My Turning Point

Our Carnival of HR host this month, Trish McFarlane, has asked for personal stories of game changing events. This is the story I’ve chosen to share, along with what I learned from it. I didn’t really enjoy writing it, which I guess means I did it right.

I spent almost seven years with my last company. Three of them in HR. I wont spend a lot of time on the gory details, but suffice it to say it was one of the most dysfunctional teams I have ever been part of. The department was basically split down the middle, with each half barely tolerating the other. The loyalty of the groups were split between the HRVP and the COO. That’s the short version. The long version is much more interesting, but best told in another forum.

I had joined the team after building my own team in another function, with whom I spent four years. It was a tight knit team that worked hard and played hard. We were known to take a team break in the afternoon to go out an play bocce in front of the building. In December. In the snow. We hosted Halloween for the company. We did volunteer work together at Christmas, including the year our new CEO joined us to drag furniture and garbage out of the basement of a group home for children. We had scuffles, like all teams do, but generally maintained harmony.

Joining this fractured HR team was a shock. It was inconceivable that you would work that closely with people without bonding. But they did it, and I was pulled in.

Fast forward two years or so. Our CEO and HRVP left the company. One of our HR directors had since been banished to health and safety. Most people assumed she was only allowed to stay because of her relationship with the COO. And, as most predicted, he had her installed as the new head of HR. This led to an exodus of about half of the HR team, including myself.

As a result, I ended up with my current organization, which has allowed me to work on a global scale with a much larger audience. I’ve been exposed to new things, learned new skills, and use tools that would otherwise have remained dormant. I’ve met great people. I’ve been inspired to start this blog and really invest time in it.

I’ve also taken away a lot of lessons from that experience that have shaped the way I see the work world.

  • You can function on a dysfunctional team, but you can’t excel.  You’re better off spending the time fixing the issues with people than trying to work around them.
  • Your career is your responsibility.  Sometimes that means knowing when to move on.  Don’t get caught up in the loyalty dilemma.
  • Business leaders are people.  Flawed, emotional, and at times terrified.  It’s ok.  But be prepared when they make irrational decisions.
  • Your job is your gateway.  I’ve said before that no one cares about your development like you do.  The same goes for your resume.  Know what you bring to the table and how to explain it at the interview.  If you can’t quantify your value, then you need to rethink how you spend your day.  And no one that I know has ever gotten into trouble trying to define their value.

Your company knows what they get out of you.  Do you know what you are getting from them? Because a day is coming when you will need to explain your value to someone else.  This may be by your decision or someone else’s but the reason won’t matter when the time comes.  And when it does, you are the only one who will know how ready you are.

One last thing.  Never forget the great teams you’ve been part of.  They are few and far between.


  1. ‘Never forget the great teams you’ve been part of. They are few and far between.’ Amen. But great teams don’t just appear organically. Leadership is key. You should write something (if you haven’t) about how, short of coup d’etat, a team member can turn things around when the leader isn’t capable of it. Is it possible?

  2. Absolutely agree with this. Often times a team member can have more impact than the leader. A great leader recognizes this and encourages positive leadership. Of course, every organization has negative leaders and these individuals can have as much impact to turn things “around” for the worse. It is important that leaders identify both positive and negative leaders. The positive should be supported and the negative leaders either pushed out or made manifest to the individual and potentially to the group.

    • Agreed. It’s a skill I wish more organizations were good at. But too often we assume “I never hear anything” to mean “that manager must be doing a good job.” I have some ideas on the difference. Check back later this week for more!

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