You can basically divide the reasons as to why Team Managers can be seen to 'avoid' developing their teams in to two key areas: Lack of Awareness, Knowledge and Skill and Simple Avoidance. Having said this the two key areas are inextricably linked. In this Blog, I want to highlight what can happen within the key areas and offer some simple solutions that can support Team Managers and Team Leaders to be more confident in successfully leading their teams.
1. Many team managers will manage and lead their teams based on what they have experienced as a team member over the years. The teams they have worked in may have performed and hit their targets and goals and hence the manager may have the mindset that says that if they simply do what the previous manager did then everything will be all right. Given the fact that true high performing teams are not really that common then the chances of a new manager having experienced that true top level high performance will be quite low and as such the manager may not be aware that there is a lot more to learn about teams and ensuring they can reach their full potential. Organisations should always look to ensure new managers can learn about teams and be supported to be able to lead their teams based on new knowledge and enhanced team development skills. External coaches (or in the bigger companies, internal team coaches) can assist in supporting the development of managers to ensure they are more aware of what knowledge and skill is needed to effectively lead teams to high performance.
2. Following on from Point 1, many managers simply lack a decent level of knowledge of team dynamics, practical motivation theory and team development models. Many leadership and management courses touch on team leadership and development but unfortunately the theory can be very limited and there is little emphasis on the practical application of team development and team performance theory. This can easily be rectified as there is an abundance of talent available that can provide development courses and programmes in team development so there can no excuse for not putting in the required support for managers and team leaders.
3. Associated with the lack of knowledge comes a lack of skill in the art of facilitating and coaching the team as a whole. Many managers still take an ‘all encompassing’ directive approach as regards all team activity especially meetings activity whereby they create the agenda and then run the whole meeting. If the team is lucky then perhaps they will get a say in the agenda and perhaps even set the logistics for the meeting up, but how many managers actually share the leadership of meetings in terms of getting team members to effectively facilitate and run the meetings? Many managers are comfortable coaching their individual team members on a 1:1 basis but struggle with facilitating and coaching whole teams. Again, this can be easily rectified as there are numerous courses and programmes out there where team managers and team leaders can gain the facilitation and coaching skills required.
4. There are those managers who simply do not believe that team and individual performance is enhanced by teamwork. Many of these managers have not played competitive team sport and as such have not experienced the collective power of individuals really pulling together. As a result, the belief in teamwork is not as enhanced as it should be. Linked to this, is possibly a lack of risk taking in terms of doing things differently and changing some approaches as to how the team tackle projects, tasks and challenges. A good team coach can work with these managers to work on their self-limiting beliefs as well as also developing their knowledge of teams and team performance.
5. Staying on the belief front, and linked to the above belief, is the belief that focus on the tasks alone will ensure that the team delivers the results that are being expected. There is some truth in this in that this provides focus but if an individual approach is taken then the team could be missing out on more effective and efficient ways of working if a collective approach is taken. Pulling collectively together will ensure faster development of individual knowledge and skill and should ensure tasks are completed quicker and more creatively. Success is shared and challenges can be solved together as a team and taking this collective approach accelerates learning and change.
6. Many managers would like to spend more of their time with the team developing the team's processes, knowledge and skills but unfortunately will bow to pressure to have their meetings filled with agenda items that are solely focused on ‘business’ tasks and ‘updates’. Many of these agenda ‘items’ will actually be generated by stakeholders external to the team but many managers will accept requests for time on the team’s meeting agenda as opposed to ensuring that there is regular protected time for team development. Seeing agendas change at the last minute for items that the team do not see as their priority can be very demoralising for teams so managers have to be able to challenge and influence senior stakeholders to that effect. A good team coach can work with the team leader or manager to work on their influencing and challenging attitudes and skills.
7. Some teams contain quite challenging characters who are quite prepared to put their views and beliefs forward 'strongly' on a regular basis. Even though this can be done constructively too many managers would prefer a ‘quieter’ life and as such will avoid such challenge and may even become very directive to ensure no response from the team members. I have seen managers avoid and even cancel meetings to avoid such instances and the reasons for the fear can be varied. These include an inability to positively manage the team dynamics and conflict; the challenge creates situations (such as idea generation) that may result in changes to the team operating plan which may cause the manager to have to inform and influence senior management; and also a potential fear of being overshadowed by the more dominant, more experienced and more capable individual team members. I have had experience of managers simply cancel development meetings as they were afraid that these meetings may expose the manager’s failings. I am beginning to sound like a ‘stuck record’ here but a good team coach or a senior line manager skilled in coaching can support manager to overcome these fears.
8. There will be some team managers who simply lack a decent level of EQ or Emotional Intelligence. They will have a high IQ, and this is not matched with a level of EQ required to effectively engage with and motivate individuals and the team as a whole. These managers relate more to the task involved than they do to the people in the team. They can be masters of process and can make excellent project managers but leading and managing people effectively can pose a challenge for them and when they are presented with the multiple energies and differing personalities of numerous team members then this can pose real challenges for them. They can resort to micro-management tactics which can and probably will demotivate the team even further and cause further conflict. Senior managers when recruiting and potentially promoting people into team manager and team leader positions need to ensure that their recruitment processes are of the highest quality so that the right person is chosen for the team a manager or leader role.
9. I was made aware of a recently promoted manager who demanded ‘respect’ from his team as he was their ‘senior’ and their ‘boss’. This resulted from the fact that the team were composed of passionate individuals who were keen on putting their ideas forward as well as expressing their frustrations albeit these frustrations were always backed up with suggested positive actions. The manager did not like this as in many instances his ideas were being challenged and as a result, he was not keen on the proposals being put forward as they were not ‘his’. He felt that he was not in control of his team and as a result as he was ‘the boss’ it was his decision as to how and what the team had to do. The ‘I’m the boss’ attitude when consistently applied to teams does not work and will result in anarchy and a possible ‘overthrow’. I have seen several examples of this happen in my business experience and it usually is caused by a combination of several of the above factors and results in a total task focus and away from any team development opportunities.
10. Unfortunately, and sadly, there are several managers who simply do not care for their team and for the individuals in the team, and as a result little dedicated team development takes place. They have a very selfish individualist approach and are not prepared to support the team or put themselves on the line for the team. I remember getting a pretty hard time from a senior manager for the lack of sales growth that our team was demonstrating and whilst I outlined the key reasons for the lack of growth and emphasised the key actions we were taking to increase the growth the focus turned to my apparent inability to manage the performance of two of our team who were allegedly struggling. I backed both individuals (who had been Number 1 and 2 in the company for a different product), but this was seen as being ‘weak’ something which I challenged. After the meeting a fellow manager said to me that they couldn’t understand why I was ‘taking one for the team’ as opposed to simply 'pointing the finger' at the two alleged underperformers and saying that I would put them on disciplinary. Their comment of ‘you can’t let them jeopardise and threaten your position, you have to look after number one’ still sticks in my throat a good few years down the line! My experience of these type of managers thankfully is limited but they are out there, and my own view is that their behaviours need to be challenged by their senior line manager. Unfortunately, many senior managers will not challenge this type of behaviour as they are seen to be ‘effectively managing performance’. Hmmm.
So, what can be done to ensure team development happens? Here are five things you can put into action:
1. Recruit well and ensure managers are the right people to effectively lead teams to high performance.
2. Make sure you train and coach these managers to have a good knowledge of team dynamics, team models and team performance.
3. Train your team managers and leaders so that they can effectively and motivationally coach both the team and individuals.
3. Provide excellent coaching of the managers (either internally or through external team coaches) to ensure that the skills needed to put the knowledge into practice are developed to the level required.
4. Provide suitable and motivational incentives that ensure team development and team performance is rewarded.
With many organisations having ‘Teamwork’ as one of their core values there can be no excuse to not have team development as one of their development priorities.