Let’s face it: Managing a team can be an enormous stressor. The larger the team, the more likely you are to face interruptions during the workday, meaning delays to your own projects. It’s also likely you work longer hours to make up for that lost time, and maybe you miss important personal events as a result. It’s possible you even feel some resentment toward your staff for their inability to function as effectively as you would like.
What you want is a situation where you value your workers and they have your back. You want everyone, including yourself, to get along and look forward to the challenges of each day.
This kind of harmony is not impossible, but it takes time. It really starts at the hiring process when you bring on a new team member. There’s an expression, “Hire slow, fire quickly,” and I find it’s an apt phrase. Why? Because often the hiring process is rushed; who has time to read hundreds of resumes, schedule calls and interview people? Depending on the company, sometimes HR can take on the initial interviews, but certain important key hires will still take your involvement at some level. In my process, the final interview is the one with me personally after my team has vetted and likes the candidate they are passing on.
So, really set aside time for the hiring process. I can usually scan a resume within a few seconds to determine if a candidate has the qualifications, and then decide whether to read more. If they’ve personalized their resume and a cover letter, that to me is a good sign they are serious about applying. Make a shortlist.
If you work in a cube farm, schedule each interview in a boardroom or find a private space. In addition to learning about the candidate’s work experience, ask yourself if they will “fit in” with the work culture.
Work culture is the character and personality of your organization. It’s important because this person needs to work well with not only you, but your department’s other team members as well. Check references, and be sure to ask for examples of out-of-the-box thinking and situations where the candidate went the extra mile.
Next, take the time to know all your team members as individuals. I’m not just referring to their spouses and kids’ names, but by performing your own personality assessments. There are many courses that explain this in detail, but what it boils down to is this: Everyone responds differently to work stimuli. Some people need to feel unique and special; others seek knowledge and understanding. Some will only play by the rules, while others thrive on the risks. Understanding each of your team members’ personalities will directly affect the way you interact with them, and how they respond.
For instance, let’s say there’s a problem that directly affects one of your staff, Jessica. You tell her exactly how to solve the problem. Jessica tells you, “OK,” but inside she’s seething. She wanted to be challenged to solve this herself; she didn’t want it spelled out by you. However, if you had this conversation with Carl, another member of your team, Carl would have been very happy to be provided with the solution. In fact, it’s ideal for him, as now he knows he’s filling management’s expectations.
Managers should play to people’s skill sets, too. A report by Gallup shows that employees who use their strengths every day are more productive and are 15% less likely to quit their jobs. These same people are also more likely to strongly agree that they like what they do each day.
However, in today’s work environment, you often hear of people being asked to work “outside their comfort zones.” Be very careful how often you ask your team members to stretch.
Your people took their original positions because that’s what fulfilled them; asking them to continuously do work outside their normal area of expertise may make them feel uncomfortable. It may eventually work against you, causing team members to become uncertain of their futures, and make them more likely to complain to others.
The key to all this is remembering that not everybody is like you; managers who have built successful teams understand this and are proactive in their approach to every individual. That’s why you may sometimes hear a manager say, “I have just the right person for this,” when tasked with a certain project or situation.
Most successful managers also determine objectives for their teams. Don’t be vague; make them measurable. For example, instead of writing, “Increase client base by end of year,” you might write, “Increase client base by 10% by end of year.” That way there’s no room for misunderstanding.
Once this is done, ask yourself: Are there efficient processes in place to set my team members up for success? Does the team have the resources they need? Get your people to weigh in too. Then fix any roadblocks. You may need to develop new procedures.
Now, perhaps there are still problems. Maybe a team member’s bad attitude is affecting the morale of others. This is where the “fire quickly” comes in. This doesn’t mean instantly. Maybe there’s something you were unaware of that you can work to address, or maybe the problems are personal. Allow time for your team member to fix it, but document the conversation, and be sure to act if things don’t improve. Terminating an employee is a stressful situation, but sometimes it’s necessary for the smooth functioning of the department.
Remember, your team will look to you for leadership. You can have a smooth-functioning team by hiring the right people, being clear on expectations and playing to each individual’s strengths. By doing this, and ensuring they have the resources they need to do their jobs well, you will have set your department up for continued success.