How to set your team up for success

In this article I discuss some aspects of team management designed to set your teams up for success

Chris Winfield-Blum, MBA
Written by Chris Winfield-Blum, MBA
Published 10 months ago

It is amazing how many business leaders or team managers talk about their teams' failures without reflecting on the possibility that their failures are in fact more of a reflection on them than the team or teams they are leading. In fact, if there is a culture of team failure, and they have worked their way through a number of team compositions then they are most likely one of the few common denominators in the situation.

When I talk about team compositions, you must recognise that any significant change to a team changes that teams composition and the dynamics. That includes, for example;

  • Adding a new team member
  • Removing a team member
  • Promoting a team member
  • Demoting a team member
  • Other factors that may shift the balance of power

These factors can reset the stages of team or group development as described by Tuckman.

So if you're ready to reflect on your own leadership and team management now, here are a handful of factors to consider!

Set clear expectations

This sounds like an obvious thing to say, but from my experience, many leaders expect a high level of "common sense" - but as you have probably heard before; common sense, is unfortunately not particularly common.

I am in no way suggesting you outline every possible scenario or situation, you need to have trust your teams talent, experience and knowledge while having a level of assertiveness to ask questions when it is needed, however, you need to ensure that they understand various aspects of your organisation and the task they are performing.

Organisational values - how to behave

Organisational values provide your team(s) a baseline and focus on making the appropriate decisions in scenarios that they find themselves in.

Policies and procedures - how to work

Policies and procedures give your team a framework from which to work from and refer to at times when organisational values are not enough.

Further, you should put emphasis on self-documentation of common scenarios and processes so that there is consistency across your organisation and team members.

Task detail - how to deliver

Getting into the specifics of the task details, such as understanding stakeholders, timeline expectations, expected quality, challenges and risks are important. Often, however, the most critical aspect often neglected is context. What does this task, you are asking them to deliver, affect your customers and your business?

The first two are relatively self-explanatory but task detail is one aspect I would like to talk about in more detail, especially the context.

If your team understands the importance of their work in relation to your customers and your business, they are more likely to make better decisions. This context that I speak of could and should include answering the below questions for your team members;

  • How will it improve or change your customer's experience with you and their satisfaction in their job?
  • How much revenue is this task likely to generate or money is it like to save?
  • What is the impact and cost of missing the agreed timeline?

A team member who has been provided with the above information is going to; have the appropriate mindset and values to make effective, appropriate decisions, and the context for why this task is important and what it means to all stakeholders for it to be delivered on time, on budget and to expected standards and quality. That is a great start to set your team member up for success.

A simple to understand example of this is where delivery of work that will add a monthly amount of revenue to your organisation. Delays in delivery not only has an affect on revenue and cashflow, but there is an opportunity loss, where your resources could have been working on other paid work.

Give your team the tools to succeed

Tools can be considered a broad definition within the context of setting your team up for success. The above-mentioned values and knowledge could be considered the first "tools" for your team members. However, we should expand on this to include a number of other "tools" including;

  • Critical knowledge and training - for hard-skills this is common of course, you wouldn't ask a plumber to fly and plane and you wouldn't ask a pilot to perform surgery. I strongly suggest you do not neglect soft-skills too when considering your professional development toolkit. Think about soft-skills such as productivity & leadership as examples of education/training that could have a significant impact on your teams' success.
  • Visibility and relevant data - give your team visibility to the highest level of business data possible, including where appropriate financials. Allow them to easily see how a project's progress and momentum and how their tasks will impact on that.
  • Actual tools - consider if your team have the right tools or software to work effectively to meet your expectations. Do they have a way to manage their tasks and collaborate with their fellow team members?

Support your team throughout

Again, I am not suggesting and micro-management or hand-holding here, but you as a leader should be on the lookout for both internal and external factors that may be impacting your team members and either be actively shielding them from them or resetting your expectations based on these unexpected influences.

A great example of this within the context of a software development team is when there is an active project ongoing and there is a critical issue that pulls resources off the project temporarily. You, as their leader, need to understand that this impact will affect delivery. If you can deflect those interruptions to other resources without impacting the customers' experience then you absolutely should do so. If that is not an option, why not take the initiative to communicate your understanding that this interruption may impact on the project.

If you haven't already introduced effective feedback loops into your teams, you should absolutely do this. This is a great way to express your support and encourages you to implement changes to your teams work life, many of which cost little and have huge impacts on job satisfaction and productivity!

Ask them regularly how they are going (I prefer to do this via monthly coffee chats) and ask if there is anything that they need your help with whether it be related to the expectations and tools we mentioned above, or anything else.

Take this opportunity to also restate or set additional expectations for your group and team members, so that they are always clear and fresh for everybody involved.

Let me know what you think below in the comments!

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