What's your problem?

My new team is so cynical...

by Jeremy Bullmore
Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

I'm a new manager in a newish company, despairing at the cynical bunch of people that I've been tasked to motivate. I'm no happy-clapper, but I would like very much to inject some oomph into them. They've been left to fester under a bad manager for too long. Is my best recourse just to fire them?

A: It might be the easiest recourse but I doubt if it's the best. Hiring a whole new bunch of people at the same time carries its own risks - and I'm prepared to bet that somewhere hidden away in this cynical bunch you've inherited there are some potential goodies.

There'll also be a couple of malign individuals who, through sheer force of personality, have been allowed to set the style for the rest: you've probably already identified them. That's how cynicism and anarchy have prevailed. Only in bad movies does a crusading hero emerge spontaneously from the pack and - against all the odds and without formal authority - transform them all into a tightly-knit team of visionary winners. That's what leaders are for.

At the first sign of cynicism, bloody-mindedness or simple sniggering, face down the culprit. That is easier said than done, I know, but it's your high-noon moment. Your team will all be watching and you mustn't lose. If necessary, issue a formal warning to the offender and follow it up in writing. (Check with your HR department first.)

At the same time, invent a project that, if successfully completed, would bring pleasure and success to your entire group. Appoint a leader - not one of the villains but not a toady either - and establish a timetable and regular meeting times. Then, with any luck, you'll see the dawning of a slow realisation that things are going to be different.

There will be a couple of hairy moments, naturally - the villains will try anything to retain their hold - but the sense of relief among the others will be almost tangible. And if the villains don't shuffle off of their own accord, you'll be in a strong position to invite them to do so.

Finally, when constructing this project, and without being too obvious about it, make reasonably sure that it will have a happy ending. But I'm sure you'd have thought of that ...

- Jeremy Bullmore is a former creative director and chairman of J Walter Thompson London. His book Another Bad Day at the Office is published by Penguin at £6.99. Address your problem to Jeremy Bullmore at: editorial@mtmagazine.co.uk. Regrettably, no correspondence can be entered into.

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