10 Ways to Lead a Team
Think of a time when you really loved your job. What made that job stand out for you? What did you love most? If you can recall, what role did your leaders play in creating your experience? And what would your staff say about you as a leader?
This article outlines 10 ways you can create conditions to get the most from your team.
- Outline the game you’re playing and set the direction
Whether you’re leading a small business or a large one, your people need to know where they’re headed. There are 3 considerations here, all of which involve your team!
The first relates to the reason you’re in the game. Think of this like your ‘company why’. What does your business ‘take care of’ in terms of services and goods it provides and what really matters about this? How can you connect each person with your company’s purpose and how can each role support the promise you make?
Secondly, do you have a succinct and documented strategy that shows what you’re focused on – even if it’s only this year? Does your team know this? Can they tell you what your business is focused on beyond this year and do your people have a sense of the broader strategic direction? Perhaps it’s time to get into some new conversations with your team? You might be surprised at the insights and inputs they offer to complement your own and it’s your role as a leader to create the space and time to have these discussions.
Third, you’ll need to realise that a direction needs a degree of flexibility. In the context of change and disruption, this will mean seeking inputs well beyond your own industry and tapping into the trends and shifts that may cause disruption for you and your team. What are the trends that might impact your industry? What skills and practices might your people need to adopt in order to navigate the emerging future? How can you recognise and plan for these ahead of time and be agile in response to change?
If you cannot answer all of these questions, consider this an opportunity for a conversation. Why not set aside a strategic day and begin to engage your team in conversations that have them participate in their own strategic future – you might be surprised at the results!
- Identify the behaviours you expect to see enacted
Assuming you now have a good sense of strategy that has been co-developed by your team, it’s time to consider the behaviours you expect from your staff to bring your strategic direction to life. A behaviour is specific, observable and repeatable, and typically, just a handful of key behaviours can influence your culture for the positive.
Here we identify our top 3 most valuable behaviours you can cultivate to build a culture of accountability and a culture of innovation:
- I do what I say I will. This is the key driver of a culture of accountability. The behaviour itself assumes that if any one of your team make a promise, they’re able to deliver. The key here is making sure that you and your people are not ‘accidental yes’ people and that when a promise is made, it is a ‘mindful yes’.
- I speak up. If your team feel safe and if you as a leader create the conditions for safety, your people will speak up about even the most sensitive of issues for the sake of collective progress. Having your staff speak up about concerns, opportunities and other matters that are important to them is a sign of a healthy team and healthy culture that generates better outcomes through robust conversations.
- Ask ‘Is there a better way?’ This is the behaviour you can encourage in any team forum and any interaction with customers and stakeholders. Imagine having every person in your team pause when making a decision, having a discussion or exploring an opportunity to ask: ‘Is there are better way?’. A deliberate focus on this behaviour and generous listening to all contributions is the seed of an innovative culture!
We offer these three behaviours to provoke you to think about the behaviours your business needs to encourage to prepare for the future of business in 2025 and beyond.
- Learn how to prioritise and delegate
These two tips will help you avoid both burnout and overwhelm. Prioritising is a practice you can employ every day, week and month to align your daily activities with your broader strategic objectives.
To prioritise well, it will help if you use software to capture all of the activities you, your team and organisation has on their agenda. We use Monday.com and it’s brilliant at capturing all of the actions we do as a part of our business, who owns each and when each is due. Every day we review the items that demand our attention and determine what’s most crucial relative to the promises our business has made and the non-urgent items are then assessed in terms of the value they add.
As your business grows, and as you evolve, it’s important to recognise when it’s time to delegate and move the tasks you once did to another person in order to utilise your time more effectively. If you’re an entrepreneur, or a perfectionist, beware of the niggling thought that ‘nobody can do it as well as me’ and begin to become exceptional at clarifying requests and articulating standards. This will make you a masterful delegator and increase the chances of you getting what you want back on time, spec and standard.
- Manage commitments not tasks
Do you tend to get overly involved in the deliverables you set for your team? Do your people deliver on their promises? Do they deliver on time and to your quality standards?
A true test of your leadership is your capacity to secure commitments from your team and have your team understand and deliver to the standards articulated. Shifting away from being a directive style of leader to being a facilitator of quality outcomes and, more of a coach than a preacher is critical if you are to grow the capability of your business. This happens through the development of your people and when you build the skills to empower your staff to make insightful decisions and to own their own delivery promises.
Consider enhancing the quality of your requests and securing clear and firm promises around deliverables as a pathway to developing capability within your team. This shifts the evolution of your skill base from Manager to Leader.
- Set your mood ahead of every interaction
Have you ever worked for a leader with a bad mood? That is, the person who sets the ‘tone’ for the day… and when they’re in a great mood, the team’s great and when they’re not, the team’s not either. Could this be you on some days?
As a leader, your mood either creates or destroys the potential productivity of your team. If you’re in a constructive mood, with ambition and optimism on your side, you will naturally create a positive environment for the team to flourish, bring ideas to life and be in communication with each other for the sake of the collective. If you know yourself to be less constructive, either anxious for outcomes, resigned about the future or in resentment when things don’t go your way, you’ll close down the creativity and safety of your team – sometimes blindly.
Your mood is a function of the story you tell yourself about situations, events, people and the future. If you experience a negative mood, it’s likely that something has not gone the way you wanted or anticipated it to, and this might be somehow related to your identity as a leader. To shift your mood, it can be helpful to explore the narrative that sits deeper within and to ask whether this narrative serves you for the future you’re trying to create. Changing your story from one of frustration to one of acceptance (even if you don’t like it) will help you cultivate a different kind of team culture. If you’re the leader, culture will typically start with you!
- Take time to connect with key staff each day
This sounds obvious but being in touch with your team members each day is a great way to keep your finger on the pulse and to enhance their understanding of broader team-based workflow in the business. This need not be a big investment of time.
You might do a daily huddle, for say 30 minutes, where each team member shares the following:
- ‘These are my priorities today…’
- ‘This is the strategic agenda it relates to…’
- ‘Here are the requests I’d like to make of the team…’
- ‘Here’s where I could use some help…’
In a huddle meeting, support may come from you or others within the team, so allow the team to respond as appropriate. A team that operates in this way understands the importance of declaring their focus and using the strengths of the team to fulfil their commitments. This is also an ideal forum to recognise a job well done and acknowledge the achievements of those team members making great leaps forward.
- Step up to the tough discussions
Have you ever worked for a leader who was afraid to have challenging discussions? One that avoided confrontation and allowed situations to get out of hand or persist? The impact of circumstances like these, on individuals and teams impacted can be significant. At the very least they impact morale and productivity and at the extreme, these situations can damage and influence the wellbeing of all involved.
To step up to tough discussions, you’ll need to decide how you want to ‘show up’ as a leader. It will be useful for you to build the skills and capability to discern the difference between facts and assessments (or narratives and opinions) and to be able to design an approach to conversations that is both fair and firm. In this, you will have a concern that needs to be expressed and there’s an order of conversational design that will help you be more effective (and feel safer yourself) in opening the conversation.
In terms of a basic structure, try this:
“I’ve noticed…. (now share what you have factually observed in relation to the situation).”
“I’m concerned that…. (now express the concern you have as a leader).”
“Can you help me understand how you see it?” (Now be quiet and listen).
The mood you bring to the conversation is critical. There is no room for hostility or judgement, but instead approach with a genuine sense of curiosity to see how they see it, and once you understand that, the rest of the conversation will evolve.
The idea of ‘having a tough conversation’ is far more confronting than the actual experience of doing it. It is mostly our fear of the unknown that stops us, so see if you can clarify and articulate your concerns, learning how to express them for the sake of moving on with the situation.
So, what conversation might you start with?
- Establish team operating rhythms
Much of what happens in any team relies on the effective communication between humans and their capacity to coordinate action. Within this, offering a certain level of predictability in meeting rhythms can help create conditions for team members to coordinate action more effectively. If your team complains of not having the time or resources to effectively converse to support decisions, a great team operating rhythm, enabled by digital systems can help.
Consider identifying the following to support your operating ‘beat’:
- How often should you have team meetings?
- For the type of discussions you need to have, how much time is appropriate?
- What roles and agreements will support ‘effective’ meetings?
- What systems will help you track commitments and outcomes?
- What expectations do you have around preparation and meeting behaviour?
Finally, what are the missing skills and practices your team members need to build in order to achieve this operating rhythm? What difference will it make for them to have the forums they need to move their initiatives forward? What outcomes can you expect when the team is working steadily in this manner, delivering in alignment with the expectation? What can you change from tomorrow?
- Establish standards and expect excellence
As a leader, how would you describe your standards? Are they high and do you expect a lot of your team members? What would your team members say about your standards?
It is absolutely fine to have high standards, so long as you clearly articulate them and where possible, document them. If you have not communicated them, you run the risk of having work delivered to you that is sub-standard and requiring more frequent input. This limits your capacity as a leader to carve out space for more strategic thinking and more ‘revolutionary’ activity.
Your standards are always ‘taking care’ of something for you. Typically, your identity, because when your team deliver well, you are seen to be doing your job well as their leader. Try this activity:
- Why not take some time to look at the key areas of work in your remit and begin to list down the standards (or conditions) that you expect for each aspect of the work? Your list may go for several pages and that’s OK.
- Now take the list and engage each person in your team with the aspect of the list that’s relevant for them and assess their standards relative to yours.
- Together, come up with an agreed standard and note any gaps in competency that might stand in the way of your standard being met. This can form the basis of a future Development Plan.
- Finally, begin to include your standards in the requests you make of your team. This will help bring clarity and shared outcomes to life.
The idea of establishing standards is not intended to lower the bar. It is actually a way to have your team raise the bar sooner by understanding what the bar means!
- Recap on learning and celebrate victories
Are you cultivating a team that wants to continuously learn? How are you supporting the new skills and practices that your people need to stay relevant in this era of profound change? And in the face of change, are you recognising the achievements of your people?
If you’re the kind of leader that’s focused on results over relationships, it can be helpful to slow down on occasion, reflect and find ways to express your appreciation and gratitude for the way your people deliver outcomes, adapt and evolve as learners and contribute to the success of your enterprise.
Why not make this a fun ritual – you don’t need a boring old way to recognise your team’s efforts and victories – ask them how they’d like to be recognised and rewarded and do it. Do it regularly and watch morale lift!
Did you like this blog and feel inspired? Check out our other blog called 10 Ways to be Resourceful as a Leader