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Friday Philosophy – Team Ice-Cream and Telling Offs September 30, 2011

Posted by mwidlake in Friday Philosophy, Management.
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If you manage people, it helps if they don’t dislike you. Sadly, this can be the default starting opinion for some people who have never been managers (we all know someone who “has never had a decent manager, they are all bloody idiots”). Frozen dairy products might be a route to easing this situation.

I mention this as we in the UK are having an unusually warm start to autumn, an Indian Summer as we call it. I used to work in a place that had an on-site cafe and a nice area outside to sit. If the weather was warm and I knew my team was not facing some crisis, I would occasionally pop my head around the door and announce “Team Ice-Cream!”. Anyone who wished could come down with me and I would buy them an ice-cream of their choice and we would sit out in the sun for 15 minutes and talk rubbish.

I’ve done similar in other situations. Taking the guys to the pub is the obvious one and it usually is appreciated, but in some ways it is less successful. I think this is because people will come to the pub because they want a pint and will put up with any idiot willing to provide a pint of Fosters {why is it so many of the “all managers are idiots” brigade drink some brand of nasty lager?}. People will come for a tea/coffee or an ice-cream only if they are at least ambivalent to the provider. If you really dislike someone, who cares about an ice-cream? The serious malcontents will stay away and this helps identify people who really are not happy with you {so you can beat them mercilessly of course – or, if you’ve progressed beyond the school-yard, put some thought into why they are unhappy and what to do about it}.

By the way, this is very different to everyone going to the pub/restaurant in the evening and spending hours telling people what “you really think” and trying to impress Jessica the new trainee/intern. Such team building events generally need much more planning.

Buying people an ice-cream (or coffee or whatever) is a cheap bribe – should you resort to such shallow tactics to make people like you? Well, it’s only a cheap bribe as I said above. The trick to it is that it has to be {almost} spontaneous, such that the team are not expecting it, and not all the time. I’m not sure the teams I have done this for have always appreciated that I made special efforts to do this either after a hard period of work or when there had been some malcontent internal within the team (people fall out, they argue, it impacts the rest of the team). The way I look at it, it also has to be a team thing and not an individual thing, as the sitting around talking rubbish is a key part to the team being a team. Even if it is just over a cup of nasty coffee in the basement – that particular company’s canteen was not the best.

Oh, I should mention that I have access to a wife that makes wonderful cakes. Left-over cake is a brilliant “team ice-cream” substitute, it is both “cheap” so not a bribe but also appreciated as someone put effort in. My wife in this case. I Never claim I made the cake. well, not often.

TeddyBear Picnic Cake

So, that’s the carrot. What about the stick?

When it comes down to it, as a manager you are there to guide the team and the individuals in it and get the best you can out of them. Not being disliked is important but you are not there to be their friend either. If someone transgresses, you need to correct them.

In my opinion one of the very worst things a manager can do is dress down a member of their staff in public. That is not correcting them, that is either an attempt to humiliate them or an attempt by the boss to scape-goat the blame to a subordinate. Neither is morally correct and both are highly likely to engender considerable dislike or even hatred.

I distinctly remember one situation where I was in a team meeting and the boss’s managers came in and wanted to know why a recent change had gone so badly wrong. The manager’s response was immediate, he picked one of the team and said something like “It was him, he didn’t test the change properly”. It was so obvious that the sub-text was “it was not my fault”. In reality the sacrificed staff member was not at fault – but at that point the boss sure as heck was. A manager gets paid more as a boss and part of the reason is that you take both the credit and the blame for your team’s efforts. This action by that boss did not make us scared of failing and thus work harder, it made us distrust the man and demoralised us.

Sadly it is something I’ve seen a lot over the years and never by what I would call a good manager. I just don’t understand why these people think a public dressing down is going to inspire the target or the audience to work more effectively.

If I’m in the situation where, in a meeting or discussion, it becomes obvious one of my guys has screwed up, we discuss how to sort it out as a team. Then after the meeting the transgressor and I have a private conversation. This has several benefits:

  • I am not publicly humiliating them or scoring points in front of a crowd.
  • Neither of us is playing to the crowd and so are more likely to be honest.
  • Things can be said that stay private. I’ve had team members mess things up because they have more important issues on their mind that they are uncomfortable with the team knowing about. At the other end of the spectrum I’ve had to tell a guy this is chance #last and the next step is disciplinary.
  • This never happens, but there is a very small theoretical chance I could have misunderstood and, in fact, it’s my fault. I’m lying of course, this has happened several times. You look a right idiot if you attempt to dress someone down in public and it turns out to be you.

As I said, that last point has happened to me as a Boss occasionally. I’ve also experienced that last point from the other side as well. In a large meeting I had a board member pushing me as to why we had not finished a project on the date I promised. I kept giving vague answers about “other things coming up” and it would be done by a new, given date. She would not let it go though so eventually I had to say “It is late because you told me to do other stuff as top priority, I raised this project and you told me to delay it. So it is late because you changed the priorities. That would make it your responsibility.”

She was very, very angry but it had been her choice to do this publicly. At least she wrapped up the meeting fairly calmly before dragging me into her office to shout at me and I had the chance to really tell her what I thought of her bullying style in meetings. We got on a lot better after that. I think I bought her an ice-cream.

All this boils down to – Reward the team in public. Chastise the individual in private.

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Comments»

1. David Harper - October 1, 2011

I love the cake. The teddy bear flat on his back is a delightful touch. It would almost be a pity to eat it, but I’m betting that it’s delicious as well as a visual treat :-)

mwidlake - October 1, 2011

That’s the teddy that ate too much at the picnic and now needs to snooze in the sun.

2. jgarry - October 5, 2011

Oracle salespeople and the guy who just got the licensing invoice.

3. Managing By Ice Cream - MediaJobsDaily - October 18, 2011

[…] ice cream” is a good idea. If you’re a boss and your employees are rebelling, you can buy them an ice cream and give them a chance to talk “rubbish,” as one manager in the UK put it. “People will come for a tea/coffee or an ice-cream only if […]

4. Managing by Ice Cream – Total Dream of Mine « Wanderlust - October 20, 2011

[…] by ice cream” is a good idea. If you’re a boss and your employees are rebelling, you can buy them an ice cream and give them a chance to talk “rubbish,” as one manager in the UK put it. “People will come for a tea/coffee or an ice-cream only if they […]


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