So, you’ve been promoted to manager and now you are responsible for a team. Whereas before, you only had to worry about your own work, you are now in charge of an entire project, and every aspect of it as well.
It can seem an overwhelming task, but there are some effective team management strategies that you can employ to make your life easier.
So what exactly is “team management”? For our purposes, we can define it as:
Team management is the ability to organize and coordinate a group of individuals in order to achieve a desired outcome, goal or task.
In the traditional business model, organizations were typically set up in a hierarchy with each person in the organization having a well-defined role and set of responsibilities. In today’s world, organizations are becoming much flatter, with more of an emphasis on cross-functional and cooperative problem solving.
This change in organizational structure also has an impact on team management, management techniques and management strategies. It has become less and less acceptable to this new generation in the workforce to answer to and follow an authoritarian leader. Today’s leader is much more likely to be viewed as a “facilitator” than a traditional team leader.
So, with this new reality in mind, here are 9 effective team management strategies for today’s corporate culture.
1. Establishing and Maintaining Trust
That trust is essential to effective team management should come as a surprise to no one.
Trust is an essential component to any relationship personal or professional. In a group setting, it’s important that the individual members have trust in the leader. Trust to do the right thing, deliver what was promised and to support the individuals on the team.
You can build trust a number of ways including, acknowledging a job well done and pitching in to help when team members struggle.
Similarly as a team leader, you need to be able to trust in the team for much of the same reasons. That they will deliver work on time and in a professional manner. That they share the same goals of both the team and organization and that they will do the “right thing” by the team.
Now, there’s one more aspect of trust that important for team management, and that’s trust between team members.
In order for any team to be effective, the members need to have trust in one another to:
• Deliver on promises
• Put the needs of the team first
• Understand how their individual actions affect the team as a whole
• Be able to count on one another to help each other out
It can take some time to establish trust and the bonds that accompany it. But there are some things you can do to promote it:
• Be tolerant of mistakes. They are bound to happen especially if people are new to the team. Providing an atmosphere that allows team members to admit mistakes without fear of retribution encourages open communication.
• Encourage open communication. Being tolerant of mistakes is a good start however, it takes more than that. Actively seek out input from your team members. Have weekly brainstorming sessions that are completely non-judgmental. Utilize team building exercises.
• Be flexible. Lose the mindset that says we do it this way because we’ve always done it this way. If someone comes up with a better solution and you’re receptive, it will encourage others to come up with better solutions too.
• Be transparent. Nothing kills trust like keeping secrets.
2. Develop Relationships
One of the often-overlooked team management strategies is to develop relationships with those you manage. It’s just a fact of life that people do a better job and work harder for people they like.
Now, we’re not saying that you have to invite them to your house for Sunday dinner. But a beer after work, a lunch or a pizza party where you get to know your team members better is a good start.
And again, this is another area where you want to encourage your team members to develop relationships with one another. Try scheduling team building exercises on a weekly or monthly basis (note: schedule these during work hours, they are work related). Bowling and dart leagues are good too. Really, almost any cooperative team activity can strengthen relationships.
3. Use Team Management Apps and Tools
I recommend using these in any team setting, but they can be especially helpful for “virtual teams” where members are working from remote locations.
Basically, a team management tool is a platform open to everyone on the team. Each member of the team is assigned their task, the progress of which can be followed and monitored. This allows for the team to know exactly where the project stands at any given moment. It’s very useful in pinpointing exactly where problems and bottlenecks are occurring in the system so that corrective action can be taken quickly.
They are also a good way for team members to coordinate their work with one another. If Sally is waiting for John to finish his project but sees that it’s still two weeks out, she can switch her focus, help out with the delay or be assigned a new task.
As you can see, when used properly team management tools can contribute to intergroup communication as well as improve efficiencies.
4. Know How to Retain Your Best Employees
Certainly, money is a motivating factor, but it’s not nearly as high on the list as you may believe, in fact:
Studies have shown that 89 percent of bosses believe employees quit because they want more money. As much as any boss would love this statistic to be true (because it basically pardons any manager from wrongdoing) it’s simply not true. Only 12 percent of employees actually leave an organization for more money.
79 percent of people who quit their jobs cite ‘lack of appreciation’ as their reason for leaving. As the saying goes, people don’t leave companies. They leave bosses.
So, what can we take away from these studies?
First, while no one would argue that money isn’t a factor, it’s not nearly as important as most people think. For most employees and team members, having a positive work environment is much more important.
So, start by creating a supportive atmosphere that encourages participation and rewards initiative. This will go a long way towards employee retention.
5. Know Your Role as a Leader
Good team management strategy requires that you know your role as a leader.
The role of a leader is, by nature dynamic, it changes both situationally and over time. In simple terms, know when to lead and when to step back.
Micromanaging is a nightmare for talented and motivated employees. A large part of job satisfaction is tied into the employee’s “ownership” of their work. Micromanaging stifles creativity and strips ownership from the team member.
Now, that’s not to say that you shouldn’t intervene when problems arise. After all, one of the advantages of the above mentioned team management software is the ability spot issues early before they become major problems.
So, when is it appropriate to step into a situation and when is it okay to leave it alone? While there is no hard and fast rule, a good plan of action is to:
• Inquire – Note, that I didn’t say intervene. The first step is to inquire with the team member to get a better understanding of the nature of the problem. Is it a personal issue, a training issue, too much on their plate?
• Evaluate – Is this a problem that will get worse without intervention? Is it a temporary hiccup?
• Decide on an action – Will shifting a portion of the workload to another team member help? How about letting them take a personal day for issues at home? Or, maybe no action is required which is still an action.
• Monitor – What effect did your decision have on the issue and adjust accordingly.
6. Take Advantage of Other People’s Knowledge and Skill Sets
A good team management strategy is always to use people’s skills and abilities as efficiently as possible. And as a leader, you need to recognize that you aren’t fully aware of everyone’s knowledge base.
The whole point of having a team is to take advantage of the different skill sets each team member has. While this may seem obvious, what many managers forget is that people’s expertise and skill sets can overlap.
For example, when my team set up my latest online product, it didn’t do so well. So, I got everyone in a room to discuss it. As it turned out, it was my mistake. I had let my marketing team set the price points for the product and its various upsells and downsells. My marketing team had never dealt with this type of product before, but the team who built the product had done it many times. It was the programmers who pointed out that the pricing structure was all wrong.
Long story short, we changed the pricing structure and it’s now one of our best-selling products.
So, the moral of the story is that while people do have expertise in a field, don’t discount the fact that their experiences can give them insights that bleed over into other areas.
7. Define Roles Within the Team
We’re not talking job responsibilities like programming, marketing and development. We’re talking about defining roles within the team.
Everyone in a team has a different personality. Some are always “chipper” and are good for morale and rallying the troops. Others are good at keeping things organized and coordinated. Some people have good communication skills while others don’t.
Some roles within the team can include:
• Champion – someone who enjoys promoting ideas, rallying the group, and driving change.
• Creator – someone who enjoys generating ideas, designing solutions, and tackling creative challenges.
• Implementer – someone who is adept at taking charge of the daily work activities and administrative tasks.
• Facilitator – someone who does well managing relationships, both within the team and externally; they are the glue that holds everything together.
Using each person’s unique personality traits will foster cohesiveness and synergy within the team.
8. Set the Example
All the team management strategies in the world are useless unless you set the example.
It seems so obvious that you need to “practice what you preach”, but I’ve seen too many examples of leaders with the attitude of “do what I say, not what I do”.
It doesn’t work for the parent who tells a child not to smoke when they do. And it doesn’t work for a leader who expects others to work late when they don’t.
Leaders also need to show the integrity that they want the team to have. Start by admitting your mistakes when you’re wrong. When interacting with team members, do so with professionalism, dignity and respect.
In short, be the type of team leader who’s worthy of having followers.
9. Provide and Take Feedback
Feedback can be hard, both for the giver and the receiver. But hard doesn’t mean it shouldn’t’ be done.
Feedback is an essential tool for everyone’s professional growth. It allows us to both focus on the areas we need to improve and helps us define our strengths.
So, why is giving or receiving feedback so difficult?
The answer lies in human nature.
For the one receiving the feedback, especially negative feedback, it can feel like a personal attack, and the natural reaction is to get defensive or put up a wall. Neither of which is very helpful for the team, individual and team leader.
For the person giving the feedback, it can be even worse. It’s tough to tell anyone that they need to change or improve. You run the risk of creating an emotional response or even worse, long term resentment that can hurt morale. This is how leaders start to justify attitudes like “it’s not so bad” or “it will get better” that hurt both team and professional growth.
But the real problem arises because the employee is not given a chance to improve. If the employee doesn’t have the chance to improve their performance, it will impact both the results of the team and their career. This is the definition of a failed leadership strategy.
So, we’ve established that both giving and receiving feedback is difficult but, there are some things you can do to make it easier.
• Give them a heads up – “Gary, I’d like to talk with you about that project, would you get the file and meet me”. This lets them know what’s happening and gives them a chance to collect their thought.
• Ask questions first – Avoid the urge to “get it over with” and start by asking questions like “How do you think it’s going, what issues do you see?” This lets them have a chance to give you their perspective.
• Talk about the work, not the person – Telling someone that they have a bad attitude is a guaranteed way to have them shut down and get defensive. But, explaining that there’s a communication issue and here’s what we are going to do to solve it is much less personal.
• Ask them to give you some feedback – This helps with the perceived power imbalance of the interaction, making it more of a two-way street. Ask them what you can do to make their job easier? What do they see as your weaknesses? Do they have any suggestions that they think would be helpful?