Managers Anonymous: A Support Group

The Managers Anonymous page needs an overhaul for 2020. That will happen soon, but in the mean time you can still access the old website.

How did it originate?

Adam has spent most of his professional career being a manager of some sort. He’s been a founder at four startups (two of which are still going, and two of which failed early). He has worked as a team lead, a middle manager, an executive and most recently as a coach. Though he mostly worked for technology companies it was the humans, and the complications they engender, which kept his curiosity piqued.

In 2014 his sister Amy accepted a challenging new management position and together they started discussing ways in which she could approach some of the challenges she was encountering.

Being a manager isn’t that complicated, but it’s often hard work.

This seemed to work really well and they started to wonder if this sort of process was something which others could benefit from. Adam came up with a proposal which he hoped would allow a group of mixed-experience managers to work through challenges together while aiming to keep everyone safe.

Together they refined the process and in February 2014 found a group of people to run a trial to see how it worked. They ran a weekly, 90-minute group for a few months and got great feedback.

Why does it exist?

Many people get their first leadership role because they did a great job at something else. Once placed into their new role there is often very little support or training for their new responsibilities. Over the following months, they make the mistakes that every new manager makes as they learn how to do their new job. Some quit in frustration. Others make it through the learning skills and acquire the required skills. Sadly, some end up stuck in a job without the support they need to develop the necessary skills.

This lack of support and training seems crazy when you consider the costs unskilled management can have on everyone involved! It’s stressful for the new manager as they are learning, poor decisions adversely affect the team, and the organisation as a whole can suffer.

Adam’s personal belief is that being a skilled manager isn’t complicated, but it can be intensely challenging. The skills required are rarely taught in school and generally have to be individually sought and acquired.

It is his belief that groups like Managers Anonymous are a fantastic place for people to practice the underlying skills required to become a superb manager.

What is it?

How does one learn good judgement? Experience. How does one get experience? Bad judgement.

— Adam Kahane

There’s no getting around the fact that experience is a key part of becoming a skilled manager. No matter what else you do, you have to spend time on the ground. But there are ways in which a group can greatly facilitate the process. One of our observations from facilitating this group is that when managers get really stuck there is often a common pattern. The person who is stuck doesn’t clearly understand what it is they want to happen and there is an uncomfortable conversation which they are avoiding.

As a simplistic example, let’s say Sophie is frustrated that Frank keeps coming to work late and as his manager feels that something needs to be done. The first questions we might ask would be around why she cares and what she wants to happen? Does she believe that it’s an important part of the job for Frank to show up on time? Is she worried that he is struggling with something in his personal life? Is it affecting the behaviour of the rest of team? Is it affecting her relationship with her boss? All of these are valid concerns, but depending on her motivation the appropriate response will vary! With a clear understanding of the underlying intention, comes a sense of ease with whatever action follows. In this example, perhaps she can now speak directly to Frank about what she needs and clearly explain why it’s important.

It can be difficult to work through a process like this on your own, having the feedback from a group can help you work through this process more quickly.

How does Managers Anonymous help with this?

There are numerous skills which can contribute towards your effectiveness as a manager: understanding of the field you work in, project management, budgeting, report writing and legal are some. There are plentiful resources available for developing these skills.

Adam’s belief is that two of the key skills which enable you to grow as a manager are self-knowledge and empathy. Or “why am I behaving this way” and “why are they behaving that way”. Group work is a fantastic way of developing both of these skills and one of the few ways to develop empathic skills.

Who can participate?

The assumption is that if you are participating, you have real world, human-shaped challenges which you would like to work on; and that you are able and willing to share them openly within a small group.

You could be a team lead that wants to work more effectively with your team. A project manager that wants to work better with stakeholders. An employee that wants a better relationship with a boss or coworker.

It doesn’t matter if you are a brand new manager or a seasoned pro, group work has learning and challenges to offer.

What is the structure of the meetings?

Meetings are co-facilitated by Adam and Amy. We meet once a week and meetings are 90 minutes long. This can be adjusted to suit individual groups but so far this seems to be a formula which works well.

Meetings follow a regular pattern. Once everyone has arrived we go through a quick check-in round to see where everyone is at. From there we get an update about any actions from past meetings. Then we’re into the guts of it. First somebody volunteers to share the details of a challenge they are currently facing. The group first responds by asking questions and then by sharing any experience or knowledge they might have. Only if explicitly requested do we offer advice. If there’s time we repeat the process. Finally we wrap up with a check-out to hear what everyone has learned.

In each session, there will normally be enough time for one or two people to share. When a group is new it tends to take longer as there is a lot of backstory to understand about person’s situation. As we get to know each other better things can move faster.