It’s an unavoidable experience—everyone becomes a team leader at some point. Some thrive on it, and others avoid it like the plague, but there will always be at least one time in a person’s life when they are looked upon for guidance by a group. For those of us who are deathly afraid of ever sitting in the driver’s seat, or for those who are looking to improve their team-managing ability, I’ve compiled a small list of tips that I think are really important to any good manager.
1. Command your team’s respect
This is a biggie. If you fail at everything else as a manager, at least have the respect of your team. A team leader’s “power”, if you will, the strength of his or her influence—it is based upon how much your team wants to work for you. Gone are the good ol’ days where a boss could pull out a whip if he or she felt that work was moving too slowly. Nope, nowadays, a manager needs to command the respect of the team if he or she hopes to get work done efficiently. It makes perfect sense: if a team doesn’t respect you, they will begrudge doing the tasks that you request of them, they will chafe harder under criticism, and be less gratified by praise. They will question your judgements and undermine your influence over the others.
However, you can’t just be respected—you have to earn it. There are many, many ways to gain people’s respect. However, one of the easiest ways to do this is to get your teammates to like you. People do this in different ways. Personally, I find the most efficient way is to just be friendly, down-to-earth and to smile. Refrain from criticizing your teammates harshly in public. Even if you don’t like a certain person that much, make an effort to be at LEAST cordial. Be fair, and respect your teammates’ ideas. Give credit when credit is due, and be honest about your own mistakes (as well as those of others!)
Another way to gain peoples’ respect is to work hard. Show how strongly you are committed. Be the first one in to work and the last one out. You should be the hardest-working member of the team—after all, you are the leader, which makes you largely responsible for the project’s success. Although you want people to notice you working hard, don’t paint yourself as a martyr, because frankly, that gets annoying. People will notice when you’re busting your butt without you trumpeting it from on high.
2. Be organized
Organization is another essential aspect of an effective manager’s repertoire. The manager is responsible for delegating work to the team members. Without a clear, unobstructed view of what needs to be done, the manager is going to have a tough time doing this effectively. As a leader, the checklist is your friend. The itinerary is your amigo. Goals are your dear bosom buddies. Always, always, ALWAYS have a plan, because, as the old adage goes, if you fail to plan, you plan to fail. Have a clear idea of
• Where you’re going
• Why you’re going there
• What individual tasks must be accomplished to get there
• How they will get done
• Who is responsible for each of those tasks
• When they are going to get done by
Being organized obviously increases efficiency, because you’re not wasting time trying to figure out what the heck is going on. As we probably all have experienced, projects are often a race against time, so the less time you squander on organizational details, the more time you can invest in improving the quality of your product. As a bonus, being well-organized (i.e. always knowing what’s going on and what needs to happen) makes you seem highly competent and thus helps you to garner respect from your teammates. Score!
3. Take advantage of the individual strengths of your teammates
An effective team manager knows about the strengths and weaknesses of each team member and plays off of them to maximize the output of the team. For example, I’m not a detail-oriented person, so what I like to do in any sort of big project is to find someone who is detail-oriented to consult with. This person helps me to plan out all the little steps needed along the way.
Properly utilizing the strengths of your team members is not hard at all. All it takes is a little observation. Although some just have that intuition and can figure out a person’s personality and characteristics after just a short conversation, most need a little more help. If you’re not gifted at reading people, I suggest taking an inventory of team members’ strengths at the start of a new project. If you don’t already know them, ask them what they’re good at. It’s simple, direct and effective. The question may be a little off-putting for some, but in the end, I’ve found that it generally has a positive effect—it makes people think that you care about them, and generally, they respond better because of that. Whether you actually care about them or not... well, that’s up to you.
In addition to taking advantage of your team’s strengths, you should try not to coddle their weaknesses. Ideally, by working with you, people should become better than they were before. Of course, this is easier said than done. In the hustle and rush of meeting deadlines and such, it’s rather difficult to find time and space to cultivate peoples' weaknesses. It is the hallmark of a masterful team leader to be at once a manager and a teacher.
4. Emotional Management
My fourth tip is definitely the hardest to master. In group work, the sailing is very rarely smooth throughout. Some people are lazy, some are overbearing. Some have conflicting ideas. Some just straight-up don’t like each other. And, lucky for you, as group manager, you get to deal with all of this. Let me start out by saying that managing emotions well is very difficult. I definitely haven’t mastered it yet. But from what I’ve learned and experienced, as a manager, the best course to take is that of the diplomat. You want to negotiate, to compromise, to placate. Make everyone in the group as happy as you possibly can get them, because you run the risk of impaired group productivity when half of your team isn’t speaking to the other half.
One very important thing to note is that you shouldn’t be afraid of conflict, because it will happen. Instead, recognize it, accept it, and work to resolve it. To this purpose, I’d like to expound upon the values of the open dialogue. Before you start running for the hills, hear me out. They really work. Often, if you give someone a chance to vent their bottled-up frustration, they calm down a lot; if they get an apology from the one that caused their grievance, nine times out of ten all will be forgiven and their relationship will be stronger than before. But nothing will happen if you don’t initiate. Many people are too shy to confront others out of the blue; by setting up a dialogue, you’re creating an environment where it’s easier for your teammates to express their feelings.
If you`re going to be managing your teammates` emotions, it logically follows that you must control your own. It’s fine to be angry, frustrated or tired, and it’s fine to express what you`re feeling... in a constructive way. You don’t have to keep all your feelings bottled up for the group’s sake, but blowing up on one of your teammates is probably not a good idea either. Find the happy medium is all I can say—I can`t tell you how to best manage your feelings.
Effective team management is a nebulous thing at best. There are many different aspects of your behaviour to consider, many different personal styles of management, and hours and hours of practice involved. I’ve put down some tips that I think will serve you well regardless of the way that you go about team management. I’m definitely not a grandmaster of team managing, but I I’ve had a decent amount of experience, and hopefully, I’ve passed some of my experience on to you.
MATTHEW HO (his friends call him Matt) was an intrepid Impact in-office intern (i.e., a Four-I's) along with Pretty, William, Imran and Wendy in August 2008. Outside of his office life, and in addition to saving the world by night, he is heading into grade 12 (as of August 2008) at Sir Winston Churchill Secondary in Vancouver, taking IB (which is and always will be much better in all aspects than AP ;). His other interests (when he has time to indulge in them) include sports, music, student government. He also is a Shad Carleton 2008 alumus.
Image courtesy of user "zappowbang" at Flickr.com via Creative Commons License.