The Indirect Manager

Very often at interviews, one of the questions that interviewers ask is about the size of team that one has handled. “How many people reported to youin your last position?”. For many managerial positions, it is important that the person is able to work effectively with a team, hence this question, to check evidence of competence in this area.

But, another skill which is less easy to gauge with a direct question is how well a person works, with people who don’t have any sort of subordinate position to oneself. I believe that this if often a tougher challenge than dealing with one’s own team. When you have a team reporting to you, very often, you share the same goals, the same bigger picture. In a good situation, the team works together and often also shares a good personal rapport that makes work easier. In cases where there are conflicts, the boss can use his or her authority to sort things out. Or even discipline a team member where needed.

None of these luxuries are available when dealing with people on a lateral basis. They come from different departments, which often don’t share the same goal. Infact their goals may be diametrically opposed to yours. In a classic scenario, finance may be only looking at the current bottomline, while the salesperson wishes to offer a discount to hold on to a long term prospect. You don’t have any means of enforcing a decision since they don’t report to you. If something is really critical, it may mean getting top management to bear down on them, which may get the work done, but leaves behind even messier relationships.

All these challenges apply to most managers. But especially to those working in nodal functions, who must get everyone’s work to flow together into one tangible and high quality end. In many cases, these people may not even have a team themselves, or a very large team. Their importance to the company then, is gauged not by the number of people they command, but by the number of people they persuade to move towards common goals. I’ve noticed that for functions like these, it helps to maintain a good rapport across divisions and be non-political in nature. Also to be inclusive and make people understand how their interests are being served by working together. Above all, dollops of patience when things move interminably slowly!

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1 Comment

  1. Very nice and valid. I woud like to make just two points. One is that political skill actually helps a bit, but only to a limited extent. It may ensure that your own objective gets met, perhaps even at the expense of the other department’s; but in the longer run, this does not help the organisation. My other point is that it is equally difficult to manage subordinates who are not really very junior to onesrlf in experience / age / standing…One needs to exert authority here too on occasion, but it has to be done extremely sensitively, keeping in mind the “subordinate’s” stature as a senior resource..


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