In my last blog post, I talked about the different success factors that ensure a team works well (link). As announced, I am today focusing on another very important aspect of this topic: The role of managers. What can they do to help foster good collaboration between team members? And what are the potential stumbling blocks that they need to watch out for?
In my last blog post, I wrote in detail about just how important a team’s self-motivation and sense of togetherness are for its success. If you continue along this line of thought, some people may ask themselves: Why is a boss even needed? Based on my many years of experience as a line manager and coach, my view of this matter is crystal clear: A manager has a vital role to play.
Employees need room for maneuver in order to develop – but they also need guidelines and a clear objective, and they need to be shown enough appreciation for them to feel satisfied and be successful. And they get this from their manager – or the employee and manager can at least develop them together (objective). As you can tell, I am not a great advocate of self-leading teams. My years of experience as a boss, a team member and now also as a coach who observes these situations have shown me what people need and how they can achieve optimal performance.
Show appreciation and support employee development
How can a manager contribute to the success of his team?
- Show appreciation: EVERYONE needs to be shown appreciation, attention and some kind of affection – we can’t survive without them. In the 13th century, the Holy Roman Emperor Frederick II carried out an experiment that proved this theory in the cruelest possible way: He had new-born babies fed, while being denied any attention or affection – either physical or verbal. The children all died. Man does not live on water and bread alone. People want to be noticed and to feel as if they belong. As a manager, you should therefore show what matters to you in terms of your employees, give them feedback (positive and negative), and celebrate successes together. This has a unifying force. As the motto says: “It was only possible to achieve this as a team!” You can find out more about the key topic of appreciation in an earlier blog post:https://www.stressandbalance.ch/en/2019/11/12/underappreciating-appreciation-as-a-manager/.
- Treat employees as individuals: People are different – depending on their experiences, character, personality traits and level of self-esteem. They should therefore also be treated individually in order to perform at their best. As I wrote previously, all people need appreciation – but to differing degrees. And how many guidelines do your people need – some less, some more? Deploy people according to their strengths, since eliminating weaknesses takes much more energy and is less effective.
- Selection criteria: When selecting team members, attention must not only be paid to the professional skills of individuals. It is also important to have team players who have communication skills, are self-motivated and place the interests of the entire group before their own personal wellbeing. You should also make sure that there is no major difference in performance between team members. However, the abilities and characteristics of team members should very. The ideal composition of a team is a balanced mix of professionals who assume the role of advisors, creative types, go-getters and organizers, all of whom complement each other. Diversity (in various respects) is a source of momentum.
- Enabling instead of commanding: In the past, managers simply gave orders, and employees had to implement them. Fortunately, this practice is now outdated, as it reduces motivation and personal responsibility. Instead, you should empower, develop and coach your employees – in other words: make them stronger. People want to be involved and to advance; you can and should encourage this. This investment will pay off for you and your people. Unfortunately, studies show that the scores that managers award themselves tend to be too positive in this respect – they rate themselves better than employees do. Think about what your employees would say about you in this regard.
Feeling of togetherness and an efficient organization
- Good team culture: In the last blog, I pointed out that a constructive error culture can play a significant role in fostering innovation and driving continuous improvements. As Thomas Watson, the founder of IBM, aptly said: “If you want to increase your success rate, double your failure rate.” As a manager, you have a significant influence over whether mistakes are tolerated within a team (ideally in an entire company) and how best to act when errors actually occur. It is best to start with yourself. I had great experiences as a boss when I admitted to my employees from time to time that I don’t know something or can’t do everything myself. At the same time, employees are happy if you share your knowledge with them and encourage all team members to do the same.
- Joint activities: As briefly mentioned in my blog post, a good team culture is also fostered by engaging in joint activities outside the office, from something as simple as meeting for drinks to a larger team event (e.g. a workshop or simply a shared experience). When you know each other better, you are more likely to trust each other. Activities such as this should therefore be planned on a regular basis.
- Shared goals, values and rules: As I explained last time, shared goals, values and rules (e.g. punctuality) are very important for the success of a team. This is another area where you can play an important part as a leader: You ensure clarity (one of the most important keywords in this context) and act as a moderator and mediator. Many managers make the mistake of focusing only on actual efficiency, performance and competition within their area. However, this does not promote the motivation and drive of employees; in fact, it is more likely to reduce it. Employees must see that there is a purpose to their work and develop a sense of togetherness.
- Communication: Think about the information that employees require and what they do not need. It is possible that they don’t all require the same information. Be as transparent as possible and also say if something is still unclear. This prevents misinterpretation. Don’t just think about factual information but also about things that are personally important to employees: The birth of a child, birthdays, illness in the family, etc.
- Help to prevent and resolve conflicts: Keep your eyes and ears open to see where disputes are festering. Encourage your employees to discuss and resolve them (with you acting as mediator if necessary). In this way, problems are eliminated more quickly, and everyone can focus their energy on moving forward again. If, however, it is not possible to resolve difficulties and conflicts due to troublemakers or pessimists, then my advice is clear: Remove them as swiftly as possible, since they are toxic for teams.
- Cleary assign tasks and responsibilities: People need to know where they stand and what exact contribution they can make to achieving specific goals. You should provide clarity about this point. You should also check repeatedly whether the burden of tasks is fairly distributed within the team.
- Efficient processes and meetings: That all sounds so simple that you might say it is logical. But from my experience, I can tell you that many losses of efficiency or productivity occur within teams because processes are not clear or appropriate, a project is not planned properly, or meetings are not prepared well and conducted efficiently. You can find tips on this in an earlier blog post: https://www.stressandbalance.ch/en/2018/04/10/how-can-i-become-more-efficient-part-2/. My experience shows that discussions during meetings are more animated when the boss does not express his or her opinion right from the start and, instead, allows different opinions to be exchanged. As a manager, you should therefore allow others to speak first. Your initial opinion does not always need to be the right one.
- Decision-making: Some bosses make all the decisions by themselves. I have had better experiences when the pros and cons of decisions are discussed within the team. Ideally, the team should work together to find a solution. If this is not the case, it is up to you – as the manager – to reach the decision. After all, you bear responsibility for the matter.
As a manager, you can therefore make a significant contribution to the success of your team. Both soft and hard factors are of decisive importance. For me, managers are like lighthouses – showing the way and thus offering support, while employees are responsible for moving forward, preferably working as a crew. I wish you and your team every success!
© Claudia Kraaz