How to manage a team (four key concepts)

Many new leaders wonder how to manage a team. It requires a unique set of skills, patience, and charisma, and it’s not for everyone. In my short career I’ve led teams in multiple ways; however, while I haven’t led a formal team in the workplace, I have seen firsthand how my own manager leads the team I participate in, and I’ve learned more from that experience than I could have in a dozen books on the topic. I’ve seen four solid pillars for a good team management structure-autonomy, communication, equal footing, and capable leadership.

  • Give autonomy-When managing a team, it is important to remember that you are not the one who should be completing all of the work. That’s why you have a team. Set expectations for the team members (and let them set expectations for what they need from you), and then get out of the way. When people are given the autonomy to complete their work, they generally have more satisfaction in the completed product. Remember, you lead/manage, they do the work.
  • Communicate up and down-Providing short, factual feedback is one of the best ways to keep the team motivated and performing. I’ve seen so many teams fail not because they were not made up of capable workers, but because the team leader failed to provide feedback for course corrections, confirmation of satisfactory work, or any other purpose. It’s also important for the individuals on the team to provide feedback to the manager on what they need to be successful, whether it be resources, manpower, or even downtime to rest and recuperate. A note for both managers and team members: don’t assume the other party knows what you need!
  • Equal footing-This is one my manager does well. The departmental team is made up of different functions, but none of us think of ourselves as superior to one another. The administrative assistant has the same vote as the HR guy or the accounting staff. While the work we do is different, we each provide a valuable service to the organization, and there’s no way (or reason, really) to determine which is the most important function. A good example of this is a recent team interview. One of the candidates looked good on paper, but one of our team members did not feel comfortable with bringing the guy on board, so he was crossed off the list. Each of us has the veto power if we feel like the decision is not going to be good for the team.
  • Lead whenever possible-This is a tricky one to describe, but it’s also the piece of this that I’ve come to realize is most important. Many managers feel the need to use their position’s power to tell others what to do. A great manager not only offers to help, but they actually will step in and do the work if need be. That is the best definition and example of leadership that I know of.Not only are they stepping down from the “management pedestal” to do the work of the team, they are also demonstrating the concept above that each person is on equal footing. Sure, a manager can tell you to go do something and they have the authority to make you do it, but a good one will work with you to minimize the discomfort of an unpleasant task or help you to be excited about completing it, even if you were dreading the activity previously.

Is this list complete? Most certainly not. However, it’s a great start, and I’m learning new ideas every day for how to manage a team well.

Have an idea of your own to share? Feel free to leave a comment!