10 Team management hacks for first-time leaders

By Abhilash Menon
team management

When you’re a leader, the one thing that drastically changes is — your success is now tied to the performance of others.

You’re probably going through a laundry list of leadership articles, figuring out a way to manage your team successfully. But, the more you tax your brain, the more unanswered questions you’re left with.

  • How do I get everyone to work?
  • How do I get them to work with each other?
  • How do I keep them motivated?
  • How do I make the team trust me?

Questions, questions, and more questions…

In this post, we take you through practical team management hacks that’s going to turn you from an employee to an effective leader.

Let’s dive in:

10 team management hacks for first-time leaders

Here are ten team management hacks that will help you maintain a productive, collaborative team while developing your leadership skills along the way.

1. Learn to let go

You have to start placing trust in your team members. You might be good at completing a certain task, but ask yourself: does the task really need to be done by you?

Learn to let go of clerical tasks so you can focus on the ones that have to be done by you and only you.

Delegate tasks to your team and trust them to get the job done. Initially, the work might not be up to your standards but, with a bit of training and time, they will catch on.

However, don’t let go entirely. There is a difference between delegating and dumping tasks on people.

Real delegation is meant to develop team capacity not overload it. Use delegation to make members a stakeholder in the outcome of the process.

Here are a few ways to get your delegation game right:

  • Ensure the assignee knows exactly what you want. Share documents, reports, and white paper to provide clear direction and context.
  • Assign tasks according to skills. The task can be difficult but, it shouldn’t overwhelm. Usually, this happens when members are incompetent to carry out the task assigned.
  • Keep tabs on the tasks. To achieve effective team management keep an update on task progress. It’s a great way to see if the task is moving in the right direction.

Hiver Shared Inbox allows you to delegate and track tasks without forwarding emails, straight from your Gmail. Know more

2. Never use the word ‘rockstar’

Praise people. Do not glorify them. Lead by example. Not by cheerleading.

Using words like rockstar, champion, superstar as nicknames would make that person feel superior to others — a death blow to your team dynamic.

Suddenly, it’s everyone for themselves, each competing to gain the ‘rockstar’ title. A team where individual ambitions take precedence over group goals is bound to have interpersonal issues sooner or later.

Instead, resort to more subtle ways to recognize members for their good work:

  • Say ‘thank you’. A personal thank you note makes members feel socially valued. In some cases, it triggers a greater desire in the member to help you.
  • Make them play a praising game. It might sound a bit cheesy, but ask each member what they like about their teammates. In the process, you are a creating a healthy culture of recognition.
  • Take your team out on a lunch date. Sweet treats and surprise lunches are a delicious way to say ‘thank you’ for all the work your team has done.

3. Ditch your employee habits

Being the ‘yes’ man, looking at individual objectives, not sharing your workload — time to change all of that.

To be a leader, you have to adopt the habits of a leader. Start with:

  • Look them in the eye. The best of leaders look you in the eye and make you the sole focus of their attention.
  • Smile, but not always. A good smile shows a pleasant side to your personality. But, don’t overdo it. You’ll be seen as less authoritative.
  • A firm handshake goes a long way. A good three to five second firm handshake shows you’re reliable and sincere. That’s why a ‘firm handshake’ is a part of military etiquettes.
  • Quick email responses. Not all but, generic emails should be responded quickly. You are seen as a productive leader who wants to focus on the core job tasks.

Stop wasting time on repetitive emails. Use Email Templates to write an email once and then keep reusing it. You can also share these templates with your team members. Know more

4. Assertiveness over aggression — every single time

Shouting, slamming the door, not responding to emails, or going AWOL to avoid confrontation will only add fuel to fire.

This is where you need to be assertive. What it means is being direct about what you need, feel, and believe in a way that’s respectful to others point of view.

Often, it’s difficult to project the right kind of assertive behavior. People mistake aggression to be assertiveness.

Here are a few ways to keep a fine line between the two:

  • Let them speak first. Don’t jump to conclusions. Listen to what members have to say and understand where they are coming from.
  • Make eye contact. Staring for the entire time is aggressive, maintaining eye contact for 70% of the time is assertive. Basically, learn to use eye contact in the right amount.
  • Don’t shout, repeat. Repeating your point in an assertive tone will give greater familiarity, leading to gradual agreements — something shouting can’t do.

5. Never lay eggs on a feedback

Offer ‘on-the-spot’ feedback to improve performance on a day-to-day basis. Members want their leaders to pay more attention to them and appreciate any feedback along the way.

But, be careful when you have to dole out a negative review. Receiving unpleasant reviews on a daily basis will demotivate your team — on a daily basis! They’ll eventually start seeing you as the villain.

Here are a few ways to give constructive negative feedback without being seen as a complete jerk:

  • Make it a private affair. Public shaming is never constructive. Members may remember the embarrassment than what you actually said.
  • Criticize the work, not the person. Keep the feedback limited to the work at hand. Do not make assumptions about them as a person.
  • Don’t leave them hanging. Giving feedback is just half the story. Tell them how to do things better. Show them how it’s done. Lead by example, not by sermons.

6. Never intimidate people — let them talk

Create a work culture where members don’t feel intimidated by you, and can freely voice their opinions. Let members discuss issues openly, take their inputs, and eventually get a new perspective.

The fresh perspectives will help you notice opportunities that you probably didn’t see before. This will broaden your horizon as a leader, allowing you to try new things.

More importantly, you can use the feedback to make meaningful decisions, driving more sustainable outcomes.

However, sometimes it requires more than a nudge to make members speak up. To get members spill out all the juicy ideas, use these smart tricks:

  • Give more time. Once you have outlined the task, give members ample time to respond. This allows them to think over and come back with a confident reply.
  • Ask a clear question. The team cannot answer if they don’t understand the question. If a question seems to evoke no response, rephrase it, keep doing it until you can strike a meaningful conversation.
  • Show them their ideas matter. Members like to see their ideas acknowledged. It’s encouraging to see one’s input being actually implemented. Basically, show them that speaking up will be rewarding.

7. Meetings only when nothing else works

Meetings are what happens when people aren’t working.

- Elon Musk

Call it what you want: scrum calls, conferences, or conventions — meetings are productivity killers, period.

Meetings are eating into your resources without giving any good returns. In fact, unproductive meetings cost US companies an estimated $37 billion each year. 

Encourage a team management philosophy where meetings are seen as the last resort.

For instance, use a checklist; if all the boxes get ticked, only then a meeting should be held.

Team management meetings

8. Always show them the bigger picture

Share the big picture with the team, tell them the ‘why’ before the ‘what’: the clarity of why are they doing what they are doing?

Say, you are introducing a new product change. Before listing what the changes are, tell your team why you are making those changes. Each member's effort will directly align with the overall objectives.

Here are some easy ways to show teams the larger picture:

  • Get members involved right from the planning stage. They will have a fair idea of the why, what, and how to.
  • Put it in writing. Keep a written record of the larger goals. Members can always revisit, ensuring they are in sync with the overall objectives.

9. Create a milestone plan

A milestone plan is often used by project managers to see task progress at significant phases. Use the same approach for your team management.

Create a milestone plan in three simple steps:

Step 1 - Define milestones that cover an entire task

Step 2 - Sequence them in a particular order (urgent, important, or later)

Step 3 - Assign them to members with a delivery date

Having a timeline of all major tasks will benefit you and teams.

You. Achieving milestones within given timeline is a tangible way to measure leadership success.

Team. Communicate the big vision with clarity.

10. Allow work from home to prevent burnout

Caveat first: It’s not exactly a ‘time-off’ — make it absolutely clear to your team.  

A temporary break from the high-pressure office space or the gruesome morning rush can make members more relaxed. Members can work from the comforts of their home, avoiding any kind of stress or burnout.

It’s likely, working in a relaxed state for a couple of weeks might bring back the motivation.

The best part is it’s a win-win situation for your team management. You can keep the work moving forward while ensuring members are far from a burnout.

Communication in team management

In an effective team management, communication is a two-way street — understand, then respond.

Often, leaders think their word will be heard, understood, and instantly acted upon just because they are the ones in charge. Unfortunately, that’s the very attitude that takes the team management into the ground.

Listen and understand the team’ perspective, then respond. That’s the kind of word which gets heard and instantly acted upon.

So, next time before sending an email telling teams what to do, take a pause and think.

To ensure no email communication is lost in a cluttered inbox, use Hiver.

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About the author

Abhilash is the content marketer at Hiver. On free days, he's a glorified coffee snob and a passionate blogger. On not-so-free days, he's trying to understand the right perspective when it comes to content marketing.

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