How To Lead A Team

team lead

Recently I was asked to write an article about “How to lead a team.” In this post you can find my personal five basics to team leading. I always follow them for my team. Everybody can learn them very easily.

#1 Lead by example

How to lead a team? By example! This is the most important rule for me. A leader should always act as he or she expects it from his or her team.

It is like parenting.

The kids become what their parents are. Not 100%. But very often you can see the same (mis-)behavior at the child and at the parents.

For example, if you see a little girl yelling at another kid or being very rude all the time at the playground, look if you can spot the parents. Observe a little while.

Most probably you see the parents behave the same way in front of their child as the kid does in front of other kids.

It is the same in a team. Maybe you know already some teams. Maybe you can confirm my observation. For example, assume the team leader comes late to team meetings all the time. Sooner or later the team members will be late as well.

Why?

Because the behavior of the team leader implies that the meeting is not too important. Everybody is happy about some more time to get other things done.

Or, the team leader always answers calls during meetings. Or leaves the room. Sooner or later the team members will do the same.

If you want to be a good leader, be an example. Set your values, and stick to them. If you want your team to be on time, be on time. If you want your team to deliver on time, deliver on time yourself.

Be a positive example to your team.

#2 Delegate properly

In my post 4 simple steps to successful delegation you can read how to do this. It is a very vital part to the success of you as team leader and the success of your team.

If you don’t spent the time to train your team, you will not be successful on the long run.

It is important to teach your team how you want them to do things. There is no team that performs right from the start. Every team needs to grow together. Every team member needs to learn what you expect. Step by step.

I always set clear values, objectives and expectations. Tell your team what you expect from them and what they can expect from you.

#3 Build trust.

Build trust in your team. In both directions.

On the one hand create a trustful environment for your team. Every team member should always have the feeling that they can tell you why they did or did not do something.

A McKinsey article about team leading says:

“…leaders should actively create opportunities for their staff to reveal their motivations and voice their concerns, and then [leaders] should reward those who do…”

On the other hand build trust in your team’s performance yourself. Your team won’t do everything right as you expect it from the beginning.

If they don’t do, always look at yourself first. Was the task clear? Did you explain properly? Where you available for questions during the creation process?

If you can answer these questions with a clear ‘Yes.’ Don’t blame the team member. What ever your team member did wrong, most probably they don’t see the fault on their side.

Always ask for the reason. The famous book that e.g. Warren Buffet read, an international best-seller since 1937 (yes, 1937, no typo 🙂 ), “How to win friends & influence people” says:

“…that ninety-nine out of a hundred, people don’t criticize themselves for anything, no matter how wrong it may be.”

By asking for the reasons and by confessing your own mistakes you create an open and honest atmosphere.

There also another important things about trust. The title of the book “The speed of trust” says it already.

The more you trust your team and they trust you, the faster your team will deliver. The better your team will perform.

Why?

Because if you trust them validation loops of deliverables become much faster or even obsolete.

Do you know this sentence from your team leader? “Well done, please send me the presentation. I will review it and then you can send it.”

The same for minutes of meetings. “Please send it me for review before you distribute it.” Many minutes will never be sent. They get stuck in the inbox of the team leader or project leader. They simply don’t have the time to read the documents.

In a team with full trust, the team leader let’s the team create and publish their deliverables.

Some time ago I lead a team to do some special projects in the manufacturing area. We had regular management meetings. We regularly created presentations and minutes of meetings.

In the beginning I created the presentations and wrote the minutes. After a while (ca. 1 month) I handed over the minute writing to a team member. I explained what is important for me in minutes. We did one or two together. I received the minutes for another month and reviewed them.

After that I gave the full trust to my team member. When we had a meeting, he created the minutes and sent them right away. That saves both of allot of time. Small example, but I think it illustrates the principle.

#4 Lead by motivation

Tony Wagner writes wrote the book “Creating Innovators”. It aims to answer the question if innovation can be tought and how we can teach our kids to become innovative and innovators. He also writes about motivation of the Generation Y, the millennials:

“…they are differently motivated. […] They are looking for things to engage and interest them. […] If you can get them engaged [/motivated] the results are extraordinary…”

Certainly, our generation asks allot for the “Why”. We don’t like to do things that way because they were always done that way. We need a reason behind.

Tony Wagner writes this about millennials, but I think it is true for anybody in a team.

The better you can explain your team members why something needs to be done, the more likely you will get their buy-in. Even for tasks that might not be the most interesting ones.

I always try to give meaning and the big picture behind a task. How to do this, would be another article. Let me know if you would like to learn more about positively influencing people.

But the bottom line is: lead by motivation, not by ordering. The results will be more sustainable. The trust will be greater. The performance will be better. The errors will be fewer.

Why?

Because motivated people think on their own. That prevents many errors from happening. When they just execute they don’t.

#5 Grow your team members.

Encourage your team members to take over responsibility. I recommend you this post to read about what I mean.

Bonus

  • From one of my mentors who manages 200+ people I learned to never delegate: people, budget and strategy. That are the three things you need to manage yourself. It does not mean to do it yourself. But you need to control what’s happening there.
  • Do team events. It will bring people in your team closer together. It supports the creation of trust.
  • Pay attention to the invisible social structures in a team. Try to understand them. You probably cannot change them. But you can use them.

I hope this article gives a first clue, on how to lead a team. If you have any further question, let me know down in the comments or by mail.

photo credit: ISST London via photopin (license)

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