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  • Writer's pictureMichael Soderling

Management teams and horror stories

Updated: Jul 18, 2021

Today I am going to discuss how the history of a team can impair its functioning.

As demonstrated in the following two real-life examples, productivity and job satisfaction might be lowered to alarming levels.

Management team #1. When I for the first time met the head of the team, I contemplated whether a diagnosis of burnout syndrome hid behind my client’s weary face. She likened the team meetings to a black hole. When I later met the entire team, I asked each member, in chronological order of when they joined up, to describe what it was like to come onboard. It turned out that everyone had similar experiences. The common narrative was that the team was characterised by silos and the only purpose of the meetings was information sharing. Members felt there was a lack of direction, strategy and decision making. The two newest recruits described joining up as a shock. The old truth was that the work being done in the management team was more or less worthless.

Management team #2. This manager too, was noticeably jaded. Straight from the top she had been given an assignment to change the organisation. Equipped with a strong mandate, she fearlessly threw herself into the task, only to run up against a brick wall. Namely her own management team. When examining these individuals’ stories in chronological order, a pattern emerged. During the previous eight years, several change processes had been initiated but none of them had been successful. People all over the organisation were disillusioned and angry, and had become cynical towards the concept of change. The old truth amongst the members of the management team was that their employees, at all costs, needed to be protected from new lofty plans.

How the remedy works. When one person at a time, in a structured way, shares their story, several things happen. The feeling of “oh, so it’s just not me” presents itself. The structured format allows people to describe their disappointment, anger, and resentment without being dismissed. Rather, they are being met with empathy which defuses their strong emotions. In turn, that enables people to shift focus from the vivid turmoil of the horror stories of the inner reality to soberly examining the outer reality. Both the managers in these examples realised that the meltdowns in their teams were not a direct reflection on them as individuals and leaders, but rather a result of ingrained narratives. You can imagine the relief they felt. The team members, for their part, appreciated that their leaders had indeed had a difficult time battling these unspoken narratives. Slowly but surely, everyone involved was able to look one another in the eye with compassion.

If you, whilst reading this, have been thinking that this is all rather obvious, please appreciate that we are talking about unconscious forces. Obviously, no one suggested “let’s create a sabotaging narrative, shall we?” Rather, these kinds of phenomena have lives of their own.

So how did it turn out for the management teams? Well, they became much more productive, job satisfaction increased, and the manager of each team regained their strength and enthusiasm.


This post talks about the past. Click here if you are interested in how a distorted perception of the present severely affected a person’s leadership and here to find out how a distorted perception of the future almost cost a person a desired job opportunity.


If you'd like a more comprehensive understanding of these phenomena, I recommend my free guide: What they don't tell you about change management.


The clients who reach out to me are managing directors, management teams, and executives who want to realise the potential in their organisations and accomplish extraordinary results. They reach out to me because of my ability to transform individuals, teams, and organisations.

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