Managers Anonymous: A Support Group

Managers Anonymous: A Support Group by Adam Shand

How did it originate?

Adam has spent most of his professional career being a manager of some sort. He’s been an owner of two organisations, worked as a team lead, a middle manager, and an executive. Though he mostly worked in technology companies, it was the humans, and all the squishy complications they created, which kept his curiosity piqued.

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

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 the 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 more backstory required to understand the situation. As we get to know each other better, things move faster.


Amy and Adam’s depth of experience, coupled with the other managers I met throughout the sessions, created an amazing platform and safe environment to learn new ideas, initiatives and processes. Bringing these experiences back into my work life has made me a better leader.
— Ian White, General Manager at ZX Security

It feels like the ground covered during an hour at Managers Anonymous would have taken me two weeks to get to by myself.
George Langlands, Lead Advisor at ACC

Managers Anonymous is a great way to connect, learn and expand on the art and science of being a manager. Amy and Adam are skilled facilitators who create the space to learn and share across a group of participants with wide ranging experiences and industry backgrounds. It’s a place to hold judgement and advice off to the side and learn new types of skills and insights that, I believe, ultimately makes you a better manager and leader.
Carin Sundstedt, Manager Culture and Customer at MPI

Leading a team can be a pretty lonely experience. Managers Anonymous gave me the peers and space I needed to develop my leadership skills. It’s had an enormous impact on the way I work.
― Clarion Coughlan, Project Director at NZ On Screen

Managers Anonymous helped me understand the difficulties that managers face, and how to effectively use non-violent communication in my professional life.
Mohamed Hassan, Consultant at ZX Security

Managers Anonymous and the Non-Violent Communication (NVC) framework provides a practical and effective toolbox of ideas and techniques to help decode tricky management & personnel issues. Listening to, and participating in, the group helped me level up as a manager.
― Eoin Kelly, Lead Architect at Ackama NZ

I was afraid that this was going to be some kind of hippy-dippy share-your-feelings and get vague affirmations gathering. There are definitely feelings sharing but it’s with a goal of working out what the feelings are and what the root need is that has created those feelings. This was useful for me to learn for myself, and is useful for working with other people. I got to meet all sorts of different people, in many different areas of work, and realised that everyone has similar problems and fears.
— Norman Cates, Weta Digital

As a passionate person who wears my emotions on my sleeves, I found Managers Anonymous really helpful.— Amber Craig, Senior Architect at ANZ

project posted on 4 Aug 2014 in #talking, #teaching & #working

Copyheart 1994–2024 Adam Shand. Sharing is an act of love.