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How well do you know your team?

“I wish I could just clone myself, so much more would get done that way.”

Would it though? Can you say for sure that you’re stronger than everyone on your team at creativity, empathy, client management, project management etc. etc.? If so, you may need to relook at the individuals you’ve hired.

In most cases, as managers, we recognize that each member on our team has something unique to contribute yet sometimes extracting the best from them can be challenging because it requires more effort than doing the work ourselves.

Managing teams is hard work. Every individual on your team comes with their own personal and professional history, strengths, weaknesses and goals.

Managers, new and old, often make the mistake of managing their team without understanding their team. Your team members are not ‘resources’, they’re individuals. This may sound obvious to some of you, “I think of my team members as individuals, I even grab beers with them. That’s a fantastic start.

However, my challenge to you is to use the information you have about your team to manage them more effectively and help them achieve their potential while delivering results for the organization and its stakeholders.

Questions you should be able to answer include:

  • Their 3 year career goal: If you can align the work a person does and the learning they focus on to their 3 year goal, you’ll end up with a team member who does work out of desire vs. out of fear or for a paycheck. Intrinsic motivation always tops extrinsic motivators and a plethora of management studies have shown that. Understanding your team member’s 3 year goal, even making them reflect on this goal can lead to a dramatic increase in motivation, assuming you can find a way to align a portion of what they do to their goal

  • What really drives this person? What are their top 5 priorities in life and where does work place? Why does this matter? Work may place #1 for you but for someone on your team, work may be #4 because perhaps they have aging parents, perhaps work is a way to pay their bills and to allow them to pursue their passion, perhaps they grew up with parents who placed work first and thus made a commitment to always prioritize their spouse and children first. It is critical that you do not place a value judgement on how they prioritize work when you do get the answer to this question. As more and more young people leave the corporate world to live their own dreams, trying to hire someone who will give you 60 hours a week and answer your call on weekends will be a pipe-dream. People are becoming loyal to themselves, their health and their families first and to companies second.

  • What gives them energy and what drains their energy? Human beings are not replicas of one another and what energizes one person might drain another. Sometimes this is because it is a new skill, other times it is just something they don’t enjoy. Answering this question requires digging deeper than surface level. If someone says they don’t like stakeholder management, understand why. Some folks may dislike what they perceive to be hidden intentions. Others may dislike the dependencies created. Others may just dislike a constant boomerang of emails and conversations. In comparison, some on your team may love bringing people together to achieve a common goal and finding ways to create alignment amongst them. The same activity can be perceived very differently.

  • What are they good at and what are the rough edges they need to smoothen? Everyone has strengths and areas for improvement. It isn’t necessary to strive for perfection, it’s actually impossible to be good at everything. Instead, rough edges are those that may get in the way of your team member reaching their goals or performing their role. Someone who is impatient may do quite well in certain roles but might struggle in others. A detail oriented lawyer can leverage that skill in spades but a detail oriented innovation lead may struggle with bold ideas, pivoting, making decisions based on assumptions etc.

  • Finally, what is their preferred work style? Everyone has a preferred way of being managed, for example, someone people want to hear constructive feedback immediately vs. others may want to receive feedback in a written form beforehand so they can digest it before discussing it live. Some want to be handheld while others want autonomy to make decisions and mistakes from the beginning. If you are a team that has to work outside of work hours at certain times because of product launches etc, what is the best way to contact them? Are they an early bird or a night owl?

You may look at all of these questions and think, am I expected to give each of my team members exactly what they want? The answer is no. Management is a negotiation. You’re allowed to tell a new team member who wants autonomy that you need to build trust in them before you can give them more autonomy. You can discuss what this means, is it a month before they can stop cc-ing you on conversations? Is it 3 months before they are mapped to a senior stakeholder? Similarly, in order to achieve the results that are expected of you as a team, it isn’t always possible to give everyone work that gives them energy 100% of the time. As a manager, you can strive for 70% or 80% most of the time. Some weeks, this may be 50%. As long as your team recognizes that you’re doing your best to manage their needs and growth along with what is required for the company, you’ll find you’re doing a good job.

If you haven’t already, download this team profile questionnaire and fill it in with your team members, you’ll find it changes the way you manage.


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