Koan #10: Successful Probation

We usually send the situation in one newsletter and results in a following newsletter. Here the situations and results are copied verbatim into one post. Hence, when it says 'you' - it means the subscribers who voted in newsletter, not readers of this archive.
This situation was published in the 05 Apr 2021 newsletter.


Drew recently joined as a manager in your team of managers, and is trying to establish relationships with you and the team. Drew is five weeks into the role and have had two meetings with their whole team and also have fortnightly 1:1s with you. Although Drew’s team is really busy at the moment, Drew seems unsure what the individual team members are contributing, or what Drew is responsible for as the manager. As the midpoint of a three month probation approaches Drew confides in you they are worried the, Drew, are not being as effective as they are capable of. As Drew’s manager what would you do?

Option A - Suggest for Drew to meet with their team members individually, and for them to introduce Drew to the team’s stakeholders.

Option B - Ask Drew to reflect on what is preventing them from performing at their best, and address those issues.

Option C - Help Drew to organise a team-building exercise, so that everyone gets to know each other.

Option D - Thank Drew for confiding in you and say you’ll reflect on their experience, and come back with suggestions in the next 1:1.


This response to this situation depended on if you thought it was Drew’s responsibility or Drew’s manager’s responsibility to fix this situation.

If it is Drew’s responsibility, then Drew seems to have only had meetings with the whole team present. A few of you identified this detail very accurately in your free-form answers. Drew might be experienced enough to notice this, as in Option B. Alternatively, a more direct approach would be to suggest for Drew to have 1:1s with their team and get Drew to meet stakeholders, as in Option A. Both of these options should help Drew to understand who is doing what in the team, and who the stakeholders are. But is that enough?

Could team-building, as in Option C, help here? It seems Drew is joining an already established team. It could be useful for Drew to integrate socially with the team, but it will take time from the already busy team. More importantly, since the focus of team-building is on team cohesion and effective collaboration, it is unlikely to help Drew understand what the individual team members actually do, or who the stakeholders are.

So back to the earlier question. Is the responsibility of Drew’s success sitting squarely on Drew’s shoulders? A subtle mention of Drew being half-way through their probation was key. Research suggests that the most common reason for failure in leadership is not lack of competence or skill, but having a poor grasp of how the organisation works, not fitting into the culture of the organisation, and having difficulty forging alliances with peers. While organisations nowadays try to invest in a thorough onboarding process, there are still many who hire talented people, throw them in at the deep end, and use a sink-or-swim strategy for onboarding. This can work, but it will be very slow and expensive in terms of resources and avoidable mistakes. And if the person is unable to ‘swim’, it can be very expensive to find a new candidate and could damage the organisational brand.

It does sound like Drew has a poor grasp of how the organisation works, and has difficulty understanding who the stakeholders are that they need to form alliances with. Therefore Drew’s concerns should point to a broader reflection about the onboarding process, as in option D. Drew’s onboarding should be the manager’s responsibility. By all means, Drew should meet his team on a 1:1 basis, but Drew’s manager should introduce Drew to their team’s stakeholders and peers. Drew should also be shown the knowledge base, if it exists, or given a high-level overview of the main aspects of their work. Your ‘Drew’ will have specific information that needs to be shared that will be specific to your organisation.

Finally, fortnightly 1:1s between Drew and the manager could be replaced by fifteen minute daily check ins for the duration of the probation period. This would help both people to raise and address issues early and would set Drew up for success.