Successful Team Management in 4 Simple Steps Pt2

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Team management is a necessary skill for every CEO and leader. Why? Companies are built around people. And, these people are working together as a team. Without these people, no company can survive for long. In this article, we will discuss the last two steps we must make to get better in team management. This will help us create well-functioning teams and let our company thrive. Great teams are made. So, without further ado, let’s find out how to do it.

1 and 2 are in part 1.

3. Establish clear communication

In the previous part, we talked a lot about delegating tasks and responsibilities to the right people. This was the second step in the process of successful team management. The third step is about setting up communication channels. And, it is also about making sure these channel are clear. Meaning, there is no “noise” that could distort or change the message before on the way from the sender to the receiver. Let’s take a look at how can we meet both of these requirements.

Direct communication is a king

The first step we can and should make is to establish direct communication between people in our team. Getting rid of any middle men and additional layers is one of the keys of successful team management. When one of our teammates wants or needs to discuss something with another teammate, they should be able to do it directly. There should be no reason for one to contact you or another person in order to transfer her message. There are two possible exceptions for this rule.

First exception is if the information or something it mentions is confidential. In that case, it may be necessary to consult it first with someone who can approve telling the information to someone else. However, we are talking about communication in the team. So, it is very likely that even confidential information will never be a problem. One teammate probably has the same information as anyone else in the team.

Second exception is if we are involved in the topic, then it is logical that the information has to reach us as well. Is this really an exception? It may be better to at least mention it, just for the case. Anyway, the key here is to always do our best to give our team enough space everyone can communicate directly with each other. We should not try to put some artificial constraints on communication channels of our team. Unless there is some security risk or need for confidentiality.

Keep the communication real-time

Another step we can make, for successful project and team management, is keeping the communication real-time. I understand that this may not be always possible. People in our team may work in different time zones or just in different hours. Even people living and working in the same city may find it difficult to stay in real-time contact. For example, when someone is an early bird working in early hours and another one is a night owl working through the night.

So, for this and other reasons, it may not be convenient for everyone to follow one strict schedule. Can we do anything to solve this issue with asynchronous work hours? Other than getting our team on one place? Probably not. I also don’t think we should insist everyone in our team follows the same schedule. When we try to force our schedule it will only create resistance, worsen working conditions and relationships. We should let people in our team work in hours convenient for them.

Aside to that, we should provide our team with tools and options that make real-time communication easier. During the last few years it became common to use communication tools and platforms such as Slack, Skype or HipChat in the majority of companies. I think we should follow this example as one way to create successful project management.

The beauty of real-time communication

Problems will get solved much faster, and often cheaper, with real-time communication. I had the chance to test this assumption multiple times while I was working with designers and developers across the world. Iterations in design, product development and also debugging got much faster when we communicated in the real time. Sometimes, we also found better solutions when we talked together than we could be by working on our own.

It is much easier to solve a problem when someone can show it instead of just describing it. For this reason, I like to schedule calls and hangouts with my team and clients. Whenever I or they want to discuss, debug, plan or review something, we usually arrange a call on a specific day and time. For some people, this may sound like a waste of time. I believed this is true as well for a long time. Before, I would ask for a list of things to make or correct. Usually, everything via email.

Now I know how unproductive this way of working can be. Our client or teammate will contact us about some issue. Or, we contact our teammate. We ask for, or give, a list things necessary to be done to fix the problem. Then, we, or someone in our team, go through the list, completing and checking off one task after another. Then, either we ask for review or we do it by ourselves. If everything is fine, we move on. If not, we repeat the loop.

Does this example sound familiar to you? This was a common process for me for a long time. There are few problems with this example. First problem is that we assume we, or our teammate, understand everything. In reality, there are things we, or our teammate, don’t understand or agree with. In order to solve these ambiguities or conflicts, we, or our teammate, need to ask for further explanation. Then, we, or our teammate, have to wait for the answer. And, this can repeat.

Now, let’s imagine how different and faster could the process be with real-time commutation. Is there any confusion or conflict in something on our or the other side? No problem. We, or someone else can ask for explanation or voice our opinion or suggestion. And, she will get the answer or reaction. It follows the same script as email communication. However, the difference is that this is 10x or 100x faster. As a result, no one has to wait for hours or days to get the job done.

This is why I believe that we should always prefer direct real-time communication over email and similar tools. Let’s give real-time communication a try. Its benefits for project and team management can be significant.

The consequences of real-time communication

All these tools that make real-time communication easier are great. It is thanks to those tools that communication between people no longer happens primarily via email. Consequently, one doesn’t have to wait for hours or days to receive the answer to her question. Instead, everything happens in minutes. This is great. However, there is a potential danger. Like fire, real-time communication can be good and bad. It can make team management better and it can make it worse.

One problem with real-time communication is that it can teach us, and other people, to expect reaction in a matter of minutes, or hours in case of mail. In other words, when we write someone a message, we may start to expect that person to reply almost immediately. And, if we don’t receive any reply in next five minutes, we may start to think that something is wrong. Yes it is, with us. In a short, tools for real-time communication can teach us to be impatient.

We need to understand that people will not reply to our messages immediately. And, we should not make any assumptions based on that. If someone doesn’t reply to our email in two or three days, that doesn’t mean anything. If it is a week, well that could be a problem. Other than that, we should give others time to reply as is comfortable for them. This doesn’t apply only to team management, but also to our personal relationships.

Another problem is that real-time communication can decrease productivity of our teammates, or our own. These tools make it very easy to ask questions. As a result, we may start asking questions without bothering to think about them or look for the answers on our own first. Why should we? It is so simple to open Slack or HipChat and just ask. The problem is that, with every question, we are interrupting someone else. We are taking her time and attention. She can’t work on her work.

This will not be such a problem if the question is serious and we can’t find the answer elsewhere. Then, it is all right to ask. Still, we should not ask on something every five minutes. The same applies to the rest of our team. Otherwise, our teammates will not be able to work on their work. This can also have negative effect on our relationships if it happens too often. We should not take the option of real-time communication as an invitation to constantly interrupt people around us.

So, how can we make real-time communication work and beneficial for team management? We and our teammates should embrace this simple four-step process when we have a question. First, we should think about it and try to solve it by ourselves. Second, if we can’t solve it on our own, we should try to find the answer online. Third, if it still doesn’t work, we should think about again and longer. Fourth, we can interrupt our teammate and ask, but only if all other options fail.

The next time we will be in temptation to interrupt someone with our question, we should switch the sides. How would we feel if someone would interrupt us in the middle of our work? Is our question really as important? If so, proceed. Otherwise, let’s do the work and solve it on our own.

The right tools for the right people

There is one more question we should ask when we talk about communication. How can we set up communication so it is beneficial to our team and makes our team management better? My answer is simple. We must provide our team with the right tools. However, there is a catch. It is the responsibility of our team to decide which tool is the right one. We may offer our team a range of options, but our team should have the last word.

Our teammates will work with chosen tool and they should feel comfortable using it. This is what I mean by “the right tools for the right people”. Some people will like one tool others may like another one. If there is more than one preferred option we should help our team find some compromise. Our job is not forcing any option or restricting them. A successful team management about more than leading people. It is about helping people to work together.

4. Encourage collaboration and independence

Helping people to work together should be the goal of our team management efforts. It is for this reason why we should encourage and support collaboration in our teams. People in our team should be able to work with each other with ease. They should like to work with each other. It is our responsibility as CEOs, leaders and managers to create a culture and conditions that will help achieving this. Also, we need to make sure our team will work whether we are in the room or not.

How to encourage collaboration? We need to look for methods which reward teamwork. However, this doesn’t mean we should ignore effort and results achieved by individuals. We must notice and reward both and find a way to balance these two. If we focus only on one, the other will soon start to suffer. One idea worth trying is creating projects where collaboration is necessary to succeed. Another idea that can work are team events. It doesn’t have to be a sport, just some group activity.

Finally, we should say it out loud that it is more than okay to ask a teammate for help. We should encourage our people to find people who can help them with their project. Sure, only if other person is willing to and has time to help. Then, we should reward everyone in the team according to her contribution. This may be difficult in the beginning and we may have to take the lead and put people together by ourselves first. We must have patience.

Then, there is the independence. Our team must be able to work without us. I believe that this is the highest level of team management. It is a small paradox. We will succeed only if our people can work without us constantly standing behind their back and managing them. Independence and self-reliance must be part of our team culture. We have to support our people in independent thinking, questioning the status quo and acting on their own.

When someone, or the whole team, proposes untried solution we should not ignore it or reject it. Instead, we should encourage her, or our team, to try it. Our message must be simple and clear. If it succeeds, great. If not, we can try something else. There is no such a thing as failure. Every failure is an opportunity to learn and try again, now smarter. In the beginning, it may be necessary to repeat it, aloud. It is our job to do it. The same with encouraging collaboration. Repeat it, aloud.

Closing thoughts on team management

These are the four main steps we have to make if we want to improve our team management skills. Now we know what these steps are. At this point, it is up to each of us to take these steps and apply them. As they say, great leaders are made, not born. We can say similar thing about having great team management skills. These skills are acquired through learning and practice, not inherited. Learn, apply, correct and iterate. Now, let’s proceed in the loop to the next step.

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

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