Seven Team Leadership Hacks Part 3

5. If you think you’re talking too much, imagine how your team must feel.

Leadership is all about influencing your team to achieve its objectives. In most cases, where you have inherited a team, it is more than likely going to include at least one (usually more) members that you probably wouldn’t have hired. They may not share your work ethic, or have the level of experience you’d prefer. Sometimes, you just plainly may not like them! The challenge then begins around how, and how much, you choose to communicate with your team to get the best out of them.

One of the great operational benefits of a team can be the diverse experiences and styles they bring to the table. Some will be great at numbers, others excel at sales, and so on. But the other aspect of diversity that a team leader must navigate are their motivations for being in your team in the first place. If you are lucky enough to inherit a high-flyer, chances are that other departments or competitors may have their eye on them. Another may be turning up and doing the bare minimum to collect their salary. And another may be very ambitious, networking ferociously but not focused on the immediate tasks at hand. The point here should be clear – the communication you undertake with your individual team members will not be uniform. One size does not fit all

This presents a challenge in planning and time management for a new leader, but it is one definitely recommended to take up. While the conversation points in each situation may be different, the common feature of all scenarios is to ensure you listen more than you speak. Good judges have often told me, in most 1:1 situations the leader should not speak more than 30% of the time. There are a few reasons for this. Firstly, it shows that you are interested in their view and what they have to say.

Secondly, it reduces the chances of you falling into the trap of reciting past glories which may not be relevant to the listener (Michael Bungay Stanier refers to this as “taming your advice monster”). Perhaps most importantly, it builds trust and respect, making it more likely that you as the leader will find out exactly what is going on, and how you can work collaboratively with the other party to improve the situation.

Depending on the situation, you may need to spend more time listening and building groundwork with some team members than others. This is perfectly normal and totally worth the investment – remember, you are building a partnership with these people where you want to see benefit for both of you. For the high flyer, you may agree they are ready to move on. If so, support them – it gives you an opportunity to make a new hire and signal to others what you are looking for in people. For the under-achiever, you may agree they are stuck in the wrong role. If so, you can develop a plan to work with them and find a new home where their skills can thrive. For the ambitious, you may together uncover the key knowledge they will need in order to progress, and find a project role to augment their current role that is suitable.

These kinds of actions can help shape your team into what you want it to be. You can achieve this by listening more of the time, asking questions, building trust, suggesting possible alternatives, agreeing these with the team member, then working your action plan as a team. Not only will this build respect, you will learn how each person in your team “ticks”, giving you more chance of leading an engaged and successful team that others line up to work for.

6. Be prepared to hire people that have done your job before

I remember attending an offsite once where my boss, prone to the odd throwaway line, announced to the room “You should all be prepared to hire somebody earning more than you do”. The reaction? Stunned silence. There wasn’t much more said on that subject during the offsite, and I very much doubt any of my peers ever took him up on that suggestion. But the guy was totally right – there is immense value in recruiting a person whose experience surpasses your own.

With career paths now taking on less of a linear shape, and more people happy to step back from leadership roles into those of the individual contributor, there is a strong possibility a candidate will present at some point with more experience than you. It would be easy to dismiss that person as “over-qualified” and overlook them for your fear of being intimidated or “shown up”. My counter argument to that is you could be missing one of the better hires you will make, assuming you are satisfied with the person’s rationale for applying.

Bringing an experienced person into your team signals a few things. Firstly, it improves your stature as a leader, that you have been able to first attract and then negotiate a way for that person into your team. Secondly, it signals your growth mindset – the true mark of a leader – that you acknowledge you don’t have all the answers, and are confident in your ability to defer to others who have more specialized knowledge or experience. Moreover, it provides you more scope for making your leadership role a success, as you have another senior member of your team available to assist others when you aren’t around.

Once you make such a hire, there is still more to do. Remember, this person is experienced and has an ego, no matter how well hidden it may seem. A positive communication statement upon their arrival, highlighting their key achievements, but avoiding grandiose statements is a great way to welcome them to the team. After they are settled, make sure their skills are utilized – look for opportunities that will stretch them, and give them exposure around your organisation. By rule of thumb, I would recommend that after 3-4 months they are actively involved in a good project or activity where there are clear learning objectives you have both agreed on.

Asking for feedback is also very important if you want to make the most of an experienced hire. Referring back to the GROW model discussed under hack number 2, focus on Option and Way Forward questions to extract the most value. For example, a stretch Option question might be “What are options we could try here that might have the greatest impact?”. A confidence Way Forward question might be “What would support our team to grow their confidence?”. By keeping the questions open and growth-oriented, you avoid the safe “How’s everything going?” or “How are you getting along with the team?”. You may learn something from those questions – but particularly around the 2-3 month mark, Option and Way Forward questions reveal that you as leader value their opinions and experience and are willing to learn from them, while making them feel an integral part of a unit with a clear mission.

As with all recruitment, getting the basics right, like making hires that fit well with the team and the pervading culture, are critical to the success of an experienced hire. Having the courage to bring somebody in with superior experience to your own, with the right motivations, can be the key to your own leadership success.

For further reading, try “Mindset: The New Psychology of Success” by Carol S. Dweck.

7. Remember that you and your team are allowed to enjoy yourselves

When you assume a leadership role, the automatic assumption is often that you need to act all “grown up” and serious. And of course there are elements of that which are true – your employer has placed a level of responsibility on you to get the most from your team, and achieve whatever performance goals have been set. But remembering to have some fun and enjoyment along the way is an important ingredient in setting your team up for success.

The type of fun you decide to engender will largely be determined by your industry setting, broader organisational culture and the personalities within your team. What one team considers fun could be painfully boring to another! But part of your team building process, the part where you decide what you want to stand for, how you behave, and how you celebrate your successes, should include an emphasis on enjoyment and the social benefits of working.

I’d recommend a new team leader focus on this in the first few weeks of their tenure. If there is already a good social feel among the team, that’s a great start. There may not be much you need to do there. If there is a sense the group could benefit from lightening up some more, grasp that nettle and open the floor to suggestions – networking with other teams in a social setting could be a good start. Make sure ideas from the team get activated upon, to build engagement and demonstrate you are listening (as discussed under hack number 5).

The important ingredient in introducing workplace fun is balance. I worked with a team several years ago that socialized with the best of them – everyone attended social functions, they had good variety in what they did, and everybody seemed to enjoy themselves. The problem was, their good social atmosphere did not replicate itself in the workplace. While on the outside they appeared to get along, after some digging it was clear relationships were frayed, mutual respect was not displayed and as an outcome their operating results were inconsistent. The Team Leader was at pains to understand why the “family” atmosphere he craved to create was successful on a social outing, but unsuccessful in the office, where it ultimately mattered more. It was clear that the Team Leader was not achieving balance – he thought that the more time they devoted on the social side, it would improve relationships and ultimately, performance. In effect, he had his priorities in reverse – he used fun as his main lever, without addressing the underlying performance issues that held his team back.

Intuitively, a workplace that does not take itself too seriously is more likely to feel safe to try new things, and not stress about any mistakes that may be made. A fun workplace will also more likely enjoy better retention rates, have more optimism about the future, and be more collaborative with other teams. As a leader, these are great characteristics for your team to be recognized for. There’s no better compliment than another Team Leader asking “What’s your secret?”.

Ultimately, you want your team to perform. No amount of fun is a complete substitute for the other 6 hacks I have discussed in this series. But in this hybrid working, COVID-impacted environment, when team leadership has never been more challenging, it’s worth remembering to put fun on the agenda.

FOUNDER: Lewis Williams


MOBILE: 61 (0) 477 371 665

LINKEDIN: cadenceleadershipadvisory/

Related Posts

Enter your name and email address below to get the latest Cadence news and advice sent directly to your inbox.