Successful Team Management in 4 Simple Steps Pt1

Reading Time: 10 minutes

Team management is a skill anyone can learn. And, it is necessary skill for anyone who wants to lead and inspire others. Today, we read a lot about leaders from many industries. What we don’t read about are people behind them. We also never hear about people in their teams. However, there is no leader without followers and a strong team. In this two-part article, we will discuss four steps, or pillars, that are necessary for successful team management. Enjoy the reading.

3 and 4 will be in part 2.

1. Start with a plan

There is a quote from chess grand master Garry Kasparov about planning: “It is better to have a bad plan than no plan.” Many startup founders praise themselves on the fact that they don’t have any plan. They like to believe that they can handle chaos and that having no plan helps them remain more flexible. There might be some true to this and it might even work in some situations. However, it doesn’t work as well if we focus on successful team management.

See the big picture

Successful team management is about leading people in some direction towards some goal. This direction and goal can be more specific or less specific, but both still exist. When we decide to build a team we need to think about this direction and goal. And, we have to share them with our team right in the beginning. Our team needs to know, and be able to see, the big picture. They need to know the “why”. Our team needs to know the purpose behind the work.

We discussed the importance of having and sharing some purpose and vision in 7 Important Leadership Lessons from 5 Years in Business (Pt2). The key lesson is that purpose and vision will help us unite and empower our team. People working toward a single purpose and goal are more motivated. They are more likely to create strong relationships and collaborate with each other. Collaboration and positive relationships will lead to reaching that goal faster than competition.

From the point of team management, knowing the big picture is also useful for organization. It is easier to plan smaller tasks, deadlines, milestones, check-ins and other aspects of work. Which brings us to the next step.

Divide et impera

Let’s say that we created the main direction and goal for our team. The problem is that our main goal is probably to be too big and overwhelming to tackle. So, we have to divide it into smaller steps, tasks and milestones. This has few benefits. First, it will make the work more manageable for us and our team. In other words, it will give us a better idea about where to start and how to prioritize. Second, it will help us make a better decision about who is the right person for the task.

It is hard to say what is the “right” size or range of the task. This depends on our goal, project and the time we have to complete it. It also depends on the people we have in our team. People have different preferences. Some people like to work on tasks they can finish in just a few hours, or one day. Then, there are people who like to work with bigger chunks. For example, working in sprints spanning across multiple days. And, we need to know what is the right approach for everyone.

This means one thing. Planning work is not a solitary job. Successful team management requires that we plan the task with our team, not in solitude. We need to constantly seek feedback from everyone in our team and adjust the size of each task as necessary. Only this will help us create a roadmap that will fit every member of our team. However, tasks are not the only parts and pieces of a project.

Think in bigger chunks

Every bigger project should also contain milestones. First, what is a bigger project? Well, it is hard to describe what a bigger project is. We can think about bigger project in the terms of size and complexity. Or, we can think about it as something that will simply take a lot of time to complete. Some project may require only few days of work, but it may be very complex and contain a high amount of tasks. Then, it is better to use milestones to organize and prioritize these tasks.

On the other hand, some projects may contain only a small amount of tasks, but the work may take longer. In this case, milestones can help remind us what is the goal of our work. In this sense, milestones help us keep our team motivated because every milestones we achieve shows progress. Otherwise, it might look that we are not making any progress at all, that we are still on the same place as we were in the beginning. With no visible sings of progress, motivation will start to suffer.

So, I guess the best answer will be that it depends. We should analyze each and every project individually, as independent and separate entity. It might be also better to avoid comparing projects. Otherwise, we may try to compare projects with different sizes, complexity or scope. We can use our past experience to make our estimates and planning more accurate, but we should not use it as a foundation for our planning. So, new project, new plan, new eyes.

Let’s get back to milestones again. Milestones are good to track and measure our progress. It is nice to see a stack of completed tasks. However, that doesn’t mean we are making any significant or meaningful progress. It is easy to buy this illusion that a lot of completed tasks means making a solid progress. However, unless we can confirm this by looking at other metrics and data, it is only illusion. Milestones can help us avoid this illusion by forcing us to see beyond individual tasks.

Check the status

My last tip for successful team management is to implement regular check-ins. Check-ins may not be necessary for very small projects lasting, let’s say, three or four days. In case of projects spanning across the whole week, check-ins can become useful. They can help us and our team stay on track and informed. With regular check-ins, we will know whether we are making any progress or not. We will also know if someone is stuck and needs more time, information or help.

Well, there is one situation where regular check-ins are useful for very small projects. This is when we are working with a remote team. In this case, check-ins can help us keep the team together and motivated. It is very easy o lose contact with teammates when we are not win the same room, or country. Also, check-ins can help us track better that everyone is working on her task. Well, this is easy to fake, but it is still better than nothing.

Note: Check-in can be anything from communicating via email, talking on slack to call over Skype or video hangout. Whatever you like. The goal is to get in some form of contact with your team.

Summary

So, this is the rough outline for planning phase and successful team management. Start with the big picture–main goal. Then, divide this large goal into smaller and more manageable tasks that can be done in a short period of time. Next, group these tasks into bigger chunks, or milestones. This will help track the progress of the team and keep our team motivated by seeing both, the bigger picture (milestone) and continuous progress.

Finally, consider implementing regular check-ins. This will bring a number of benefits. It will help us stay in touch with each other and keep everyone informed about the progress. Also, during these check-ins, people can ask each other for advice, tip or help if they get stuck. Finally, check-ins can be a handy for making sure everyone is working on her task. This is not bulletproof, but it is still better than having nothing and only guessing, at least we are still in touch.

2. Delegate tasks and responsibilities to the right people

The second benefit of dividing our main goal is especially important. A large part of successful team management is about delegating the right task to the right person. The theory is simple. Team management and work on projects will get much faster when we delegate tasks to people with the right skills, resources and information. Now, there are two things we can do when it comes to choosing the right person for the right task.

Two ways to tackle the problem

The first approach is choosing a person with skills that are necessary for completing the task. If we have a task that requires design skills, a designer will be the right person. If, on the other hand, we need to do some work on back-end of our app or web, backend developer will be a much better choice. This is quite simple and straightforward. And, this is also the way team managers and leaders delegate tasks. However, there is also another way to tackle this, or a second approach.

Instead of choosing a person with necessary skills, we can choose a different road. We can pick a person who is able and willing to learn and acquire these skills. This approach has its upsides and downsides.

The downsides

Let’s take a look at three biggest downsides that come with this approach. It requires more time. This is the most obvious downside of this approach. We need to give our teammate not only time to complete the task. We need to give her the time to learn how to do it first. If time is a constraint, this might be a problem. Another downside is quality or precision of the work. Work completed by someone who already has the skills will have a higher quality than work completed by someone who just learned the skills. We need to take this into account.

Finally, the work itself will take more time it would otherwise. Our teammate will probably need more time for mistakes and corrections before she completes the task. And, it might be necessary to still make some polishing at the end. Also, this polishing may require help from someone else. So, we will need to sacrifice the time of another teammate in order to finish the task.

The upsides

Now, let’s switch our attention to some upsides of this approach. It might be cheaper. It can happen that we don’t have anyone in the team with required skills. So, we would have to hire someone to complete the task. Whether it is a freelancer, part-time or full-time, it still means spending some money. We should avoid spending money if there are other ways to get the job done, even if we don’t have small budget. So, why not let someone, we already pay, learn the skill?

Another upside of this on learning oriented approach is making the skill set of our team more diverse. This is especially useful in the long term. We may need that skill again on another task in the future. Then, luckily, we will already have someone who has this skill. Short-term downside (more time for learning) will lead to long-term benefit (having the right person for the job). Then, it is also known that diverse skill set often makes people more creative. Why not to test this theory?

Finally, when we allow our teammate to learn new skill, we are helping her grow professionally. Then, if they decide to leave our team in the future, they will have higher chance of being hired. And, they will probably also get paid more money. One more thing. Learning new skills can also help us keep our teammates motivated. Learning new skills brings new interesting challenges and makes their work fresh. This is why some companies let employees regularly switch positions.

This article about team management is intended for people in startups. So, the upside of saving money and growing the team in the terms of skills instead of size will be a strong argument for choosing the learning-oriented approach. Do more with less and learn on the go.

Make the right move

Which approach is the best? The one that is the most comfortable for you. It is about personal preferences. Don’t let anyone force you to accept any decision that, after trying it for a while, doesn’t feel comfortable. Regardless of the choice, there is one thing we have to keep in mind. We always need to discuss our options and choice with our team. Team management is about working as a team. We can’t make decision on our own and then force our decision to our teammates.

When we face decision such as hiring someone new or asking someone in our team to learn new skill, we must talk about it with our team. And, we must do it as soon as we can. No surprises. Successful team management is about giving our teammates not only the freedom to make decisions, but also about giving them enough time to make them. This is especially true if we are inclined to the “learning on the go” approach. Then, it is our teammate who has the final word.

We have to ask for opinions, ideas, suggestions, feedback and, finally, for support. We should proceed with any decision only when we have support of our team. What about finding the right person for learning the skill? Our job is to give our team information about the task and what skill we need. Then, it is up to everyone in our team to decide to take it or not. Again, this choice is not ours and we shouldn’t force anyone into it.

This is what I mean when I say “make the right move”. It is not as much about finding the right person who can learn the skill. Instead, it is about giving everyone necessary information and letting the right person choose herself.

Summary

When we are done with planning phase, the next step for successful team management is delegating each task to the right person. If we don’t have anyone with necessary skills (the right person), we can either hire her or look for someone in our team who is willing to learn the skill. Second option is cheaper, but requires more time and can potentially lead to lower-quality result. The main point is that it is not up to us to make this decision, but our whole team.

We didn’t talk about what if we have a person with necessary skills. What then? In that case, we should discuss the task with that person and let her decide if she is the right person to do it. If so, the task is her and another problem is solved. Otherwise, we can choose between hiring someone for this task or learning on the go, looking for someone willing to expand her skill set.

Closing thoughts on successful team management

What have we learned today? The first step, or pillar, of successful team management is planning. We should always begin with the big picture, or our main goal for our team and project. Then, we should divide our goal into small tasks our team can tackle. We should use milestones to organize and prioritize tasks. Finally, we should use check-ins to stay in touch with our team and keep everyone informed about the progress. We can also check if everyone is working on the task.

The second step was about delegating the right tasks, we have in our plan, to the right people. We discussed two approaches to tackle shortage of skills. We also discussed the upsides and the downsides of each approach. Most importantly, we discussed what it means to “make the right move”. It is not up to us to make the decision about what approach to choose, but the whole team. Successful team management is about working as a team where everyone supports each other.

Thank you very much for your time. And, until next time, have a great day!

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