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I've been managing a new team for 9 months and they are unhappy. What do I do?

I started a company 9 months ago at a state-supported higher educational institution. I have worked in private higher education for 20 years. I am still learning the culture of my current place of employment.

I have subordinates, although they don't report directly to me, there is a dotted line. They are unhappy with me, I'm not sure why, but my supervisor says I need to fix it. She isn't being clear as to why but they come to her to complain.

What should I do?
Meet with them individually?
Should I ignore it?
Should I meet as a team, not bring up specifics but start doing team building/communication activities?

I am a fixer and a doer, I think the culture here is more team and personality oriented vs. success measured by getting results, succeeding a must, productivity, and accomplishment a must.

It has been suggested by my supervisors that I slow down, be patient, things cannot be fixed quickly. I am truly working on this. It seems unnatural to sit back and just see what happens but maybe that's what I should do...

Any advice is appreciated.

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Leah, a lot of your issues may be related to the fact that it is often difficult to make the transition from the private to the public sector. You have to deal with more feeling of entitlement in the latter, and less focus on performance metrics. However, there are certain universally accepted principles that apply in all situations, which you may be able to adapt to your situation.

The essential responsibility of a manager is to provide people in the organization with a situation and an opportunity to work effectively in a common effort, develop their capabilities, fulfill their professional aspirations, and achieve appropriate recognition and rewards.

A manager must place major emphasis on creating this kind of environment. This doesn’t mean that they should seek to make everyone happy or to make tasks easier. But, it does mean that they should develop a work environment that has these characteristics:

There are absolute honesty and integrity in what everyone says and does. And, everyone feels perfectly free to say what they really think.

There is open communication up and down and across the organization. Everyone recognizes both the right and the responsibility to be open and constructively critical of things that are wrong or that could be improved.

As a manager, you must be willing to really listen to the other person’s side and point of view — and be willing to admit “I’m wrong” if facts and logic show that this is the case.

You show a genuine interest in getting problems out in the open.

You motivate people to work effectively as a team. You help to create an air of excitement in the organization that comes with the realization that everyone is operating on a winning team.

I would add to this that, in the public sector, you simply have to be more patient to achieve the above.

Dear Mr. Mikituk,

I am so grateful to receive your email. As I read it I had visions of recent and past experiences, which supported your comments perfectly. I am going to print this out to read it again, which I have done with the other responses from more experts regarding this issue. I hope this helps someone else in the workplace with the same issue because I have received many introspective words as well as resources to help.

I truly appreciate your time.

Best regards,


There is a book by Patrick Lencioni called The Five Dysfunctions of a Team. It's the best book I've ever read!


Doing team building exercises with an unhappy team is only going to make it look like you think they are the problem. It didn't say they are unhappy with their team. It said they are unhappy with you. (I don't mean for this to sound rude, I promise!)

If your team is unhappy you should get in front of it ASAP. Have a transparent meeting. Let them know you hear their concerns and want to fix it. It's important to be humble and accept what they say, no matter how difficult it is to hear. It's not a time to be on the defensive. It's a time to simply listen and take notes. Then meet with them one-to-one to see if there is anything to add. Meeting as a group first will help them feel like they can be more open individually.

Once you've heard their concerns it's time to get to work. Create a leadership development plan and include your boss so she sees that you are working on this.

Most importantly, own this and allow your team to see your vulnerability. It's important to still remember that you are in charge, but they need to see that you take responsibility for your actions and how it affects the dynamics of the team.

PS- You can do this! Posting this is a huge step in the right direction.

Thank you so much, Dr. Coopman.

This is very helpful. I have been reading and studying and know that I am not familiar with the culture here at a state institution.

I worked at a private University; the culture was different. We HAD to succeed, we HAD to perform, we HAD to produce; faculty, students, and staff.

My expertise was going to departments, reorganizing and making best practices. We all worked within the same philosophy, therefore the staff was compliant.

I love to learn, I love a challenge, but I still need direction. Books are a tremendous resource, however, there are many and I usually don't read them unless they are recommended, so thanks for your suggestion. I will purchase this today.

Again, your statements are invaluable.

You have a great day Dr. Coopman.
Best regards,


Hello Leah,

Business is productivity and achievement yet it takes people and quality teams to accomplish. Your personality sounds task oriented and I'm sure you have accomplished much. Yet not everyone is similarly oriented. Some are relationship oriented or a mix of task and relationship motivated.

How is your team "not happy" with you? You learn this by making time to connect with them as people, and asking them what they feel is working and what is not ideal or in need of adjustment. Help them feel "safe" in talking with you, as in assuring them there is no fear of punishment if they present their concerns in a respectful, professional manner. Express to them how much you care and want to learn.

There is that old saying that "people don't care how much you know until they know how much you care."

It's also human nature to be more connected to and driven when you respect or better, like whom you work for and with. So many organizations and leaders miss the boat entirely on this and in doing so, forfeit the power, productivity and higher level success of stronger team dynamics.


I agree with referencing The Five Dysfunctions of a Team. I also recommend the assessment and training that's based on it. It's called The Five Behaviors of a Cohesive Team. It helps teams talk about issues of trust, productive conflict, commitment, accountability, and results. I went through it with a team and highly recommend it. This will certainly help the team. Just talking about expectations and shared ground rules can be very helpful. We discovered that one woman on the team hated how much others of us swore. Once we reduced our swearing she started talking up more and we gained her insights finally. Simple, but powerful.

You might also want to do a 360-degree review like the Everything DiSC 363 for Leaders. Or there are many others. This one makes it easier for the reviewers, I think since they can pick from responses rather than only write their own.

Thank you very much, Ms. Bullwinkle. I appreciate your time in helping me come up with solutions.

Best regards,


Try to meet them individually, as a team.

Talk to them and know whats wrong. If you ignore it, it will affect everyone. Man management is one of the greatest keys in business.

Chat up for more talks. Email: Anakorvinsmart@yahoo.com

Thank you Mr. Vin'smart for your comments.
They are very helpful and encouraging.
Have a great day!

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