In this article, we’ll continue exploring my learnings on the topic of management and leadership. I tried to write these articles in a way that they can be consumed independently but needless to say, I would highly recommend starting with Part 1 - Managing Individuals if you haven't read it already.
With that out of the way, let’s look at managing teams!
The high-performing team
Let’s start with the end goal in mind. I like to think of a high-performing team as an environment where people feel safe to experiment, make mistakes, learn, support each other, and grow together. That combined with a predictable cadence of solid delivery is what a dream team looks like to me.
You can have a team of amazing individuals but if they cannot work together it’s all for nothing. A high-performing team needs to be capable of more than the sum of its parts. In one word - synergy!
You are responsible for everything
As a manager, your team’s performance is your responsibility. If your team is not delivering, it’s on you. If people are leaving at an abnormal rate, it’s on you. Take full ownership! This may sound a bit scary but I hope by the end of reading this article you will feel empowered and excited about this.
I am a big fan of creating a written document that everyone can reference where you can help the team co-create their own rules and guidelines. You can kickstart that discussion by clarifying the roles and responsibilities of each member of the team. This also includes folks that are part of the team but you are not managing directly. Finally, make sure the team understands clearly what they own.
After that dive into creating your team agreements. I call those team cultural decisions. Don’t worry, you won’t get this perfect on the first try and that is normal. From now on your team will continuously update and add to that document each time all of you learn something new.
Learning should happen frequently. A great tool to promote that is doing retrospectives. Personally, I love them and I think they are a must for any high-performing team. I don’t really mind the format. There are plenty of articles out there a google search away. Just make sure they are present in some form or another.
Provide a vision
Next up, as a manager, it is your responsibility to make sure your team understands the “why” behind the work they are doing. Mentioning this once is not enough. You need to reinforce this over and over. Everyone wants to work on things that matter and knowing the “why” makes the work meaningful.
I would also recommend getting yourself and your team closer to the customers. This can be done in multiple ways. My favorite ones are shadowing someone from CS and interacting with the customers directly if that is possible. Understand how your team’s work brings value to your customers.
Last but certainly not least, make sure the work your team is doing is aligned with the company’s vision and direction. You want to be rowing in the same direction.
Another part you should be closely involved in is planning. You need to not only represent your team and their needs but also involve them in the process. They are the experts and they know best what needs to be done in their area of expertise. Listen carefully and make sure you understand their concerns and suggestions.
For example, I am an Engineering Manager and I work closely with people from other departments to create a common roadmap. As a representative of the Engineering department, I am going to advocate for the technical work that the team needs to do in order for the business to succeed. Each department will do the same and represent its needs. After a good deal of discussions, negotiating and alignment, we’ll come up with a shared roadmap that is aligned with the company’s goals.
When the roadmap is finalized it is important to come back to your team and communicate it clearly. Talk about the work that was prioritized but also the one that wasn’t. You need to ensure your team understands the “why” behind the decisions that were made.
As we mentioned at the beginning of this article, your team's delivery is your responsibility. This doesn’t mean you have to do the work yourself. On the contrary, it is your job to help your team acquire the necessary skills by training or sometimes even hiring in order to do the job at hand. By now responsibilities and expectations should be clear. It is on you as the manager to hold people accountable.
At times you will need to get your hands dirty and do some of the work yourself. That is okay, just make sure you pair with someone and spread the knowledge. You don’t want to become the bus factor.
Next up, I would like to introduce to you Tuckman’s work on stages of team development. In a nutshell, every team goes through different phases. Namely, Forming, Storming, Norming, and Performing. There is no lack of articles written on the topic so I would highly encourage you to dive deeper. Your job as a manager is to facilitate your team moving as smoothly as possible through those phases.
Finally, don’t forget to experiment and try different things out. Although people try to make this a science, it’s more of an art in my mind. Keep the things that work for your team and remove the ones that don’t.
Visibility of your team’s work
It is on you to make your team’s work visible and inform relevant stakeholders. How you do that will depend on your company so I won’t dive into specifics. You need to be your team’s number one advocate. Give credit where credit is due. Help your team to get recognized and celebrate those wins!
When it comes to the things that didn’t go so well, make sure those are also communicated clearly. I like to stay in a growth mindset and focus on the things the team learned and the steps you took or will take to prevent similar issues from happening in the future.
You want to make sure that people support each other. If someone is stuck they should let the team know. Their peers on the other hand should volunteer to help and make sure to unblock that person. Encourage and praise coaching, mentoring, and co-creating. Last but not least, create a safe space for everyone to share feedback with each other.
Not everything is processes, rules, and guidelines. We are all human and ultimately want to connect and feel at least some sense of belonging. After all, 40h per week is a lot of time to spend with people you don’t know or like.
Regardless if you are remote or not, as a manager you need to organize team-building events. Those can be in the form of playing games, dining out, or doing a challenge together. There are plenty of ideas on the internet for things you can do with your team. Do not neglect the importance of those activities and do your best to create a place where people are excited to go to work!
I said this in part 1 but I will also repeat it here. This is in no way an exhaustive list but simply a good starting point for managing teams. Next up, I will cover what comes beyond managing individuals and teams.
Hopefully, at least someone can find value in reading this article.
Keep a growth mindset and take care!