges. I have found that the seriousness of the work of leading can take a significant toll on new managers.
Flipping the Script
But what if we flipped the script? What would happen to those burdens of responsibility and lack of control if "having fun at work" became the goal of a new manager?
If fun was the goal, new managers might approach the work of supervising others with an entirely different, more playful attitude. They might consider management as a practice that they are learning and get curious about it. Leading their team could become a fun challenge in which the manager is testing new ideas and adjusting their approaches to reach team outcomes. In this alternate universe where fun is the goal, new managers might...
Invest in Their Own Personal Growth: Instead of feeling pressure to be perfect, they might start seeing the additional responsibility of managing a team as an opportunity for them to learn new skills like influencing, delegation or strategic thinking.
Expand The Team's Potential: Instead of feeling overwhelmed by their lack of control, they might begin to explore the potential of their team's collective creativity to problem solve or dream bigger.
Be More Authentic: Instead of focusing on appearing to know all of the answers, they might focus on bringing their personality and passions to their new team, like hosting a foosball tournament or incorporating their filmmaking skills on their team's intranet page.
The Benefits Are Clear
Embracing this playful and curious approach to managing would help to lighten that sense of gravity that comes with a promotion to supervisor. It's hard to be super stressed when you are feeling curious. It's hard to hold onto worries when you are talking about things you love with your colleagues. It's hard to get burned out when your own joys and interests are part of your management strategy. New managers would thrive in this new universe!
It's hard to get burned out when your own joys and interests are part of your management strategy.
In addition to supporting the new manager, prioritizing fun has the potential to provide positive impact on the outcomes of their team. The new manager's emphasis on having fun and being curious could create a domino effect and foster a culture of learning on the team. The manager could become more inspiring to their team, which could result in increased staff retention and motivation. And the manager role modeling the importance of bringing their authentic self to work could set the stage for healthier and more collaborative relationships between all team members.
In retrospect, I wish I had had the wisdom of my client. I wish I had made having fun a goal when I started out as a manager. It would have saved me a lot of stress, helped me more quickly step into the role of leader, and be a way better support for my team.
New managers, are you up for it? Are you ready to make it your business to have fun while leading a team? I'd love to hear your reflections & ideas!
About Kim Webster:
I am a facilitator & coach helping to increase leadership capacity and impact of emerging leaders and teams in purpose-driven companies and organizations. I love coaching new managers and leaders transitioning into new roles. Please contact me at www.ownitconsulting.com or on LinkedIn to learn more.