Taking Charge of a Team? Avoid These 4 Mistakes

Managers often end up in a situation when they are hired to take charge of a team/department that already exists and performs to a certain level. New leaders often find it difficult to generate acceptance because a team/organization is a complex network of emotions, relationships and issues. The history comes along, but is invisible to this new manager.

Two things add to this complexity. One is the time new leaders have to perform. They are often under pressure to perform and demonstrate some “early wins”. On the other hand, they cannot make any progress unless they have won the support of the team members. Second is that experience of leaders make it difficult for them to “unlearn”. They start operating within the confines of what they have experienced so far.

Here are a few mistakes new leaders make:

They fail to listen (this is #1 mistake). Joining a team in leadership position is an opportunity to gain team’s respect and support. Don’t squander this opportunity by hurrying into rapid action, dishing out directives, talking too much about your great past and giving elevator speeches. This is a sure way to alienate the team members. A new leader needs to seize this opportunity by listening. People want to explain the context provided they have an opportunity to talk. Give them that and you will know what drives them, their struggles and their ideas to grow. Missing this opportunity can be costly for your further journey with the team.

Worst, they criticize and/or threaten. Yes, there are issues in this team, processes are not optimized and there is some resistance. Try beating these issues with criticism and threatening that you will commit the second biggest mistake. Be appreciative of what team has achieved so far. Share the responsibility of driving improvements rather than keeping it to yourself. But more important than anything else: watch your words and impact they have on the team members. Keep them positive. Use “we” more often than “I”.

Or, they ignore resistance. Resistance is negative energy, but energy nevertheless. Two things you should never do: ignore the resistance and overpower it. Both will boost levels of resistance. Try directing this energy instead into constructive initiatives that leave people feel more valued. Once they see results of their efforts, resistance will slowly give way to acceptance.

They lose momentum. Sometimes, situation can be overwhelming establishment can take up months. Let it not affect your results. One of the simplest strategies to generate buy-in is to generate results. Establish goals, keep setting expectations, define milestones and let your team members stretch to achieve those. Handhold and facilitate when needed. Once results are visible, team fabric gets stronger. Results are the value statement for a new leader.

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So, what do we do? Get over with “taking over the team” mindset to be a facilitator for better results. Be positive, seek to understand first and focus on results. It all takes time, but it is all worth it.

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Bonus: Check out some excellent posts on Leadership Development at “The July 2012 Carnival of Leadership Development” by Dan McCarthy which includes my post Leading Projects: Balancing Rational with Emotion.

Connecting, Building Relationships and Team Success

Quality of relationships between the team members is one of the determinants of success as a team – be it project, process improvement initiative or an organization building one. Success of projects/initiatives is generally attributed to processes and rituals. Processes are crucial but not sufficient. It is people who work, co-operate with each other, demonstrate trust, work as a team, share a common goal, exercise their ‘discretionary effort’ and make things happen.

Leader’s role is very crucial here. Leaders can simply do transactional communication ("Do this form by end of tomorrow and lets review it then") or truly connect with their team members. Connecting skillfully with people means:

  • understanding them (and their value)
  • their aspirations
  • their communication preferences
  • what they bring to the table
  • building mutual trust
  • listening well to everyone
  • communicating your values
  • understanding complementary skills
  • how each one of them can play to their strengths
  • invest in their development

With this understanding, leaders have to weave a web of relationships amongst the team members by doing right communication and necessary team building activities. When team is connected, they understand and appreciate different roles and how each role impacts the success.

Success happens when the team members feel that they belong to a team, actively participate and work towards team’s success. In my experience, people forget the success of projects/initiatives on a long run, but they always remember the fun they had while executing the work. People cherish relationships they build while working.

So critical question today is – How are you leveraging relationships in your team / projects / initiatives?

Perspective Building and 4 Ways to Improve Team Performance

For people working on projects (or any other initiative for that matter), how will they add value if they are assigned tasks without giving them a broader picture and perspective?

I was recently discussing this issue with some of the senior project managers and it came out that people will only think beyond their tasks (pro-activity) if they are equipped to do so. And they can only be equipped with perspective building and showing them the overall picture in which their work fits in. Communication (and over-communicating when it is needed) is one of the biggest challenges project managers are facing today.

My suggestion to them is:  Build perspective first, clarify the purpose and then assign task and see how people will start thinking pro-actively to carry out the task that exactly fits into the larger frame.

This has always worked for me.

Further, I read “4 Ways to Improve Team Performance” from Harvard Business Publishing’s “Management Tip of the Day”. Being an email subscriber to daily tip, I can have some profound wisdom delivered to my mailbox everyday. And I enjoy reading them thoroughly.

Here is today’s tip:

Managing your team’s performance is a challenge no matter what the environment. Take the extra time and effort to help your team succeed in what will likely be a tough year for all.

  • Give your team much-needed perspective. Relieve pressure by encouraging them to have fun and remind them work is not the only thing in their lives.
  • Spend time with all your team members, not just the stars. It’s easy to focus on A+ performers, but success relies on everyone doing his or her job well.
  • When something doesn’t go as planned, acknowledge the setback and move on.
  • Focus on team success. Celebrate what you have accomplished together, rather than individual achievements.

These are common-sensical but very crucial tips for managing people and helping them improve their performance.

Management tips were adapted from the article “Four Ways to Improve Your Team’s Performance” by Daisy Wademan Dowling at Harvard Business Blogs.

Have a Great Day!

P. S.: You might also like reading the earlier posts I wrote on similar topics: