We’ve updated these tips for new team leaders to include more information about working remotely and managing teams in 2021. These tips will help you establish and maintain a productive, collaborative team while developing your leadership talents along the way.
There Can Be A Lot On Your Plate As A New Team Leader
Whether you’re heading up a new team or taking the reins of an existing one, leading a team for the first time can be daunting. There’s no bedrock of personal experience to build on. If you’re a first-time team leader then you’re probably either relishing the challenge or considering a run for the door—or a bit of both. Plus, more teams are working remotely and/or are embracing a hybrid model of in-office and at-home work. There is a lot more on the plate for new leaders to manage today.
1. Make Time To Lead
To be effective, team leaders need to invest time in the role. Too often, this responsibility is simply added onto someone’s already lengthy task list, thus setting the new leader up for failure.
As a team leader, you need to be visible to the team and available to support them. Part of your new leadership role is to foster a positive working environment and community. If you’re predominantly tied up with your own critical hands-on tasks, you won’t be as visible or able to support your team. So, be sure to review and re-negotiate your workload before taking on a leadership role in the first place.
2. Get To Know Your Team
Leadership is all about how you influence your team to achieve its objectives. This is something you’ll struggle with if you don’t get to know your team members and what makes them tick. While it might be tempting to jump in and start making big moves from day one, remember that you’re not there to flex your ego.
Take time to listen to your team members; find out what their issues and aspirations are, gather ideas, and identify potential strengths and weaknesses. Only then can you formulate a leadership approach that stands a chance of success. Getting to know who you’re working with is the first step to bonding with the team and establishing their respect and trust. The old adage of listening twice as much as you speak still holds true here.
Touch base with your team, especially those who may be struggling. New team leaders find success holding brief 10-15 minute check-in conversations once or twice a week. You can even have calendar openings for “office-hours” where people can schedule meetings and connect with you if they need help or need to chat.
3. Communicate, Communicate, Communicate
Once your team is up and running, it’s imperative to keep the communication going to build relationships, assess progress, and identify risks and issues. This is particularly helpful when managing remote teams where employees can be siloed in their little work bubbles. When new team leaders communicate often and effectively, they often find more engagement from the team. This is because they see you investing time in them and showing interest in their activities.
Ongoing communication can also strengthen the types of conversations you have with your team. For instance, you have more clout to make expectations and responsibilities clear so that everyone knows who’s doing what, why and by when. This seems obvious but don’t assume everyone has your detailed understanding of the project at hand.
Encourage and embrace new ideas. The more your team can contribute to the project, the happier they’ll be. Acknowledge and thank your team when they do well and let them know their work is appreciated. You’ll find that your team will be more responsive, happier, more productive and empowered to take the initiative on future projects and tasks.
There is a fine balance to how you go about communicating with your team. New team managers can easily overcompensate for the distance of remote working or are checking in too frequently, which can create skepticism that negatively affects the team’s productivity. Offer support that is sincere and genuine.
4. Lead By Example
Think about the behaviors you want and expect from your team members. Be sure to exhibit those traits yourself. As a team leader, you’re the role model, so what you say and do will impact the team’s work habits and attitudes. That said, it’s important to be yourself and to believe in yourself. If you fake it, you’ll soon be unmasked and you’ll lose credibility and trust.
Be open, honest and passionate. Treat everyone on the team fairly, with respect and without favoritism and you’ll find those behaviors returned. Extend the same courtesy to the rest of the organization as well. Never undermine or criticize other individuals or departments in front of the team. Make it clear you’re all there to work towards the same goals and success for the big picture.
5. Reward The Good And Learn From The Bad (And The Ugly)
Recognize good performance and reward it where appropriate. You might not be in a position to hand out pay raises and promotions but a little bit of verbal praise goes a long way in showing your team you are both aware of and appreciative of their achievements.
Be equally as timely in tackling poor performance issues. The longer you leave them, the tougher they’ll be to fix. Look for the best in people and understand that mistakes will happen. When they do, learn from them and see how they can be prevented in the future. And whatever you do, don’t play the blame game.
If you need to have a challenging conversation, do it in private; no public floggings on a conference call, in a meeting, or in a group email. And don’t try to win a popularity contest. Not all your feedback and initiatives will be well-received, but if you concentrate more on being everyone’s friend instead of being a strong leader, the work will suffer, as will your integrity.
Trust your team to do its job. Being a team leader doesn’t mean you’re there to do other people’s work for them or micromanage at each step. Be clear on what’s expected of everyone and let them get on with it. Helping your team members reach a level of independence enables them to enrich their role within your organization on their terms. When issues or opportunities arise, empower the team to find a resolution themselves with your support—don’t add every new issue to your own to-do list.
Here are some helpful delegation tips for new team leaders to embrace.
- Establish the desired outcome of a project. Assign responsibility to achieve results rather than a to-do list of tasks. Ask yourself: “What is the result of what we are trying to accomplish?”
- Consider who can and should take on the delegated responsibility. Who has the experience to do it? Who can do well with this opportunity? Who needs to learn how to do this task? Who has the time to complete it on time?
- Define the time details. Determine important milestones, deadlines, and when you expect to have elements of a project completed.
- Monitor progress and offer feedback. Because you’re still responsible for the success or failure of a project and the team; give positive feedback and coaching as you monitor the project’s progress.
- Ask for ideas and input from the team. Your role is to understand how things can be improved, who should be involved and how your team can advise on the project’s success.
- Reflect on the project and gain insights to what was learned in the process. What did you and the team learn? Identify, share and document what can be improved. This tip for new leaders is helpful to figure out better ways to excel in future projects.
7. Be Decisive
When it comes to producing results, don’t procrastinate. Grab the nettle when you need to. It’s all too easy to defer difficult decisions, but ultimately costly for the job in hand and how you’re viewed as a leader. If you can’t address a larger challenge, it’s ok to make a series of smaller decisions that create momentum and progress toward the bigger picture. If things go wrong, take a breath, gather the information you need to make an educated decision and make it.
Don’t be afraid of seeking help (it’s a sign of strength, not weakness). Consult with your team. Gaining their outside perspective or having the ability to bounce an idea off of them may help you make a more appropriate and impactful decision. Team management is an ongoing learning process and you will never have all the answers.
To avoid tough decisions down the road, notice the patterns in advance and be prepared to anticipate a solution. Recognizing patterns enables you to make a faster and clearer decision when faced with a similar challenge.
8. Enjoy It!
Team leadership is often challenging but frequently rewarding. By bringing the right people and processes together, you’re creating an environment that fosters success and personal growth. Plus, it’s a great feeling to be part of a well-oiled team environment that you’ve positively impacted. So, get out there and go do it!