How to change roles and change teams
On this episode, Jeff Akin reviews Star Trek Deep Space 9, Behind the Lines (Season 6, Episode 4). He will examine the leadership approaches of Captain Sisko and Admiral Ross.
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Harvard Business Review Article: https://hbr.org/2021/10/the-toxic-effects-of-branding-your-workplace-a-family
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Welcome! Thanks for joining me today. Good news often comes with a high price, and for leaders, that’s what a lot of use experience come promotion time. Good news! You’re getting a promotion. Not so good news, you have to leave the team you trust and enjoy working with. I’m going to talk about how to handle this transition, emotionally and operationally, as we watch Captain Sisko go through this in the 4th episode of the 6th season of Deep Space 9, Behind the Lines.
This is a later season Deep Space 9 episode, so we are going to need to set the table a little bit. The Dominion have attacked the Alpha Quadrant at this point. Well, Alpha and Beta but they only ever seem to mention the Beta quadrant. The Dominion, if you recall, is the primary force in the Gamma quadrant which we are connected to do via the wormhole that the Deep Space 9 station guards.
The Cardassians have allied themselves with the Dominion giving them a significant foothold here. At the end of the 5th season, about 5 episodes ago, The Dominion forces captured Deep Space 9, renaming it Terok Nor as the Cardassians called it when they occupied Bajor. Since this time the Federation has done two significant things to give it a chance to survive. First, they sabotaged and cutoff supply lines for ketracel white, the substance the Jem’Hadar soldiers are dependent on. And they mined the entrance to the wormhole so any Dominion forces coming through will be destroyed along with the wormhole itself. With those two things, The Dominion, the more dominant, military force, is forced to re-establish its operations on this side of the wormhole which has given a little reprieve to the nearly defeated Federation forces.
Ok, now that we’re mostly caught up, let’s dive in.
Our DS9 crew has been operating out of Starbase 375, launching attacks, aboard the Defiant, against the Dominion. The crew is in rough shape, but Sisko has built ritual and tradition to help keep their spirits up. “Take a good look at this…” 0:55 It’s a tradition he started after they drained phaser arrays to rally the team. You can hear how it keeps them going. It’s a tough spot most leaders never dream of being in, but Sisko is adapting, and keeping them focused, and their morale as high as he can.
Admiral Ross, who is the head of the Starbase and the front-line commander of the Federation defense in this sector, informs Sisko of a big mission for the Defiant. They’re going to take out a massive sensor array in the Argolis Cluster which will take away much of the Dominion’s tactical advantage. Sisko is eager to begin planning.
On the station, we run into some of the people that were left behind the lines, and the key players from the Dominion. We’ve got Kira and Rom that seem to be working, doing daily tasks for the Dominion, Jake, Sisko’s son, who is recording the activities and acting as an embedded reporter of sorts, Quark, who is still running his bar, and Odo. Odo is still the head of security, which really hits me as odd. He was in that role during the Cardassian Occupation, then with the Federation and now with the Dominion. Seems like a role you’d want someone loyal to you in. Hmm.
On the Dominion side we have Gul Dukat, who all know well here on the Starfleet Leadership Academy, Damar, who we met back in the 33rd episode of the podcast, Return to Grace, that seems to be working for Odo. The Vorta, a Dominion race, named Weyoun that we have met in a few previous episodes as well, and the creatively named Female Changeling, who, for all we can tell, is the supreme leader, or the manifestation of the supreme leader, of the Changelings and represents the Great Link which the totality of the Changelings.
The prior DS9 crew on the station, we’ll call them the Resistance, are doing what they can to disrupt operations, “The PADD contains a draft of a memo he was composing.” 3:19 Damar actually made the entry, but Rom swiped it and made sure the Jem’Hadar got their hands on it. Temporary pandemonium does little, though, to really shake things up. But it helped drive a further wedge between the Cardassians and the Dominion. “Keep your voice down. They need to see that we’re still allies.” 7:11
Odo confronts Kira on the plan. He didn’t sign off on it and is furious. “I spend days sitting on the Council to protect Bajor.” 10:03 Oof, this is a rough spot for Odo to be in. At some point, that desire to protect becomes appeasement. And a little down the road from that is total defeat, totally bowing to what the bad guys say. Great intent, but likely rarely works. Either way, this really forming a rift between Kira and Odo.
Well, perfect timing for the Female Changeling to enter the chat. After Kira leaves she starts putting the pressure on Odo, “This is not your home. You must return to your own kind.” 12:56
Sisko, while planning with the Admiral, gets some great, maybe terrible news. “Sounds like she won’t be easy to replace. Oh, you will.” 13:54 Sisko is now Admiral Ross’s adjutant and command of the Defiant is given to Dax. He’s conflicted but has full confidence in Dax and the crew.
Odo and the Female Changeling are doing as she suggested and spending time together. She misses the Great Link and tells stories trying to bring him back into the fold. She pressures him to Link with her. This is where two become one and is the foundation for the Great Link. As much as he tries to resist, he eventually caves and they Link.
Later, Kira freaks out about this! In that state, they have access to many of each other’s thoughts, and she is afraid Odo may have compromised the resistance. “Sounds like the perfect way to manipulate someone.” 22:21 Despite his confidence, Odo is different. He’s calm, relaxed. He talks about wanting to learn more about his heritage but ultimately agrees not to Link again.
Remember our buddy, Damar. Well, he is feeling good! He just got promoted to Gul and is celebrating with some vintage Kanar. Quark, doing his part for the resistance, possibly making one of the biggest sacrifices of his life, “This one’s on me.” 27:10 gets him drunk and gets him to talk. Damar has figured out how to take out the mines blocking the wormhole! Rom, who helped engineer the mines to be self-replicating and a near perfect deployment confirms that his plan will work. The resistance gets together and figures out a way to sabotage his plan. It’s high risk, but if Damar is successful the war will be over and the Dominion will…dominate. And it all depends on Odo running a scan that will provide the cover they need.
It's time. Rom has his tools and Kira is helping him get to the crawlspace to shut down the systems. Timing is critical, “He’s going to interrupt the sensors at 0800.” 38:07 But, Odo is MIA. In fact, he’s so MIA he’s in mid-Link in his quarters right now. Kira makes her way there, but is too late. Rom assumed Odo would follow through, and he sets off the alarms! It’s all falling apart.
At Starbase 375, Dax brings the Defiant back, intact and successful. Sisko has a bittersweet moment, “Take a good look at this…” 41:27 Dax is rocking it and the crew is behind her. This makes Sisko’s new reality all the more real for him.
Kira busts into Odo’s room and lets loose. “What the hell happened?” 42:39 and he doesn’t even care. Says these things just don’t seem to matter to him anymore. Kira can’t believe it. Horrified and broken hearted, she leaves his room.
And, to add to that, during their whole conversation, the Female Changeling was hiding in his room. She heard the whole thing!! Odo has totally sold them out!
We end the episode with Rom in custody and the Dominion about to take down the minefield. And we’ll have to wait until Favor the Bold comes up for us to find out what happens next!
Deep Space 9 is often heralded as the first truly serialized TV show. While that is patently false, check out my other podcast, Babylon 5 For the First Time for more on that, they certainly did it in a way that opened the door for the hyper-serialized, prestige television we all enjoy today. And it’s episode like this that really show why.
Real consequences, lasting changes to characters and cliff hangers that almost carry the weight of the Best of Both Worlds, or even modern day Star Trek that ends right when they’re about to reveal something big.
This was a great episode that I really enjoyed.
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Right out of the gate, this one was directed by Levar Burton. By Geordi LaForge! One of the cool things Star Trek has always done is develop other, off-screen skills for the cast members that want to do that. Leonard Nimoy and William Shatner directed original series films, Jonathan Frakes has become a wildly successful director working on loads of properties including Leverage, the Librarians, the Orville, about 28 Star Trek episodes and two TNG films. Burton has a ton of directing credits to his name as well, including NCIS New Orleans and about 27 episodes of Star Trek! The thing is, while Frakes has directed a bunch of modern Trek, Burton has not, so all of his credits are in the TNG to Enterprise era. Super impressive.
Two of the three stories in this one were pretty paint-by-numbers. Defiant is out doing war stuff and the resistance back home is doing resistance stuff. It was fine TV, nothing wrong with it, but nothing to necessarily write home about. The possible exception being Casey Biggs’ performance as Damar. That was fantastic, especially knowing what happens to his character through the rest of the series. In fact, knowing that makes a few of the scenes in this one pretty tragic.
But the magic in this one came from Odo’s story. To fill in all the blanks, Odo is a changeling, but he only recently came to know that. I mean, he’s always known he can shapeshift, but he only, in the last few seasons, realized where he came from and why. He was one of a hundred changelings created to be spread across the galaxy to see if we, solids, were still terrible or not. And, ever since the beginning of the third season when his origins were discovered, he has been on a difficult journey of personal discovery and this episode is a huge milestone on that road.
He has a chance to ask questions, “How many of us are there?” 35:00 and learn more about his people. The answer to this is actually pretty cool and a wild thing to think about. The answer is one and many. The changelings are The Great Link and they can break off into nearly countless, well, pieces, or be a singular being.
Picard season 3 adds complexity to this notion, but this podcast episode is about DS9 so I’m sticking with that!
But a real theme in this episode is belonging. Cultural belonging. Odo has always been an outsider since he was first discovered by the Bajoran scientist, Dr Mora Pol. For the first time, by linking, he has a sense of belonging. “If you could experience the Link…” 23:10
This is a great stop on his journey and makes what is still to come for him all that bigger of a deal.
If you have ever worked as a manager and changed jobs or promoted, you know that challenge we never seem to talk about. Leaving your team. It’s somehow just expected that, despite forming meaningful, professional relationships with a group of people you’re going to be able to just leave them with a new manager and start fresh and new with a new team. Reality check. That just ain’t how it works.
I’m going to talk about that feeling of loss we all experience when transitioning teams, and I’m also going to share my strategy for managing that change. And not just operationally, but emotionally as well.
I’m also going to share some absolutely galaxy class examples of what absolute trust in your team and co-workers looks like and how to foster that. But first, I have something very controversial to say.
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You ready for this? Here you go. Work is not your family. It isn’t. Full stop. Period. In fact, saying things like, Welcome to the Initech Family, is just opening the door to toxicity.
Promoting a ‘family culture’ in the workplace sets unrealistic expectations for loyalty and can introduce very harmful power dynamics when a manager needs to be a manager or when a co-worker tries to help a struggling team member.
There’s a great Harvard Business Review article that I’ve linked in the show notes on this, but here’s the thing. At work, you don’t need a family. You need a team of trusted, high-performing colleagues that can get things done in a psychologically safe environment. Now I don’t know about you, but that does not describe most of the families I have seen in action.
A tool you can use that many families use, though, to help create that environment, is tradition, or ritual. Rituals mark time and create moments. They provide anchors for us individually and collectively. In the United States, we are lousy with rituals! High school graduations, bachelor/bachelorette parties, first day of school photos, singing the national anthem at sporting events, watching fireworks on the 4th of July, winning the Superbowl and going to Disneyland!
These are all rituals that help bring us together and reassure us that all is right in the world. In fact, I think that’s partly why the early responses to COVID were so disruptive is that we lost many of our rituals.
In this episode, the Federation is fighting a losing war. People are dying and it is hard. Sisko and his crew ended up starting a ritual that provides an anchor for everyone, and helps bring them together. “Just a ritual we fell into.” 1:36 This is made more powerful at the end of the episode when Dax continues the ritual and the crew responds warmly to it. Despite the change in leadership, they still had ritual to cling to.
What rituals do you and your teams have? One that we have followed since before I came on board and will last long after I leave is our annual Winter celebration. We call it the Right Family Holiday. Everyone brings a gift, and the goal is for it to be a terrible gift. We have a Chia pet, I’m assuming we all remember chia pets, that has kept showing up since before I started working with this group. So, you bring an awful gift, that is subject to re-gift the following year, and we all sit in a circle, holding our gift. Then someone reads the Right Family Holiday story. Every time the narrator says the word right, you pass the gift you are holding to your right. Every time they say left, you pass it to the left. Super simple, and a lot of fun. Whatever gift you end up with is yours to do with as you please, but the gift isn’t the important part. It’s the laughter, the camaraderie, the shared experience. It’s the ritual of it that’s important.
I would love to hear about the rituals you maintain. Visit starfleetleadership.academy and send me a message or click that mic on the bottom right and record your story.
Hey, let’s talk about something simple for a change. Trust! Trust is something we have talked about a lot on this podcast, probably because it’s one of the most important things a leader, or anyone, can focus on and build. In past episodes we’ve talked about how to build trust, how to shortcut your way to short-term trust and, maybe more often than anything else, the importance and necessity of trust. But in this episode, we get to see it in action.
Sisko and Dax have a long-standing relationship that has actually covered two lifetimes for Dax, in both Curzon and Jadzia. Their trust is deep and has been tested. Early in the episode, when Sisko and Ross are strategizing, Sisko has a bold plan that will basically defy the laws of astrophysics if they pull it off. Ross is skeptical, but Sisko doesn’t even hesitate, “What makes you think you can do it? Dax studied these.” 8:38 She says she can do it, she can do it. End of discussion. Love it!!
(Meditative) I want you, for just a minute, to imagine this. You are Dax and Sisko is your manager. You talk about a task or project or prospect or whatever happens in your line of work and you have an exciting and innovative idea. Because you’ve worked together you pitch it and they say they’ll consider it. Next day, your manager comes by and says they’re going forward with your idea.
How do you feel? In that moment, when your off the wall, anti-industry practice idea is not only implemented, but without you having to jump through a bunch of hoops and justify your thinking. Just, <<make it so.>> I don’t know about you, but I would feel like I could fly! I would feel invincible!
Now, imagine if your entire could feel that way. What could you accomplish?? It’s a lot to consider and it’s wild to think of how powerful this could be. And that all has to happen is to have established trust, and then have your manager, leader, liaison, or whomever pitches the ideas to the decision makers to share your ideas, as your ideas, to them.
A thing I so love about this moment is that it’s completely in private! Nothing performative here, just someone trusting a colleague and giving them full credit. Ah!! If people could just do this, what a world we’d be living in, right??
It doesn’t end here. In fact, as I think about it, when Admiral Ross decided to have Sisko become his adjutant, I’ll bet that moment validated this was the right move. Dax is brilliant, she’s trusted and the Defiant will be in good hands. But he does check, one more time, giving Sisko that chance to share whatever he wants, “She’s up to it, isn’t she? Oh, absolutely.” 14:21 Sisko, on the positive side, could have shared whatever concerns he had about Dax’s command abilities or whatever, but, on the malicious side, he could have totally thrown her under the bus to hold on to his job. Instead, again, totally in private, he gave her a full endorsement and a vote of confidence. So cool!
And this is even more powerful as we see Sisko’s struggle with his new role. He was commander of Deep Space 9 and the Dominion took that from him. He was captain of the Defiant, and Admiral Ross has taken that from, and while he’s happy to help the war effort however he can, this is a dramatic change for him. In the few seconds we get of Worf in this episode, which was really just to remind us that he and Dax are getting married at some point, but in those few seconds, he picks up on Sisko’s feelings. “But I sense this is more difficult for you.” 32:39
First, great on Worf to pick up on that and to say something about it. But it also lays the foundation for a feeling and struggle a lot of leaders experience. Remember earlier when I said our workplace is not our family? Well, here’s one of the reasons why I say that. People leave. You will leave, you’ve probably already left some teams and places. And that’s a good thing. We should be growing and developing which often means promoting or changing up companies. It’s very natural and good. But it can also be hard.
One of my first management gigs was an assistant manager at a movie theatre. I had promoted from staff member to manager, which is an entire other topic, for another episode: transitioning from team member to manager. We’ll get there soon, I’m sure.
But, in my role as assistant manager I built relationships with all the people I worked with. I wrote the schedule, which, if you are a schedule writer, I will pray to whatever deity you choose for you…that is a rough and often thankless job! But I had to build trusting relationships with people so I could ask them to make sacrifices or choices to help me build the schedule. I mean, we’ve all been here, right? It’s Saturday at 10am and someone on the schedules calls out? I was usually pretty successful calling someone in to cover because I had built relationships with the team.
But then, one day I got the call. I was offered a promotion to general manager of a different location. I was excited but it was a bittersweet celebration. I loved working with this team and I had to say good-bye. Now, fast forward, even a few weeks or months after the change and it was all good, but it wasn’t easy. Sisko is in the middle time, between loss and acceptance.
He had a thing I did not, and, it wouldn’t surprise me to hear that you didn’t have either. He had a supportive and mentoring manager in Admiral Ross. Ross understands this transition and helped Sisko through it. When Dax was leading the mission that Sisko and Ross had planned, he was restless, pacing, waiting to hear any update. Ross encouraged him to take care of himself and reminded him that he was in a different role now. “I know how you feel about your crew but we are responsible for thousands of lives.” 33:37 This is important. He validates what Sisko is experiencing but then points him towards the reality of the situation.
So how do you do it? How do you leave a team on Friday and then start with a new one on Monday knowing you’ll likely never see or work with the other team again? Let’s do the easy part first. The work-related, operational part. I don’t want to minimize this, but it’s honestly pretty easy if you’ve been leading your team well and communicating with them. But there are 3 things you need to ensure happen to prepare your team for a successful transition.
First, tell them. Communicate the news. You can do this one-on-one, in a group setting, how ever best fits your team and your relationships. Second, remind them, as appropriate, that they are capable. Whomever is coming in to replace you won’t pick up right where you left, so the team will need to sustain itself for awhile. Build them up so they are confident doing that. And finally, ask them what they need before you go. This includes wrapping up anything you were working on for them, or at least setting it up so it continue in your absence.
Or, you can just bail. I mean, it’s an option, but the fact you’re listening to this podcast tells me you’re better than that.
Now, how do you handle the emotional impact of this? Like a lot of things in our lives, the emotions never change, we just get better at working with them. Public speaking, delivering bad news, dealing with loss…never easy, we just have more experience with them. Me leaving that team, nearly 25 years ago, compared to me leaving now, are still emotional experiences for me. I’m just more familiar with the emotions and have worked with them before.
Probably the most important thing you can do is simply acknowledge the feeling. Don’t hide it, don’t suppress it. Just acknowledge it and let it be. If you have a mentor, this is absolutely something to talk through with them. Also know, that whatever emotion you’re feeling is entirely valid.
To dive in a little on that point, when I was promoted to GM, I felt excitement, validation and loss. This was a promotion I wanted and a cost I had, at least academically, known I would have to pay. Years later, when I was working for a massive, public sector organization, I managed a program that was housed in Human Resources even though it had next to nothing to do with HR work. My boss and the HR Director called me into meeting, which wasn’t uncommon, but in this one they were talking about me taking my boss’s position. I was asking questions and approaching this like it was a professional development chat. Eventually, the Director cut me off and said, ‘I think you misunderstand us. This is your new assignment. You start next week.’ My boss had been appointed to a position by the governor and they were shifting people around to cover.
Now this was a promotion I did NOT want. I had no desire to move into HR proper. But, like Sisko, this was my new reality. So in this case, I felt anger, betrayal and loss. What’s important in this is, is that the feelings are valid and I acknowledged them.
Second is to remember your role as manager. As leaders we serve others and prepare them to do amazing things. As long as you have been doing the work around this, developing skills, building confidence, instilling empowerment and accountability, know they will be ok. Your role is to serve, and you have to keep in mind that others can also serve.
Finally, express to the people on the team, and the team itself, how you feel about them. Keep it positive! But let them know how you have felt working with them. Maybe share and talk about shared experiences. As I say all this it really makes me think about closure. Say the things to the people on the team, and the entire team, that, 5 years down the road you’d be kicking yourself if you didn’t say.
The process I’ve developed over the years for this is to write it out. Some people journal, that’s not me, but if you do, this would be a great journal topic. Me? I write a letter. Sometimes I send it as I’m heading out the door, sometimes I just save it in a folder for myself. But the act of writing out your feelings for the team and shared experiences is very cathartic. It can also help provide some structure, if that’s helpful for you, when you talk to your team.
So, sticking to the 3-step process model in this one, acknowledge what you are feeling, remember your role and that other can serve as well, and share your feelings and experiences with the team.
The harsh reality of this, and any loss, really, is that time has a way of smoothing over these emotional moments for us. Like I said earlier, just a few weeks later, I had fully embraced my new team, and you will too. As soon as you dive into your new role, work and time kind of take over. So know you will be ok. Feel what you feel and keep showing up and you will be ok.
And it doesn’t hurt anything if you have a great boss or mentor. We rarely have a lot of influence over who our boss is, but we can find a mentor. You can do that all on your own and I cannot encourage that enough. In fact, if you have heard nothing else in this entire episode, hear this: get a mentor! Because a mentor can help with all of these steps just like we see Admiral Ross do. Sisko’s story in this episode ends with Ross validating his feelings, celebrating his work as Captain of the Defiant, and then gently moving him back to the tasks at hand. “They’re a good crew. Now let’s get back to work.” 42:00
I want to hear about the rituals you and your teams maintain! Visit starfleetleadership.academy and send me a message or use that mic in the bottom right of the screen to share your story!
You can also share with me on social media! I’m on Twitter: @ SFLA podcast and most of the other social media, @jefftakin Jeff, t as in “Take a good look at this…” 0:55, a k i n.
Computer, what are we going to watch next time….
Oh, this is exciting! On September 8, 1966 the world was introduced to Star Trek in what is technically the 5th episode of the 1st season of the Original Series, The Man Trap. And, my friends, that is what we are watching! It’s the salt sucker episode! Early TOS episodes are always fascinating to me and I’m excited to watch this one through the Starfleet Leadership Academy lens!
Until then, Ex Astris Scientia!