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Personal Experiences: Leading People and Organizations MO
Experience 1
This experience of mine is the baseline of a steep learning curve I went through when I got to
manage a cross-functional team that had vivid interpersonal dynamics. Straight out of under-grad,
I was managing a front-end client-facing role in the company and was parallelly aligned to softmanage a team of local vendors. My job was to consolidate our sales activities in the market by
influencing vendor channels. Inexperienced but focused on driving measurable impact, I took on
many initiatives and strategy plans that brought us some great market success. However the
success was short-lived. Over time, as we grew our scope of activities, vendors started to lose
interest (with 2 moving to competitor product within an an year) and quality of work delivered by
vendor teams dropped significantly within 18 months. It was a very humbling experience for me
as the vendor manager had to step in and take charge to halt falling revenues. My feedback
reflected a lack of leadership direction and collaboration aptitude. Looking back, I realize I made
several mistakes in building the team cohesion, managing conflicting expectations and
incorporating inter-personal dynamics within teams- some very basic aspects of managing an
effective team.
Sales Manager
Vendor Manager
Sales Specialist
(Me)
Team structure
Vendor gp1
Vendor gp1
Vendor gp1
Vendor gp1
To start of I didn’t focus on re-organizing the teams and went forward with preset structures. Due to this
the flow of communication, coordination and distribution of work was very challenging, specifically when
the scale of client-work increased. Even though I followed a basic work assignment flow, I didn’t really
focus on resolving goal asymmetries which lead to confusion in individual ownership and subsequently
teams often missed deadlines. One of the key challenges that I often encountered was lack of cohesion
which was due to the fact that nobody was playing a task or coordinating role. Generally the team meetings
went ahead with chaotic brainstorming and random work-assignment based on individual interest instead
of skill-based mapping. This gradually reflected on the quality of work delivered by the overall team.
Looking back, I feel I could have leveraged the experiences of the formal vendor manager to set formal
delegation structures and identify individuals with good coordination skills to play relationship roles.
Managing Team Processes
We had a great start since everyone was invested in contributing at the beginning. However the lack of a
structured delegation, lead to gradual conflicts between vendor teams and between members within same
team. Case-to-case based work distribution often lead to members performing redundant tasks while the
team missed key deliverables. During review meetings, my format of focusing on performance gaps and
missed deadlines led individuals to commit to less and less work that they were not familiar with (instead I
should have taken a tone of highlighting key learnings and next steps which would have created an
environment of psychological safety). Also, few of the experienced senior members often dominated the
team meetings and I failed to take a proactive step in neutralizing this status-difference (partly because I
myself was among the youngest of members, though informally incharge). Overall the structuring of team
processes was a major area that I could have controlled to streamline discussions, encourage individuals to
share ideas/feedback and avoid conflicts in meeting rooms.
Team performance & effectiveness
Due to my singular focus on meeting client-deliverables, I fell short in managing inter-personal dynamics
that heavily reflected in the team effectiveness. The management’s appreciation for the few initial
achievements was addressed to only a few members and I failed to relay it as a message for the overall team
success. This lead to dissatisfaction among many entry-level members in the team for the efforts that they
had put in. To add to this, I followed a very generic approach for performance reviews that lacked
acknowledgment for elements like learning, collaboration and creative actions. This led to many individuals
losing interest in new assignments and de-prioritizing risky initiatives. I could have taken a more active
role in designing performance criteria and creating objective (SMART) goals for managing individual
expectations in context of the team and providing the right incentives for team to deliver results, like clientfeedback of individuals, collaboration focused rewards, acknowledging creative ideas)
CONCLUSION
Taking a more leadership-orientated stance in the way I managed team activities would have really put
things into structure. Identifying work-expectations and there-after assigning relevant roles and
responsibilities based-on skills and individual personalities would have allowed for coherent discussions
and reduced conflicts. Also, taking a proactive role in defining meeting-objectives and promoting idea
sharing would have accelerated our decision making process (and hence reduced our missed deliverables).
Lastly incorporating qualitative aspects in performance measurement would have been a key to balance
team motivation and maintain effort-vs-equity.
Experience 2
One of my biggest learning experiences has been under the mentorship of my last manager. As the
regional sales director (and a non-MBA), he exhibited some very fine relationship-management
and persuasion skills that were inspiration-worthy. Through my gradual interactions and
shadowing him in several customer/internal meetings, I observed how he anchored conversations,
de-escalated conflicts, built consensus and managed information effectively to build support.
Looking back, I now realize how these procedural tactics and interpersonal skills of my manager
helped him become of the star negotiators in the company.
Tactics that were second nature
Through my interactions, I have observed my manager religiously following many protocols that
often enabled him to have a commanding position in the meeting room. First, he always pre-pared
for meeting data points, potential issues of conflict and expected outcomes. This allowed him to
not only put structure to the flow of the meetings but also take a leading position wherein the
audience mostly conformed to his proposition unless they had strong contour point. Secondly I
recall he always started with framing the intent/problem and often asked one of his counter-parts
to kickstart the discussion rather than opening himself. Reflecting back, I realize that this allowed
him to steer the rest of the discussion without looking like a dominant person trying to grab the
majority of speaking time. Often during client-presentations, I saw him to asking us to take seats
across the table instead of sitting in a line opposite to client team members. I always felt that to be
a silly point (kind of like an OCD). However, arranging this strategic seating allowed him to
engage with the clients more as he walked across the room and asked for data and
recommendations from members in the room. Another thing that I have observed was that he
always made sure to send the proposal presentation before hand to atleast one of the client team
members, who then mostly pitched their opinions in favor of my manager during the actual
presentation. Upon my consultation, my manager had mentioned this to be a critical tactic in
building internal advocates and identifying potential concerns and gaps in our proposal
beforehand. This really reinforces the concept of securing allies in a meeting beforehand, specially
when we expect high disagreement from members. Last but not the least, I often saw my manager
planning the meeting breaks and then always spending that break-time chatting up with key
decision makers. I always felt that to be a redundant effort and very arbitrary. However I now
realize that his efforts were focused towards gaining commitments incrementally and during his
break-chats he informally seeded his ideas or gazed commitment levels of the key members.
Putting all these observations in the influence-tactics framework, I realize how my manager’s
success in meetings stemmed from extremely rational setup of procedural tactics.
Leveraging Interpersonal skills
I often found my manager to be following set behavioral patterns whenever it came to negotiations
or influencing stakeholders. He always made sure that his discussions were based on some kind of
data-point that he indirectly hinted to the other side. He then leveraged tactics of forced curiosity,
data mismatch or logic conclusions to drive a dialogue with the other side while navigating them
to the point he really wanted to make. This often resulted in people showing confidence in my
manager’s intent and approach and hence gradually becoming allies to his proposition. Looking
back, this is a very deep-seated influencing tactic that my manager used to let the clients figure out
his insight themselves and not perceive him as overly-assertive. Another great thing that I have
observed consistently is that my manager always maintained composure. I have been in meetings
with him wherein CEOs have shouted on him, internal directors vigorously challenged his ideas
and team-members exhibited unwarranted behavior, but to my surprise he always smiled and
simply focused on de-escalating the situation. However in contrary I have seen him many times
fueling heated discussions between other members to navigate his point and encourage emotional
responses to gain insights from them. This tactic more often that not put him in situations where
he got the ownership of the rest of the meeting as others took a backseat following an emotional
reaction. This is a classic use of the interpersonal tactic of fueling emotions in others while
maintaining your calm to be perceived as someone who is in control. Lastly I really admired his
style of constructively-challenging his opponents. He often addressed his opponents with
questions, leading them to discover the counter-point information themselves instead of him
straight-forwardly putting it out there. I now realize how this subtle tactic helped him gain
credibility as an impartial contributor in front of his opponents (all of our clients appreciated him
as being a partner to their goals rather than being an objective sales-person)
Conclusion
Drawing parallel with my observations and the influencing tactics and interpersonal frameworks,
I now realize that my manager leveraged both procedural and behavioral tactics to drive
persuasion, build consensus and reduce conflict. Through his engagements, he focused on
techniques like building coalition, leveraging informal networks and strategic anchoring to
facilitate our sales deals and price negotiations.
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