How do I – manage people who are my friends?


In all call centres the cream of the team rises to the top and is made a team leader or even a manager.  However, as Gwenllian Williams explains, the excitement of promotion can easily become the discomfort of having to manage people who, only yesterday, were peers.Team leaders who have faced this issue describe many uncomfortable situations such as:

  • Having to address a performance problem with a colleague who is also a friend
  • Having to face the resentment of friends who cannot accept the change in relationship
  • Being accused of being aloof and stand-offish when refusing to take part in gossip
  • Friends trying to take advantage of the situation in order to get special treatment

One team leader commented to the author ‘I used to be one of the girls – now I am resented as management and yet they do not accept me as their manager’. Typical reactions in new team leaders are:

  • Trying to stay part of the social group by avoiding stepping over the line into management
  • Avoiding ‘little performance issues’ such as poor timekeeping at breaks due to fear of appearing dictatorial
  • Being over-friendly in order to get the team on their side only to face more difficulties when issues arise
  • Being over-protective of the team and trying to avoid decisions or protect them from changes being pushed through by senior management

Obviously, such situations are not conducive to effective management. However, there are a number of things that can be done, both at a business level and also by new team leaders.

What the leader can do

Leaders need to face change quickly and smoothly and avoid behaviours of treading on eggshells or stamping their authority. Tactics which will help include:

Setting ground rules – all leaders can set up a simple set of ground rules along the following lines:


Having set up and committed to your ground rules the next step is to set up a team meeting and go through the ground rules. This may not feel comfortable, but it is better than trying to assume yourself into a role which others do not understand or accept.

Start as you mean to go on – one of the first steps in establishing your position is to have a one-to-one meeting with each team member and set out your expectations and goals. Be sure that your approach is friendly and firm and be careful to assert your expectations with anyone who attempts to use the friendship card.

Create a team event with you at the lead – a very quick way to establish yourself in a manger role is to set up a team event to create a team service culture. The team event needs to start with your vision of the team and the service levels, including any specific improvement projects. The rest of the event can then focus on how the team will work together to achieve your culture and service. Such an event establishes the team leader as the driver of the team.

Move quickly on performance issues – a rapid way to establish your team leadership is to address any performance issue very early on. Again, this will feel uncomfortable, but failing to do this will give the message that you will accept less than the best from your friends. When addressing such issues be very clear in stating that you are now in a management role and then get to the point quickly with your concerns and the changes you want to see.

Avoid any fall back – being a leader is tough and often lonely. All too often, leaders miss the social support and the fun of working with peers. However, reverting to peer behaviour is a step back from leadership. Stepping back up into the leader role is all the harder thereafter. Instead you need to see other leaders as your source of support and when necessary turn to HR for assistance. The toughest times are when you have to drive change which you know your team will dislike. When facing such situations it is very important to talk through the implications with HR and get assistance with delivering the messages.

What the business can do

The business needs to recognise that becoming a team leader involves transition into a new role and also a new perspective. Wherever possible the following initiatives need to be put in place:

Movement – whenever possible promotion to team leader should be linked to a move to a new team. This can be achieved by open selection processes in which team leader roles are advertised across the business and people can apply to be team leader of another team.

Focused selection – the selection process should explore the person’s understanding of the required transition and the changes they will have to make in working relationships. People who do not have plans for managing the change should not be promoted.

Training – all too many team leaders go into the role with little or no management training. All new team leaders should be given training in how to set objectives, set expectations, delegate, give feedback and manage performance issues.

Transition support – change is rarely easy or smooth. New team leaders would benefit from support sessions in which they are talked through the change and given coaching in how to adjust quickly. Such support can be delivered by HR, external coaches or even experienced team leaders who have managed the change in the past.

In short, moving from mate to manager is rarely a comfortable path. However, those who do it successfully have the support of the business and also establish their own leadership credentials very early. Being clear about your role, what you will do and how you will manage is the key to success. You must then hold the leader line when times get tough.

Gwenllian Williams

Gwenllian Williams is a director of deWinton-Williams Business Consulting
Tel: +44 20 7372 4997

Author: Jo Robinson

Published On: 26th Mar 2008 - Last modified: 21st Feb 2019
Read more about - Call Centre Management, ,

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  • I have generally found it very useful to manage people who are my friends. It has always enabled me to get much more of an insight into what has been going on in the team.

    You have to be careful though of not forming a clique.

    jamesportcullis 30 Mar at 15:13
  • I am attending an interview for the post of a team leader.

    The information you have on this site was very informative to attend the interview and solves the major problems for me.

    Thanks a lot.

    Gautam 8 Apr at 15:42
  • most helpful

    nonas 6 Jan at 08:56