Circuit Chronicles: It’s All About the Team

Do you have an established criteria of what your team should be? How about your president/owner? What ideas does he or she have to offer about the make-up of your team? What role should you play within the team? What kind of manager are you? Do you find yourself as a participative manager? How about, “I’ll take control role and do it myself,” or “I’ll delegate it,” or “I need more facts and data before I can decide?” 

By the way, I don’t necessarily think one idea is better than the other, they’re just different. What kind of team to you want to be part of? What kind of leader do you want to be? That is probable something you should consider before taking on that GM job, right? But in the end, most of us find ourselves in the job, then we start thinking about team building and how we can build our own team. 

The relationship between the company owner and GM is critical in any organization. These two people have to share the same values and the same strategy for the company; of course, trust is critical. There must be a common vision for the owner, the GM and the entire team already in place or to be hired. I believe that a system like continual improvement can be used by the GM who needs to be a “change agent” within the company. 

The GM must have their finger on the pulse of the company. If the company is successful, they need to find out why, and then make it even better. If the company is failing, they must drill down for root causes for that failure and come up with a new direction to make the company better and then successful. 

Regardless, that doesn’t mean there won’t be failure along the way. There will be. It’s part of the process. But the right GM, doing the right things, and driving the right changes will put the company back on track. 

Part of this is getting the right team in place and in the right positions. I’ve heard it put this way: “I’ve got the team on the bus but are they in the right seat?” That can be a challenge. Even when you have great people, if they are not in the right positions, there can be trouble. And like a baseball team manager you have to put the members of your team in the right positions. 

There may need to be some changes so don’t hesitate to make them as needed. If you’re coming in from the outside, you should understand that there’s going to be all kinds of concerns from your current team and the company in general. They will be waiting to hear what you, as their new leader, are going to do. This means you have to communicate from the time you first take over the position. 

You have to assure the troops that everything is going to be okay. You have to let them know that you have a steady hand on the rudder. 

One good idea is to have a companywide meeting where you talk about who you are and what you expect of them as your team. Share with them something about you, about how you got to this point in your life/career. 

Then, talk about your early plans for the company. Encourage questions; of course, no one ever has one, so you might have to get started by suggesting questions they might ask. After that you may be surprised how one question leads to another and soon you have a good discussion going. 

On a more personal basis, interact with as many employees as you can. Perhaps having a one-on-one with each employee over time will work. Focus on having a few each week. Switch roles and let them tell you how they got here. To help you along, it may be a good idea to have a person in there with you who knows the employees. 

I’ve been surprised at the stories I’ve heard from employees and potential employees. For instance, I was interviewing a person for an engineering position. When I asked about their education and degree, the interviewee mentioned being educated in the Soviet Union and receiving a degree from there, and eventually fleeing the USSR and traveling through several countries before arriving in the United States and becoming a citizen. These meetings can provide a manager with great insight about who your team members really are. More importantly, they show you how you can help them develop their career path in your company. 

If you were already at the company and were promoted into the position, you should have a good a lay of the land. You will know who everyone is and what they do and can do. This certainly can be advantageous, but I’ve seen it work the other way too. If it was a competitive process with other employees, you can almost be assured someone is not going to be happy with the choice. 

But as their leader, as their new GM, you have to remind them this isn’t a popularity contest, and most every decision you’ll make, especially early in the transition, will be scrutinized by just about everyone. Or at least it will feel like it. But in the end, you have to tough it out and make the best decisions you can. 

Don’t forget to have an open mind and be ready to listen to others’ ideas, especially those on your immediate team. Even though you may have worked in the company for years, they still may have better insight than you. After all, it’s not who gets credit, it’s the outcome that matters. 

In any case, you must earn the respect of every employee within the company. I’ve had it explained to me something like this. “You can get 60% of an employee’s effort just because you have the position and authority. That, however, isn’t what you’re after. It’s the other 40% that drives to full potential of both the individual and the organization.” 

Always be consistent. Say what you’re going to do, then do it. Treat everyone with the same respect you would want. If people have a problem with that policy, they are the ones with the problem and generally that situation will take care of itself. 

In a smaller company like mine, the GM and their immediate team wear many hats. Resources are always at a premium and the organization will be very flat. It should be very flat. Just as we were discussing previously, if you’re coming from outside the company there should be a time period when the evaluation of the current team takes place. This should include an interview with each member of the team. Just as you would if they were interviewing for the position. This is critical. 

I believe there are three basic questions that need to be answered during this evaluation period

  • Can they do the job?
  • Will they do the job?
  • Do they fit in with the rest of the team? Are they team players? 

The “fit in” the part is maybe the most important and perhaps the hardest to ascertain. But it’s important. Your team needs to behave as a team. Within any team there are the written rules and norms, as well as the unwritten rules and norms. I believe an inclusive approach will work the best in discovering all the unwritten rules and norms. Take the time to discover those. 

When talking to your team, take the opportunity to actively listen, and then listen some more. The best general managers and presidents I’ve worked for have had this characteristic as one of their best points; they listened. 

I would have to say that no matter what your leadership style is, listening to your team is one of the most important elements of team building. Understand that supporting your team to reach their individual and team’s potential, will insure your organization’s best potential. 

Kim O’Neil is general manager at Prototron Circuits. 


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