I once asked a new manager what she thought of her newly acquired role as the leader of a small team and she replied that it was ‘a little bit like trying to fill a box with kittens because, it could be a lot of fun, but also for every three cats you got to be where you wanted them to be, one would jump out and hide under the sofa.’ Managing a team is not some sort of magical ability; it requires a considered and planned approach.
The first thing you need to remember about your own team is that the reason it sometimes feels as if you are herding cats is because they are human beings. Wonderful, frustrating, fantastic, irrational, creative human beings, and that is something that as their manager, you need not only to accept, you need to embrace it and build on it.
Teams are made up of individuals
Teams are made up of individuals, so part of the skill of dealing with them is to ensure that you meet the individual needs of the members as much as practically possible. That said, there are some things that all teams will respond well to unless you have a serious issue with toxic members or some other large problem. If you do, clearly you need to address that particular elephant in the room first, but assuming you don’t have a major problem, here are a few tips that should help you manage your team:
- Recognise and reward good work. If you look back over our blogs, you will see we often mention the importance of job satisfaction. Part of this is recognising the efforts your team make to hit targets and keep the job rolling. A kind word, a little thank you, and maybe the occasional public demonstration of appreciation goes a long way.
- Communication is a two-way street, so keep talking. The best way to make a small issue a big problem is to let it fester, so make sure your team know you are accessible and will listen. This is also true of good ideas and sharing good practice. The team that talks is the team that works well together, so keep the lines of communication running in both directions.
Authenticity is important to your team
- Authenticity is important to your team. Be you as well as being a manager because the team will work much better for a person than a goal. Being yourself does not mean you need to lose your authority as a manager, though (see the next point for why).
- Set suitable boundaries and stick by them. If you want to be a manager, you will need the authority to lead. When you make a decision, consult first if it is needed, then act. Dithering doesn’t help, particularly if you need to make an unpopular decision. Acknowledge it is unpopular but act and move on. Good team leaders tend to have clear boundaries.
Earn respect through actions
- Do not try and bluff, earn respect through actions. You cannot demand respect you must earn it. One of the main causes of dissatisfaction for employees is the belief that their managers make decisions without proper understanding. Lead by example, and recognise when you don’t have the understanding you need.
- Challenge problems and foster positive relationships to keep things ticking along. If you never let a problem build, it will not become a problem, so if you see the potential for an issue, you need to act. On the other end of the scale, when things are going great, foster what is working and never sit on your laurels.
- Don’t do politics! Do not get involved in workplace political manoeuvring and certainly never do gossip.
- Trust the team and let them work. They know what they are doing, usually better than you do because it is their job day in and day out, so let them do it. Your job is management not doing theirs for them, and delegation and trust show you have faith in your team to get the job done.
A good manager invests in their team members and genuinely wants them to do well. The new manager I mentioned at the beginning of this blog then went on to tell me how wonderful her team were and how proud she was of them. I think she will be a great manager because getting those cats in the box was something she clearly really enjoyed.