by Vicki Wrona, PMP:

Oprah recently interviewed two of the executives from the new upcoming show called Undercover Boss. These CEOs and Presidents posed as entry level employees to get a taste of their employees’ jobs and what working for their company is really like. It was an eye-opening and humbling experience for both of them. Their experiences made me think – how well are you aware of exactly what each of your team members is experiencing?

I know what you’re thinking. I’m just a middle manager or a functional manager or a project manager or a lead. I am not so far removed from my team to be unaware of what they are doing and going through. But is that really true?

Where is your team physically located? Are all of you co-located? If so, you have a better chance of seeing what they do every day, overhearing their conversations, knowing their concerns and reading their moods. As a manager of any kind, that perspective will allow you to better anticipate what is coming, both good and bad. There are fewer surprises. You also see the impact of your actions on them, and so can make better decisions. However, we now find ourselves working more and more with remote team members.

Beyond physical location there is job definition. Do you really understand what each team member does? How their work contributes to the whole? How the pieces of each person’s work fits into everyone else’s contribution? If you’re honest, the answer is often ‘I try, but not really’. How often have we worked in organizations where one group didn’t know what the other group sitting one row over from them really did, at a fairly detailed level? I can’t tell you how often I’ve heard, ‘we don’t know what they really do’. Wow.

Physical location and lack of job definition understanding leads to the distance and misunderstandings that cause many of the problems we experience with our teams. We don’t have to be senior executives to be ‘out of touch’.

This show resonated with me on several levels. As a small business owner, I take these lessons to heart because my team members are remote and my decisions impact them in ways I don’t always realize at first.  As a consultant, I keep these lessons in my mind as I manage or work with the client, team, end customer, management, vendors and others. Our impact goes beyond what we realize.