Managing Your Peers

Two business people with coffee chatting on balcony of office building

Managing someone who was once your peer or friend is an adjustment. To successfully navigate this change, managers must develop new working relationships, adjust to new roles and responsibilities, be attentive to team dynamics, and take advantage of learning opportunities.

Develop New Working Relationships with Team Members

The transition from team member to manager is probably the single greatest transition in most people’s careers.  Learning to coach and guide, to make decisions that affect others, sometimes negatively, to react professionally instead of emotionally to people’s behavior and to combat the loneliness of maintaining professional distance is very challenging for some managers.

How do you acquire/enhance the knowledge and skills you need for these different duties/responsibilities?  Here are a few ideas:

  • Ask your manager to help you develop by sharing managerial tips and techniques.  Ask how they handled the transition to management and challenges in managing former peers.
  • Talk with other supervisors to learn what they do, what they know and what they’ve experienced.
  • Overall, take responsibility for your own leadership development and make it a priority.

Getting Results Through Others

Before you became a manager your value to the organization was measured by what you, as an individual, could do successfully.  Now it’s about how successful your direct reports are – because of what you do.  Now you have a different purpose…a revised focus…a new overall goal…getting results through others.

One of your first challenges developing new relationships with former peers and co-workers.  Here are some guidelines to help you be successful:

1. Create a communications plan for your team as a whole as well as for individuals.

Employees may be concerned about the transition from the beginning so begin communicating immediately. At regularly scheduled team meetings, address team goals and expectations, overcoming obstacles, resources, and other issues of general interest.

At individual meetings, be reassuring and spell out expectations while gradually modifying friendships to fit changed circumstances.  Talk about how, because of your new role, you’re going to miss “hanging out” as freely as before.  If you don’t explain this, former peers may feel betrayed, especially when you have to make decisions they won’t like.  They need to understand your role changed but you are the same person and want to be a manager they are excited to work for. Consider acknowledging the situation feels awkward and express your commitment to making it work and ask for theirs.

2. Set clear boundaries, especially with those who were once close friends or peers.

It’s fine to remain friends and to socialize outside of work, within limits.  However, remember you are in a new role now.

Avoid sharing information not meant to be shared with employees.  Your peers need to understand that as a manager, you are expected to keep confidences and support leadership decisions.

3. Don’t show favoritism.

Effective managers don’t play favorites.  They spend a reasonable amount of time with each employee and distribute assignments fairly.  If you used to eat lunch with your friends, you still can, occasionally, as long as you spend similar amounts of time with all your employees.

4. Set clear roles and expectations.

Many of the performance problems on work teams come from poorly communicated managerial expectations and work priorities.  Be clear and specific with all your employees about actions that are needed, deadlines and work goals, and individual and team expectations.

5. Remember the shadow you cast.

Avoid making casual comments about management, leadership, or the university.  Avoid discussing team members except in a proper and professional way.  You have the opportunity to influence your team in a new and different way.  As a manager you cast an important shadow – make sure it’s a positive one!

Other Questions to Consider

Will my relationships with my former peers change?
Yes, you can expect your relationships to change.  You are now in a position where you have decisions making authority over people (e.g. pay, assignments, etc.)  And you can expect your former peers to act differently around you.  You may experience distance between you and your former peers.

What if I don’t agree with a university or departmental policy?
Don’t make statements to employees like, “they are making us follow these new procedures” when communicating university or departmental policies. While you can privately express your concerns to your manager, you are accountable for supporting policies.

Does being a manager mean I must abandon coworker friendship I developed and enjoyed as an employee?
No, however, it does mean you and your friends must accept the fact that your relationships are different at work – you are now the manager.  As long as you offer no special treatment, your friends expect none, and you avoid any improprieties, old friendships can (and should) continue. Just remember this can become a “slippery slope.”  Should you ever find yourself having to choose between doing your job or keeping a friend, your allegiance must be to the job.

Should I develop new relationships with peers?
Joining the ranks of management not only changes old workplace relationships, it produces many new ones.  You now have a new group of managerial peers you’ll need to learn about, work with, and rely on for assistance.